I’m excited to announce that my translation of “Sherpa: The Memoir of Ang Tharkay” has just been published by Mountaineers Books. It’s a great read (even if you don’t know the translator!); Ang Tharkay was the sirdar (head Sherpa) on the 1950 French expedition to Annapurna, the first 8,000 meter peak to be successfully climbed. We all hear a lot about Sherpas and their role in climbing big mountains; this book provides some historical context to the present-day role of Sherpas in Himalayan expeditions, and it stands out as one of the earliest climbing memoirs to be written in a Sherpa’s own words.
The book was fascinating to translate, in part because its origins are a bit shrouded in mystery. It was originally published in 1954 as Mémoires d’un Sherpa, by the French publishing house Amiot-Dumont. However it was presented as having been originally told by Ang Tharkay to one “Basil P. Norton,” through the intermediary of an interpreter. From “Basil P. Norton’s” introduction to the first edition:
“The biggest obstacle was language. Ang Tharkay spoke only a little English, and I knew only a few words in Nepali. We both spoke Hindi, but neither one of us spoke it well enough to translate our thoughts into fluent English. In the end, we used an interpreter who spoke both Nepali and English…[who] agreed to transcribe Ang Tharkay’s story in English as he was speaking.”
Oddly, there is no record of any Basil P. Norton associated with the Annapurna expedition, nor with any other Himalayan expedition of that era, nor any explanation of why the book was then published in French. So in a sense, my translation may be a back-translation of “Basil P. Norton’s” interpreted rendition of Ang Tharkay’s story (how’s that for a linguistic game of telephone?).
As a Francophile and a Nepalophile (my husband and I spent part of our honeymoon in the region of Nepal where Ang Tharkay grew up), I was hooked on this book from the first read. It’s a very human perspective on what has come to be known as the “golden age” of Himalayan exploration, and it’s interesting to read Ang Tharkay’s impressions of his relationship with the French and British expedition leaders (who he refers to as “sahibs”). Special thanks to the great folks at Mountaineers Books–they were a joy to work with, and they’re a publishing house that’s committed to very high standards. My husband, who is a real publishing and typography nerd, commented that “This is the most beautiful book that your name is on” (including, for the record, four books that I wrote!), and I’ll have another translation coming out from Mountaineers Books in 2017…stay tuned!