Sorcerers fight for the right to exist and fall in love in The Heart of the Circle, an extraordinary alternate world fantasy thriller by award-winning Israeli author Keren Landsman. Angry Robot will publish the first English language edition, translated by Daniella Zamir, in July 2019 in both the US and the UK/Commonwealth.
Throughout human history there have always been sorcerers, once idolised and now exploited for their powers. In Israel, the Sons of Simeon, a group of religious extremists, persecute sorcerers while the government turns a blind eye. After a march for equal rights ends in brutal murder, empath, moodifier and reluctant waiter Reed becomes the next target. While his sorcerous and normie friends seek out his future killers, Reed complicates everything by falling hopelessly in love. As the battle for survival grows ever more personal, can Reed protect himself and his friends as the Sons of Simeon close in around them?
Below, author Keren Landsman discusses what it’s like to work with a translator, and the process of loosening your grip on a text you’ve written.
I got a phone call on a Wednesday at 22:30. I was at a friend’s house, in the middle of our weekly writing group session. These sessions have a very strict format: We arrive, we eat, we drink coffee, we bitch about our week and how we never seem to write as much as we want, we start talking about our current stories, brainstorm a bit and then write until midnight. You are only allowed to work on writing related stuff, and after the bitching is over, no non-writing conversation is allowed. To minimise disturbances, we never answer the phone. All our friends and family know not to call us in writing nights. Even the kids know not to interrupt.
But my phone rang and it was my (perfect) editor, so it was technically writing related, pertaining to my novel The Heart of the Circle, so I answered.
She said, “We might have a foreign deal”.
And, very calmly and maturely, I started screaming and jumping, ruining the rest of the writing evening for all my friends.
Then the hard part began.
The first thing was to let go of the book. To understand that even though it’s mine, even though I know the characters better than anyone, I am not the right person to translate it. I think in Hebrew, I dream in Hebrew, I read and write in Hebrew. I suck at writing in English. I’m OK with formal letters, and I’ve got no problem writing professional articles, but prose is different. Prose requires an understanding of the words, the depth of meaning and the way to weave the sentences together to convey what you wish to. If I wanted my story to work in a different language, I had to let someone else handle it.
I needed a translator, and more than that – I needed a translator that would be able to make a reader from another country feel like they’re in Tel Aviv in the middle of the Israeli summer. It took time, but I finally found Daniella Zamir, who sank into my world so naturally it almost felt like she lived in my head.
When Daniella started working the first job at hand for us was to decide what to do with the names. What’s in a name? Well, everything. Sure, a rose is still a rose, but a girl named Rose isn’t the same person if she is called Thorn, and if she is a fictional character the author might want to play with the name’s meaning and change her personality to be more like the name, or the the other way around, contrast her with her name. It’s very common in Hebrew to have a meaning to a name. My name means a ray of light, but also speed, beauty and a corner. My kids have names which resonate with mine, and my characters’ names also have double, and sometimes triple, meanings that relate to their personality and powers. We had to decide whether to transliterate the names, or translate them and in so doing lose their Israeli feel.
After many emails we decided to keep the meaning and ditch the original names. That meant that I no longer remember who’s who in the translated The Heart of the Circle, and that some of the characters have very different names. A shy girl whose original name was something like Whisper in Hebrew, is now called Tempest, for example. New name, new meaning, new influence on the character which only English readers will see.
We went through all of the names, places, slang and idioms, and tried to match them with new meaning that would work in a different language. I practice a lot of deep breathing as the translation progresses and have hummed “Let It Go” countless times, whenever the translator changes another concept.
The thing we can’t translate was the feeling of living in Israel today. The country has become more and more divided over the last decade, and a lot of this found its way into the book. We had a murder during a Pride Parade, and another in a youth bar for LGBTQ+ community. We have ministers and parliament members speaking out loud against equality and shirking our obligation to defend underprivileged populations. We live in a state where people are more and more labeled as “with us or against us”, with no room for variety and no acceptance of the perceived ‘other’. Everyone feels under attack, everyone feels misunderstood and everyone feel alone. How will this possibly be translated to another culture?
But there’s more to it than that. The Heart of the Circle wasn’t written in a vacuum. It’s part of the major shift that is taking place in Israeli SFF writing over the past few years. All of us, genre fans and writers, grew up reading translated fiction, and when we started writing, we wrote about people who acted and lived in copies of what we’ve read. However, over time, the scenery changed. More and more writers started writing about Israeli characters, and the surroundings and conflicts in the books became more and more familiar. Less entire-galaxy-empires-where-everything-looks-like-it-was-written-in-the-fifties and more about Israeli characters, people who live in Israel and are faced with conflicts that stem from Israeli society. The Israeli SFF community now produces stories about Kibbutz life, isolation in the big city, motherhood, mysogens, road rage and even the non-existing subway in Tel Aviv. The Heart of the Circle could only be written in this atmosphere, where writing personal views and choosing protagonists who could easily be found in our life instead of some generic future, is the majority of current SFF works which are published in Israel.
And yet, here it is in English. I sincerely hope that we succeeded in the task we took upon ourselves and brought you a book that is both inherently Israeli, and approachable in English.
Keren is a three time winner of the Geffen Award (the Israeli Hugo) for her short stories and collections and is a mother, a writer, a medical doctor who specializes in Epidemiology and Public health and a blogger. She is one of the founders of Mida’at, an NGO dedicated to promoting public health in Israel. She is working in Levinski clinic, a free STD clinic in Tel Aviv and as a physician in the mobile clinic for people in prostitution which is operated by the Levinski clinic.