I dial the German mobile number, take a swig of peppermint tea and wait for the call to connect. The recipient picks up, apologising gingerly for having recently finished an especially decadent brownie. Both an Author and a Translator, Saskia Vogel has an impressive list of translated Swedish-English authors to her name, including Karolina Ramqvist, Katrine Marcal and Rut Hillarp. She reads a lively medley of literary fiction and popular philosophy for both pleasure and research, including Andres Neuman’s Fractures , Katherine Angel’s Daddy Issues and Legs McNells’ 600-page oral history of the porn industry, The Other Hollywood . It was Vogel’s translation of Johannes Anyuru’s They Will Drown in their Mother’s Tears (De kommer att drunkna i sina mödrars tårar) which first caught my eye in the midst of dissertation research. Anyuru’s book and Vogel’s translation sketch uncanny dystopias from the peripheries, satirically shading the complex varieties of contemporary Swedish language and culture. “My writing thinks a lot about ritual, what is sacred and what it means to inhabit this body.” Vogel tells me, “Anyuru comes at these ideas from a different perspective, through Islam and what it means to be a non-white person in Sweden. He’s an absolutely essential voice, especially for audiences who might not have that much exposure to marginal faces in Swedish literature." When it came to translating, Vogel had no contact with the Swedish author during the process. “I did a lot of reading and a lot of Internet stalking,” she laughs, “He's really inspired by East Coast Hip-Hop through language and slang. A lot of American Hip-Hop filters through Swedish culture through the many multilingual people that sit outside of the middle-class Swedish establishment. This book really plays with polyglot languages and celebrates storytelling from a marginalised space, which is especially important when your stories aren't getting told.”
Whilst themes of seduction and non-normative relationships can be traced in several of Vogel’s translated novels and her prose, she maintains that translation taught her not only how to creatively transpose stories, but how to write novels. “The idea of a novel can seem so infinite and it’s so exciting to see how translation affects it.” She tells me, “An entire cosmology opens up in your mind, through something that is ultimately finite.” It was whilst working as Granta Magazine’s Global Publicist, that Vogel started penning the ideas which would shape her first novel Permission . Its hardback cover is a nod to the novel’s richly feminine atmosphere, mapping a bruised skyline of dusty crimson-purples overlooking a pink Mustang. Whilst its cotton-candy veneer might suggest whimsical dreamscapes, Vogel’s fiction(s) are a breath of crisp, clean air. The novel is a sprawling study of LA’s Kink and BDSM worlds; poetically analysing the functionalities of desire and variant relationships. It is a potent portrait of pleasure; moving, evolving, reinventing and regenerating the bodies within. The project was slow-burning, starting life as a non-fiction piece before evolving to its present prosaic form, from which, Vogel’s characters; Echo, Orly and Piggy, organically emerged. “I didn’t have the right perspective or sufficient distance from my subject matter,” She offers, “I'd never really been exposed to non-heteronormative relationships in such an intense way before and I think that was just a little bit too in love with my subject matter.”
After leaving Granta, Vogel took a place on the British Centre for Literary Translations’ mentorship scheme before joining an emerging Translators Summer School. Here, Vogel continued gaining as a Translator, receiving mentorship from Irish Translator Shaun Whiteside. After the course, Vogel started “working like crazy”, introducing herself as a Translator and actively asking for work. Although she appreciates different approaches,
Vogel’s translation method is one which she feels faithfully preserves the sentiment of the original. When undertaking a new book, she’ll read the book whilst translating to keep the work ‘fresh’. “First, I’ll produce a mediocre first draft where I’ll know what I'm going to have to change later, like sentence structures that don't work in English” She explains, “After that, I start treating the text as my own, feeling through what the writer is doing to have the same poetic effect. Some texts lend themselves to liberty more than others. How do you translate something that might have a certain effect in one language? Should we explain certain words to the English reader, or do we allow it to be a word that is understood, or isn’t, through specific contexts, honouring that intimacy and distance in the text? In translation, everything is a decision.”
Vogel’s next novel project is set in the north of Sweden, in a space which she feels a deep personal connection to and compulsion to write about. “For some reason, every time I sit down to write, I can't stop writing a chapter that starts in this nature reserve, where my character is hanging out with like this Hip-Hop collective.” She tells me, “I'm also working on a non-fiction book at the moment which is much faster. I'm trying to figure out the angle in order to find the voice, or ‘tone’ or ‘feeling’. I want it to feel unified. It’s a matter of sort of whittling down research and ideas to the fine point.”
Now that she’s established, Vogel is routinely approached for her translation services by publishing representatives. She explains, “For the book I’m currently translating, the agent commissioned a sample of a new book by a writer I’d been working with. The agent then contacted the publishing houses, and I emailed some editors I knew to share my enthusiasm and to encourage them to buy, and now - I’m translating the book.” Vogel praises the actions of publishers such as Dialogue Books and &OtherStories, and whilst she’s previously referred to translation as a decision which turned her position as “someone who sits between cultures into an asset”, she’s keen to address the flaws of the Anglophone publishing industries. She identifies the American Dirt scandal as a litmus test for the fact that certain voices are still unheard. “We’re not putting enough muscle, marketing, muscle behind certain books,” She concludes, “The publishing industry is cutting out a giant pool of candidates if they expect people to work for such little pay. They need to diversify their hiring practices and start paying interns. It's the publisher’s responsibility to them to reach out to marginalised people.”
As Vogel outlines in her essay for the ‘Words Without Borders’ project, reading practices are politically powerful. Writing in the wake of the 2017 Göteborg neo-Nazi scandal, she presents the politics of publishing, noting that, “After Göteborg, it felt necessary to expand my reading with a view toward expanding the scope of authors I champion when I talk about Swedish-language in the Anglosphere.” Reading Vogel and Anyuru back-to-back in the UK, it feels imperative that we continue to read beyond the confines of our native homelands, normative relationships and exhausted languages.
* Saskia Vogel is an Author and Translator, whose debut novel Permission publishes with Dialogue Books on the 26th March.
Photo creds to Khim Efraimsson