By Sally Gracie
Singer, actor and translator Gudrun Brunot will talk about her work as “The Invisible Translator” at a tea in her honor at the Twisp Library on Feb. 28 at 4 p.m. The event will be hosted by Twisp Library Friends.
Gudrun’s translation of the novel The Brides of Midsummer is in print and for sale at vendors large and small, from Amazon.com to Trail’s End Bookstore in Winthrop. The author, Vilhelm Moberg, may be remembered by readers as the author of the Emigrant series, four novels from the 1950s about the Swedish-American immigrant experience in Minnesota. Gudrun’s translation adds to a number of Moberg’s works available in English, both fiction and non-fiction.
Gudrun read The Brides of Midsummer for the first time and loved it when she was a teenager living in Sweden. In the novel, Moberg weaves Swedish folklore and history into a tale about four men, each from a different time in the history of one place. The place is an ancient spring with special powers. The day is Midsummer’s Eve, a special night for unmarried men and women to look for love. “If I ever translate a book, that’s the one I’m going to translate,” Gudrun once told herself.
Gudrun earned both bachelor’s and master’s degree in languages — English, French and German — at Swedish universities. While her parents suggested she try to work as a United Nations interpreter, Gudrun had in mind becoming a translator of literary fiction.
In the meantime, for practical reasons, she became a language teacher in Gothenburg, Sweden. It wasn’t until she had moved permanently to the United States in 1981 that she began to work as a translator. She was certified by the American Translators’ Association (ATA) for French to English translation. No certification test for Swedish has been available, but she does most of her work in Swedish, her native language.
Until the publication of the Moberg book, most of her work has been technical translation. This has included both English-to-Swedish and Swedish-to-English translations ranging from product literature and user guides to song lyrics.
During an ATA conference in 2005, she became motivated once again to translate literature and The Brides of Midsummer. Her goal was to enter her translation in a contest, and she began to work on it in earnest on a trip back to Sweden. She didn’t win, but she didn’t give up either. Finally, she found a publicist who picked up the novel and shopped it around for her. The novel was ultimately accepted for publication by the Minnesota Historical Society Press and was released on Feb. 15.
Gudrun has been blind since birth, and before adaptive technology became available, her job as translator was much more difficult. While she had Braille copies and her computer, she sometimes had to hire readers or use audio tapes.
The adaptive technology available to Gudrun today is sophisticated (and constantly in need of upgrading, she says), and, of course, the latest equipment is expensive. In her basement office/studio, she types on a regular keyboard with a refreshable Braille display that allows her to keep her place in the document she is working on.
Special software for blind users interfaces with mainstream software such as Windows. Voice output software allows her to listen to everything that comes up on the screen, and she can navigate between this voice synthesizer and the Braille display as she works. She also owns a scanner and her printer makes copies in Braille. Gudrun used a small device called Braille Notes on the plane to Sweden when she began her translation from a Braille copy of the novel.
Before leaving the San Francisco Bay area, Gudrun had met her partner, Rob Gretzner, who had the same singing coach. In 1999 they moved together to the Methow Valley, where Gudrun has continued her other vocations, singing and acting. The Methow Valley radio station KTRT-FM features both Rob and Gudrun on Sunday evenings. “Rob’s Radio Hour” plays from 7-8 p.m, and Gudrun’s “The Woman in Black” from 8-9 p.m. The couple produce their radio programs in their basement studio in Twisp.
Now that her first literary translation is in print, Gudrun is hopeful that it won’t be her last. “Until you’re published one time as a literary translator, no one knows if you’re any good or not.” She adds, “This is the beginning.”