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Interview with Christina Cartwright, Translator of Zoo Station

Translating nearly anything from one language to another takes a special kind of skill. To learn more about what happens in the book translation process, we caught up with Christina Cartwright, the translator of Zoo Station (A Memoir): The Story of Christiane F., to talk about the art of translation, sightseeing in Berlin, and the special place that Zoo Station has in her heart.

Zoo Station [A Memoir]_9781936976225

The first English translation of Zoo Station was titled Christiane F.: Autobiography of a Girl of the Streets and Heroin Addict.

Zest Books: Hi, Christina! Thanks so much for stopping by to talk with us. Tell me about your career so far as a translator: Do you work exclusively on books? Do you work with any other materials?

Christina Cartwright: Zoo Station is my first literary translation project. I would love to translate another book! I work as coordinator of the German School at Middlebury College, so I get a lot of practice speaking, reading, and writing in both English and German. Prior to translating this book, I also worked as a paralegal for a corporate law firm and translated the odd document or contract from the law firm’s Austrian business clients.

Zest Books: What struck you most about Christiane’s story? You mentioned in your letter to readers that your role as a mother influenced how you interpreted or viewed her story. Was there any other part of this book that stood out to you as significant?

Christina Ellison

Christina Ellison

Christina Cartwright: Just like Christiane’s mother was, I am also a worried single mother of a troubled teenager, so I connected instantly with the story in that way. I was also struck by the raw openness and refreshing honesty of Christiane’s voice, the immediacy and sense of urgency of the language, and the timelessness and timeliness of her story. The same kinds of issues and obstacles that she faced in 1970’s Berlin are still relevant to us today, and they seem even more dire and more complicated today than they were for Christiane and her friends.

Zest Books: How did you first come to know about Christiane F.’s story?

Christina Cartwright: My parents, my brother, and I moved from Germany to New Jersey when I was young, so I didn’t become aware of Christiane’s story until I visited relatives and friends in Berlin. By then it had become part of the cultural history of Berlin, part of the “local lore,” and everyone in Berlin was familiar with her story. It became so popular and so well known that tour guides would routinely point out certain locations made famous by the book, if they happened to be on the route that a tour bus took.

Zest Books: Have you visited many of the Berlin locations featured in Zoo Station?

ChristianeF.Frame

Christiane F.

Christina Cartwright: Some, but not all.  But I’ve certainly heard of all of them and know where they are in the city.

Zest Books: What’s one of the most difficult things about translation?

Christina Cartwright: It’s very difficult to find just the right combination of words and sentences to get the mood, the feeling of the original text across in the new language – to successfully recreate the atmosphere of the original text. It’s also a challenge to stay true to the original author’s style. But probably the most difficult thing is to translate humor, since humor in any language is so dependent on its culture.  When you take it out of its cultural context and literally translate it into another language, it almost always falls flat.

Zest Books: How about one of the most rewarding things about being a translator?

Christina Cartwright: The most rewarding thing for me is to feel the language “click”—when you feel that you’ve done a successful job in translating the feeling of a passage and that you’ve re-created the atmosphere of the original text.

Zest Books: Who are some translators whose work you really admire? And what makes a good translator?

Young addicts working the Kurfurstenstrasse in Berlin, one of the places made famous by the original book, Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo [We Children of Bahnhof Zoo].

Christina Cartwright: I really admire those translators whose writing doesn’t read like a translation at all. It reads like an original work—yet it is true to the original text.  Just one example would be the translator Steven Murray, who translated the Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy into English.

Zest Books: What do you do when you’re not translating books? Do you have another job? Any hobbies?

Christina Cartwright: I would love to be able to translate manuscripts full time, but for now I have a day job: For the last 12 years I’ve worked as coordinator of the German School at Middlebury College in Vermont. Like many single parents I also get creative and find other sources of income to help make ends meet. You can imagine I was very busy while working on Zoo Station three to five hours a night and working full-time at my day job, all while being a full-time mom (with all that implies!)

My other interests are hiking, skiing, kayaking, biking, flying, shooting sporting clays, playing cello (I play in a local orchestra), swing dancing, raising orphaned animals, gardening, and of course reading.  Many of these interests have taken a back seat since over the last few years my priority (and pleasure) has been to spend time with my teenage son at our home in Cornwall, Vermont.

Zest Books: Thanks so much for answering our questions, Christina! And thanks for doing such an amazing job with Zoo Station.

Read more about Zoo Station‘s unique publishing journey in a Publishers Weekly feature article:, Station to ‘Station’: The Rebirth of a Foreign Cult Classic. And head over to the book page to order your copy today!

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