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November 23, 2000



Robert Majzels

Photo by Terry Byrnes.

Robert Majzels, who teaches creative writing in our English Department, heard about his Governor-General’s Literary Award for Translation through an e-mail from the Canada Council to where he is staying in Beijing.

“Naturally, I was extremely pleased and excited,” Majzels said in a message from the Chinese capital, where he has returned. However, he probably would not have come back to Canada for the gala awards ceremony on November 14, except that he also received news that his father had died, and he came home to attend the funeral.

“I’m in China to write,” Majzels explained. “I was finding it difficult to concentrate back at home, teaching and doing commercial translations while trying to write.

“I’m working on a difficult project, a Talmudic murder mystery (using Talmudic form and investigative methodology to solve the mystery of the other’s death), which requires a great deal of concentration and study.

“When my partner, Claire Huot, was offered a job at the Canadian embassy in Beijing on a two-year contract, I agreed to come along. I can write in peace here, plus stay in touch with my translation clients via the Internet.

“I’m also taking advantage of the opportunity to study Chinese. So far, I can buy rice, and carry on a more or less erudite discussion on fruits and vegetables. I’ve travelled a bit, to Shanghai and Manchuria, and plan to do more in the next couple of years. I get around Beijing on my old five-speed Raleigh bicycle.”

Majzels is both a novelist and a translator. In 1998, his novel City of Forgetting was shortlisted for the QSPELL award for fiction, and last week the Quebec Writers Federation gave Claire Dé this year’s Translation Prize for Montréal Barbare, her French version of Majzel’s novel.

However, the Governor-General’s award was for Just Fine, his translation of France Daigle’s Pas Pire.

“It was a challenging task, especially to get the different tones and voices right. I had to invent an English version of Acadian, without making the characters sound like they were speaking poor English, and without losing the musicality of the original French.

“The book is hilariously funny, in a sophisticated and intelligent way. I’m especially happy that my winning the GG will afford Daigle more of the respect and attention she deserves. In Just Fine, she manages to combine fiction, autobiography, memoir and essay without losing the reader. It’s a real tour de force.”

— Barbara Black