We spoke to Nana Ekvtimishvili and Elizabeth Heighway about their novel The Pear Field.
Nana, what has it been like to be longlisted?
I couldn't believe it! I was filled with so much gratitude towards my translator and towards my publisher!
How would you summarise The Pear Field in one sentence?
Everyone at the edge of the pear field has their own imaginary family.
Why did you decide to write about children with disabilities?
For me it was more writing about children with abilities to survive. I was raised next to these children as their neighbour on Kerch Street in the 1990s, and at that time it felt like being on the edge of the world – a place you never want to go back to, but that you will never forget.
You are also an award-winning film director. How do the worlds of film and books compare?
Cinema and literature are like different confessions. Doing both even contradicts the other. As a filmmaker you are dealing with the world outside, but when you write, you are dealing with your own world. Filmmaking is always about sharing, whereas writing is like baking your own cake alone. And you should love it, you should love being alone! Another important difference for me also is that, filmmaking demands from you some kind of fighting for everything, to convince people, to get what you need, while literature doesn't need any of these things. No matter how you feel, literature always has the door open for you.
Hi Elizabeth, what has it been like to be longlisted?
Rather overwhelming, to be honest! When I started this project I decided it would be my last translation from Georgian, for various reasons, and to have it be so well received is just wonderful. I’m over the moon for Nana, as well; the longlist is fantastic this year and this is an amazing accolade for a first novel.
What did you enjoy about translating The Pear Field?
It transported me straight to the Georgia I saw when I first visited in my mid-twenties in 1996, around the time The Pear Field is set. It was a chaotic and challenging period for Georgia, coming after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a civil war and a coup, and the trip made a very deep impression on me. Nana’s writing is so intensely evocative and her eye for detail so keen that when reading it I had a whole-body response to the words on the page – I could so clearly see the streets and buildings, hear the children shouting in the yard, even recall the way the air felt on my skin. Georgia really was the love affair of my twenties, so that felt very special.
You mainly translate from French, which language do you prefer to translate to English?
I don’t think I have a preference, actually, and obviously the second part of the translation process – playing around with the English text – is pretty much the same for both languages. Translating from Georgian is definitely more of a workout, though, and it really shines a light on the process of working between two languages: French is considerably closer to English in terms of syntax, grammar, vocabulary and everything else, so it’s a rather gentler ride, finding the right English words to fill broadly similar sentence ‘slots’, whereas with Georgian it feels more like taking a sledgehammer to each sentence and then trying to stick the pieces together in a whole new configuration, and that’s exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure.
Why did you decide to become a translator?
Because during my studies a few people suggested I might do a decent job of it, basically! I did commercial translation for a few years and then tried my hand at literature, and that seemed to unlock a whole new part of my brain. I’m actually autistic and find it really hard to express myself in words – I’m aware of the irony – and although I love reading, verbalising my response to literature has never come easy either. Translation is my response to literature, I suppose, and it’s also my creative outlet. I’m no good at all as a writer, but when I take someone else’s words and have to re-express them in English it feels as if my creativity has been found its wings. I love it.