by Jon Caroulis
Mt. Airy resident and La Salle University German Professor Vincent Kling recently was awarded the Schlegel-Tieck Prize of the Goethe Institute in London for the best translation of a literary work from German to English.
Kling was honored for translating the novel, “Why the Child Is Cooking in the Polenta” (in German the title is “Warum das Kind in der Polenta kocht”), by Aglaja Veteranyi, published by Dalkey Archive Press in London and Champaign, Ill.
“I had no idea I was even in consideration,” said Kling, who has been living in Mt. Airy for the past three years and previously lived there for five years. “The publisher submits the recommendations, not the author. It would never have dawned on me that my work is in the same league as that of earlier laureates, among whom are some very eminent people.”
Kling says the book is a very highly autobiographical novel about a young girl who escaped with her family, all circus performers, from Romania, and has been traveling with them through Europe and North Africa.
“I have written an afterword for the Dalkey edition that tells more about how Veteranyi broke away from her family, who was very abusive, when she was 17. She returned to Switzerland, where she had lived for a long time and gained literacy in German,” Kling said. “The voice in which her novel is spoken is extremely distinctive, narrating in a childlike way the most harrowing details of exploitation and abuse.”
Kling said he never heard of Veteranyi before Dalkey Archive approached him about translating her novel.
So, what is translating a book from one language to another like?
“It is exciting and tedious at the same time,” said Kling, “and the main requirement, even more than knowledge of the language from which the translation is being made, is a command of the language into which it’s being made.”
Growing up, Kling said his family, which came from Germany on his father’s side, never spoke the language. He discovered he had an affinity for other languages, and took a course in basic German when he was in the Army.
When he enrolled at La Salle, which had a language requirement, he started taking more courses in German. At first, Kling was an English major (and taught in La Salle’s English Department for many years before switching to Foreign Languages), but changed his major.
While an undergraduate at La Salle, Kling received a Fulbright Fellowship to travel to Germany.