Publishers and Translators

The English STs were published by Oxford University Press Southern Africa and the target texts by Baobab Books in Switzerland and Éditions Dapper in France. Oxford University Press (OUP) has a strong educational focus, with a presence in ten African countries. OUP has published numerous titles in the field of children’s and YA literature, in English and in all nine other official South African languages (OUP Southern Africa, 2018). The majority of the latter texts are readers for school learners, but there are also translations of books written in English into one of the other official languages, such as Kagiso Lesego Molope’s (2004) first YA novel, Dancing in the dust which has been translated into Xhosa (Molope 2005b) and Zulu (Molope 2007).

Éditions Dapper is a branch of the Dapper Foundation, created in 1983 in Amsterdam with the aim of promoting and preserving the artistic heritage of Sub-Saharan Africa (Fondation Dapper 2020), and later extended to include the Caribbean and their diasporas. In the current children’s literature section of Dapper’s catalogues, 28 books are listed, nine of which are translations from English. Three of the translations are of South African books, but the work by Michael Williams examined here is listed not under Dapper Jeunesse but under Dapper Littérature, and is presented as a book for adults rather than for children. Eight of the nine children’s titles were translated by Valérie Morlot, who also translated two novels listed in Dapper Littérature, including Crocodile burning. The series uses the same illustrator for several of the book covers, with a similar format to the cover of Le ventre du crocodile. There is no information about the translator. In an article on translators’ notes and commentaries, Pascale Sardin (2007) refers to Morlot’s translation of Zakes Mda’s Waiting for Leila (En attendant Leila) which includes a preface by Morlot. Morlot (cited in Sardin 2007:122) comments on why she included footnotes explaining Afrikaans words and expressions:

Comment traduire un texte métissé, tissé de plusieurs langues, de plusieurs cultures [ ... ] Comment traduire une lange écorchée vive? J’ai choisi de laisser la plupart des mots, phrases, insultes en Afrikaans, même si pour le lecteur français la prononciation rauque en est perdue, et d’en donner l’expression (plutôt que la traduction) en français ensuite. Sans en adoucir la brutalité.

[How should we translate a hybrid text, woven together from several languages and several cultures ...How should we translate a raw, living language? I chose to leave the majority of words, phrases, and insults in Afrikaans, even if the rough sound is lost for a French reader, and to give the meaning (rather than a translation) in French afterwards. Without softening the rawness.]

(My translation)

It is feasible that she applied the same approach to translations of other South African works.

Baobab Books also has a strong educational focus. It is a registered charity “committed to promoting cultural diversity” in children’s and young adult literature (About Us, Baobab Books). In order to achieve this, they exclusively publish books from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East in German. Baobab also establishes and implements projects and partnerships to promote reading and facilitate dialogue between cultures. They have published more than 80 books in German from 35 countries (Catalogue Baobab Books A-Z 2020) of which currently two are by South African authors: Molope’s The mending season, and Jenny Robson’s (2009) Balaclava boy translated as Tommy Miitze (Robson 2012). The translator of The mending season, Salah Noura, has a website which includes information about himself and his publications ( He was born in Berlin in 1964 to a Syrian father and German mother and has always been interested in children’s literature. He offers no information on his approach to translation, and gives only one or two examples of the books he has translated.

Crocodile Burning : Covers

Covers are not permanent, and publishers generally change them for new editions. The covers of the STs analysed here are those belonging to the editions I reference, and are the original covers.

The covers of the translation (Figure 4.1) and the original (Figure 4.2) demonstrate the different packaging adopted by the publishers. The cover of the original text (Figure 4.2) (attributed to Nina Jawitz) is brightly coloured, with the title in yellow and black against a red background at the top, and the author’s name in white on a red band at the bottom. Above the title the publisher’s name and logo appear in a smaller black font, with OXFORD in upper case and the logo “Southern African Fiction Writing” in the centre. The main band of the front cover contains an image recognisable as the New York skyline, with a smiling young black youth (a photograph of Mbuyiselo Deyi), in the foreground, gazing to one side, his hands lifted in the air. His face is animated and his



Front cover of Le ventre du crocodile [Arnaud Floc’h,, 2004]

Figure 4.1 Front cover of Le ventre du crocodile [Arnaud Floc’h,, 2004]

Front cover of Crocodile burning by Michael Williams © Oxford University Press Southern Africa 1994 reproduced by permission of OUP Southern Africa Pty Ltd

Figure 4.2 Front cover of Crocodile burning by Michael Williams © Oxford University Press Southern Africa 1994 reproduced by permission of OUP Southern Africa Pty Ltd

expression is one of delight and excitement. The youth is dressed in a shirt over a T-shirt; the image is in shades of grey. There are two small green crocodiles to the top left and the bottom right, and a musical note to the top right and bottom left with rays in green, red, blue and yellow surrounding a roughly drawn green triple circle highlighting his face. The primary colours signify joy and boldness. The significance of the crocodiles, either in the illustration or in the title, is as yet unknown to the reader. Above the title in a small white font against the red background is written “By an award winning South African author”.

The front cover of the French translation (Figure 4.1) (by Arnaud Floc’h), is much darker, with no primary colours. The dominant colour is brownblack, with a band of green at the top. The title appears in white upper case letters against a green background, above the author’s name in smaller letters. The background is dark, with the beam of a searchlight radiating from top left to bottom right. Lit up by this light is the figure of a black man of uncertain age, dressed in a white shirt, red tie and dark trousers. His face is angry and sullen, and his expression is both threatening and fearful. His left hand is clenched in a fist and in his right hand, held aloft, is a green

Crossing Continents 83 crocodile, its head stretched out as if in pain. In the bottom right-hand corner is the logo of Éditions Dapper, with “DAPPER littérature” beneath in smaller letters. At the top right of the image, in smaller lower case white letters is “Roman traduit de l’anglais (Afrique du Sud) par Valérie Morlot” (novel translated from English (South Africa) by Valérie Morlot).

The back covers provide information about the content and the author. Against a solid bright red background, the back cover of the original gives a short description of the story:

SERAKI MANDINDI lives among crocodiles in Soweto: his neighbourhood is terrorized by gangs, people are beaten up and his brother Phakane has been thrown into jail unjustly.

Then when he becomes part of a successful theatrical group, which goes on tour to New York, Seraki thinks he has escaped the crocodiles that haunted him in South Africa...

The use of the word ‘crocodiles’ is initially implied, and then made explicit by the substitution of ‘gangs’ in the next clause. The gangs are responsible for the terrorising and the beating up, but in the next clause the passive voice leaves the person or persons responsible for throwing Seraki’s brother into jail unnamed. ‘Throw’, ‘beat up’ and ‘terrorize’ are all material processes associated with violence. The adverb ‘unjustly’ indicates disapproval of Phakane’s imprisonment. The use of the verb ‘think’ (a mental process) in the second sentence removes certainty and implies that Seraki may be wrong. A citation from Gcina Mhlophe - a South African author and storyteller - describes the novel emphatically as “fascinating, gripping” and one that “will raise many, many hours of discussion”. The reader learns that the book was first published in the United States in 1992, where it “won wide acclaim” and was included on lists such as the Young Adult Library Services Association list of Best Books for Young Adults in 1993. This text is also on a red background with a green crocodile underlined in yellow beneath.

The back cover of the translation has a light green background with a green band at the top. There is a small photograph of the author, with brief biographical information, and then in bold type a summary of the story (all back-translations are my own):

Certains rêves prennent des voies étranges pour devenir réalité. Celui de Seraki Mandindi, un jeune garçon de Soweto, est sur le point de se concrétiser ...Mais qui dit rêve dit aussi cauchemar, l’un pouvant cacher l’autre, et les crocodiles, à Broadway comme à Soweto, ayant toujours le ventre pourri...

Récit sur la corruption, l’inégalité et l’universalité du sentiment raciste, ce roman transcende les catégories par la justesse du propos et l’ironie du ton.

[Some dreams follow strange paths as they become reality. Seraki Mandindi, a young boy from Soweto, has a dream that seems about to come true. But sometimes the distinction between a dream and a nightmare blurs, and the crocodiles, on Broadway as well as in Soweto, always have a rotten stomach...

A tale of corruption, inequality and the universality of racist sentiment, this novel transcends categorisation through the justice of its words and the irony of its tone.]

There are several assumptions. Crocodiles are malevolent and dangerous, readers are familiar with both Broadway and Soweto, and corruption, inequality and racism are undesirable phenomena. These implied shared assumptions establish common ground between the publisher and the target reader. The most likely reason for the marked discrepancy between the two covers is the different target readership.

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