Maryna Ochab – the laureate of The Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński Translation Work Award

A translator from French, Maryna Ochab is the laureate of this year’s Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński Translation Work Award of the President of Gdansk. She has so far translated The Patagonian Hare: A Memoir by Claude Lanzmann, Zazie in the Metro by Raymond Queneau, Les enchanteresses by Jean Starobinski (with Tomasz Swoboda), A Million Mutinies Now by Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul (with Agnieszka Nowakowska), and many others. She has been active as a translator from 1976. The Żeleński Award statuette has been designed and made by Katarzyna Józefowicz – a contemporary artist, a renowned sculptor, and a professor of The Academy of Fine Arts in Gdansk. The award was presented by Paweł Adamowicz – the President of Gdansk. The prize money is PLN 50 000.

Maryna Ochab is passionate about her profession, but the passion stems from her professionalism and her respect for source texts – it is not about being the centre of attention. She is respectful of the integrity of sentences and the length of readers’ breath. She neither adds nor reduces. She can salvage any ambiguities and the essence of what is between the lines. As many other translators, she prefers to remain in the shadows, but it is time for her to take the stage and step in the spotlight, says head of the jury Anna Wasilewska.

Ochab’s translation output comprises a few dozen books, e.g. The Sex Life of Immanuel Kant by Jean-Baptiste Botul, The Man Who Walked through Walls by Marcel Aymé, The Symbolism of Evil by Paul Ricoeur, Blue: The History of a Color by Michel Pastoureau, Total Chaos and Chourmo by Jean-Claude’a Izzo. Her translations are mostly from French, but she has also translated from Italian, English, and Russian. She promotes Polish literature, too – Shielding the Flame by Hanna Krall is one of the books Ochab has translated into French.

The Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński Translation Work Award of the President of Gdansk is a symbol of recognition of the merits and mastery of literary translators. It is connected to the Gdańsk Meetings of Literary Translators Found in Translation. The purpose of the Award is to raise the profile of translations and translators. The award presentation ceremony took place on 10 April in The Gdansk Shakespeare Theatre, and it was hosted by Michał Chaciński. Olga Warabida was responsible for the stage design and the visuals. The music for Found in Translation was composed by Olo Walicki.

The Laureate was selected by Anna Wasilewska (head of the Jury), Edward Balcerzan, Andrzej Jagodziński, Adam Pomorski, Krzysztof Pomian, Stanisław Rosiek, and Justyna Sobolewska. In 2015, the nominees were: Elżbieta Cygielska (Hungarian), Jan Gondowicz (French and others), Michał Kłobukowski (English), Halina Kralowa (Italian), Małgorzata Łukasiewicz (German), Maryna Ochab (French), and Jacek Poniedziałek (English).

The Jury wanted to highlight the diversity of the laureate’s translation output. She’s a multi-instrumentalist – she’s translated works in any genre (except poetry) i.e. philosophy and history essays, literary critiques, prose, and drama. The authors whose works she’s translated include Jean Starobinski, Paul Ricoeur, Philippe Ariès, Michel Pastoureau, Jean Delumeau, Georges Bataille, Raymond Queneau, and Raymond Roussel. Ochab knows how to find the appropriate diction for all the writers, she speaks with a distinctive voice, puts on different masks, provides the texts with perfect cadences, and shows lexical innovation, says Wasilewska.

The Żeleński Award statuette designed by Katarzyna Józefowicz is anything but generic. It has been made of her favourite material – paper. At first sight, it looks like a tiny davenport, a casket for precious trinkets. When we slide the drawers out, we can see some cut-out words Józefowicz associates with literary translation – the obvious ones like ‘book’, ‘author’, ‘literature’, as well as ‘love’, ‘openness’, ‘method’, names of objects, and various verbs. The author says she likes to study how award statuettes have evolved – both their form and the materials they are made of. For her, the object is a little work of art, something you can give to a familiar.