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Translator Interview with Mireille Vignol

Introduction 


Due to successive waves of colonization, the Pacific region, predominantly anglophone, remains marked by linguistic barriers that tend to separate Indigenous communities, including those in the francophone Pacific. Despite shared cultural ties and experiences of colonialism, this linguistic partitioning persists, hindering unity and solidarity. Removing these barriers is essential for fostering conversations and strengthening bonds between Indigenous peoples. In literary spaces, translation serves as a vital tool for authors and creators to transcend linguistic boundaries, enabling them to reach broader audiences and forge connections with other Pacific communities. With this interview, we aim to shed light on existing translation efforts within the region and explore prospects for further enhancing literary exchange and collaboration.


Our team would like to acknowledge the current political situation in Kanaky New Caledonia, where the systemic disregard for Indigenous rights and voices, exacerbated by the grip of French colonialism, has led to conflicts, violent upheavals, and deaths. These tragedies highlight the critical need to translate work in Oceania, to foster the exchange of ideas and strengthen the unity of Te Moana Nui peoples. Translations from the French bring awareness to the struggles of French-occupied Indigenous communities in Oceania and beyond.


Our guest, Mireille Vignol, is a French-Australian literary translator and journalist. Mireille has translated books by Australian, South African, and Pacific Islander authors into French, enriching the literary landscape for Francophone readers worldwide. Noteworthy among her translated works are Witi Ihimaera’s The Whale Rider (2022) and The Uncle’s Story (2024), Epeli Hau’ofa’s Kisses in the Nederends (2012), Russell Soaba’s Maiba (2016), and Kristiana Kahakauwila’s This is Paradise (2022). See below for a list of Mireille’s translations of Pacific Islanders’ books.  


This interview was conducted by Māʻohi writer, Manuia Heinrich, in March 2024.

On Pacific Islanders' Books

What has been your experience translating books by Pacific Islanders? 


I worked with the Pacific service of Radio Australia when I lived in Melbourne and discovered the region, its diversity and complexity, its rhythm and beauty, its tragic colonial history as well. 


I was angered by the arrogant attitude of the French, who thought parts of it belonged to it, entitling them to nuclear tests and such, but also by Australia’s perception that the Pacific was its “backyard”. 


The region is nobody’s backyard, nobody’s territory, it’s an intricately related Sea of islands as Epeli Hau’ofa described so well. 


So, when I worked as a literary translator upon my return to France in the 2000s, I was keen to translate and promote Australian fiction, but also Pacific fiction, which was harder to come by. I was lucky to meet Christian Robert at the Paris Book Fair in 2005, as he was starting his Pacific literature collection for Au Vent des Iles. He wanted to start with Māori writers. He gave me 4 books to read, told me to choose one and translate it. I fell in love with the Festival of Miracles by Alice Tawhai, a wonderful collection of short stories which is still one of my favourite books. After that, we collaborated on many projects and opened the catalogue to Pacific writers, such as Russell Soaba from Papua New Guinea, Sia Figiel from Samoa or Kristiana Kahakauwila from Hawai’i.


You have translated works from various regions of Oceania, from Melanesia, Australia, and Polynesia: how do you define your work (or mission) in the ecosystem of Pacific literature?


I see myself as one of the cogs of the storytelling process. It’s a great feeling to play a part in the process that makes it possible, for instance, for a French speaking Oceanian reader to discover the wonderful world of Witi Ihimaera, recognizing so much of his reality, feeling part of a great Pacific family.

 

Are there any books that you would like to see translated, and why? 


I’d love to see more Pacific Islanders translated, but the process starts with the publication of their books and there aren’t enough publishers in many parts of Oceania to nurture and encourage writers. And it would be great to see more French speaking Pacific literature in translation.

Translation Process

Acquisition & Rights

Future of Translated Works in the Pacific


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