On translating Pope Francis

An interview with Oonagh Stransky, translator of The Name of God is Mercy

Editorial Staff
January 14, 2016

In The Name of God is Mercy Pope Francis discusses the subject of mercy, the cornerstone of his faith, in a simple and direct conversational manner. Through personal anecdotes, biblical references and in response to key questions from Vatican reporter Andrea Tornielli, Francis explains his reasons for proclaiming a Holy Year of Mercy. The Florentine speaks with the book's English translator Oonagh Stransky.




The Florentine: What a privilege to translate Pope Francis’ book! How did the project come about?

Oonagh Stransky: Almost in a miraculous way! I had worked with Random House many years ago on a novel by Italian writer Pontiggia, but hadn’t collaborated with them on any recent projects since that time. Then, just a few days before leaving for New York City to see my daughters, I received an email from Random House editor Will Murphy. He was looking for someone who could handle this top-level, very secretive project. We discussed timing, I signed a confidentiality agreement, he asked me to do a sample, compared it with others’ work, and I was offered the job.


TF: How do you tackle translating a book of this prestige and influence?

OS: Literary translation is a painstaking and careful craft. When I translate a novel or short story, I absorb the language, ideas, tone, syntax, characters, everything! It’s a special kind of work, one that takes silence, focus, much reflection, and time. A relationship grows between translator and text. Although The Name of God is Mercy is not a work of literature, translating it was an enriching experience. It was a moving experience. A joyful one. I attribute this to the Pope’s deeply personal language, the compelling subject and my way of reading and working on translation.


TF: To what extent was this translation a collaborative process?

OS: I worked closely with Will Murphy on the editing of the book, and am immensely grateful for his insight and acumen. Gregory Conti, a friend and fellow translator, was a second reader on the project. Subsidiary rights were sold to Macmillan for the UK and Commonwealth, and I collaborated with that editor and second reader on making the text just right for their readership.


TF: What can readers expect from The Name of God is Mercy?

OS: Yesterday at the launch of the book, essentially a conversation with Pope Francis, actor Roberto Benigni praised its powerful and joyful message in his unique way. My hope today—as it finally goes on sale—is that people who read the book will appreciate its nuances and warmth as much as we (the people who were involved in its production) did and continue to do.


The Name of God is Mercy was released worldwide on January 12, 2016. Purchase your copy here.


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