Caterina Edwards on the French Translation of Her Novel, The Sicilian Wife

Caterina Edwards. Photo by Fred Katz.

Caterina Edwards immigrated to Edmonton at age eight with her British father and Venetian mother. The Edmonton author was the first Canadian woman of Italian heritage to publish in western Canada. She is well known for writing narratives of the return throughout her literary career, including The Lion’s Mouth (1982), Finding Rosa (2008), The Sicilian Wife (2015), and her story “Claudia” published in Accenti (2018). Edwards’ narratives pull at the heartstrings. To read more about Caterina Edwards’ writing, see the collection of essays, Caterina Edwards: Essays on Her Works (Guernica 2000) edited by Joseph Pivato.


It’s been almost five years since the publication of your novel, The Sicilian Wife (Linda Leith Publishing 2015). How does it feel to see the French translation appear?
The publication of The Sicilian Wife in French as L’Épouse Sicilienne has been an unexpected blessing. It feels like an accomplishment, even though the accomplishment is that of the translator, Joanna Gruda, not mine. My first book, The Lion’s Mouth, was also published in French, as La Gueule du Lion in 2000. But this publication feels more important than that one did, perhaps because the gap between the launch of the English and French books then was longer: eighteen years.

Were you involved in the translation process?
My French is rudimentary. I couldn’t help with the translation per se. But Joanna did consult me. She made sure she had a thorough understanding of what I had written and its intended meaning. A couple of times, I had to explain the context of a reference; for example, one of the characters makes a joke alluding to Alberto Tomba, the Italian ski champion. Joanna asked if the average person in Alberta in the 1980s would have known who Tomba was. I thought they would. He had acted rude and entitled at a World Cup Championship at Lake Louise. His behaviour was featured in a number of media reports. I also pointed out the passages that were meant to be metaphorical, rather than actual. 

Were you concerned that the translation would not live up to the original?
Joanna sometimes searched for pictures to help her see what I was describing. She did this in order to be sure she was choosing the best French words to help the readers to see. This led to informal fact-checking. In one scene, Fulvia, the Sicilian wife of the title, recalls la Chiesa di Santa Lucia, the church of her childhood. Joanna wrote to me that she could find no trace of a church of that name in Alcamo, Sicily. I reassured her that I was aware that such a church didn’t exist, but that I had chosen the name and the saint deliberately. I emailed her an image of St. Lucy carrying her severed breasts on a platter, an image that sparks an epiphany for Fulvia. Joanna was also mystified by my description of a sort of bulletin board within the church, covered in silver amulets and notes from the faithful, either pleading or thanking the saint for divine intersession. This time, I wasn’t able to find a picture of such a board or wall on the internet, so I sent her a longer description.

Sometimes translations give the author an opportunity to review the original work. Was this the case with L’Épouse Sicilienne?
I was impressed with how Joanna and the French copy editor found a number of small errors that had been missed in the English text. The novel tells two intertwined stories: that of Marisa, the chief of police in Alcamo, and the other of Fulvia, the Mafia princess in Canada. Since the events in one country affect those in the other, dates and times must be exact. In a few places, the timing was off. Likewise, Joanna caught several unclear sentences. I rewrote them before she translated them into French. Because of Joanna’s emphasis on accuracy and clarity, as well as my short but necessary rewrites, I feel L’Epouse Sicilienne is an even better version of The Sicilian Wife. I feel lucky that Joanna Gruda was the translator of my novel. And I am grateful to Linda Leith for publishing both versions.

Idiomatic expressions can be difficult to translate; sometimes they are too literal, other times they miss the meaning altogether. Was this an issue in the translation of The Sicilian Wife?
I recently finished reading the last of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. I noticed that Ann Goldstein, the translator, often chose to use the English word that was closest in sound to the Italian one. Plus, she translated Italian idioms directly into English. This gives the reader a feeling for the Italian original, but the Italian words often have a different connotation or meaning than the English. Perhaps because Joanna Gruda is a fine and much-translated writer in her own right, she practices a different theory of translation. She chooses an equivalent French idiom to the English-Canadian one.

How does the experience of seeing the French translation of The Sicilian Wife compare with The Lion’s Mouth?
I had very little contact with the publisher of La Gueule du Lion (Balzac 2000) before the book came out, and none with the translator, Jocelyne Doray. L’Epouse Sicilienne has a broader appeal; it is both a “good read” and a serious work. I hope it finds an audience in Quebec. The Sicilian Wife received a number of rave reviews in Canada, the United States, and even Sicily. It was named one of the Best Books of 2015 by The National Post. Just a couple of months ago, it got a glowing review in a British Columbia newspaper. Yet, I still don’t think the novel received its due. The appearance of L’Epouse Sicilienne gives it another chance.

Licia Canton is Accenti’s editor-in-chief. Her most recent publication is The Pink House and Other Stories (Longbridge Books 2018).




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