Interview with Julie Rose – The Greenland Breach

The Greenland Breach


Bernard BESSON

285 pages
113,000 words

Release date: October 30, 2013
by Le French Book

  The Greenland BreachIsbn: 978-1-939474-94-0 (Kindle)
978-1-939474-95-7 (epub)

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 A stylish, fast-paced spy thriller about the intrigue, economic warfare and struggles for natural resources promised by global warming. The Arctic ice caps are breaking up. Europe and the East Coast of the Unites States brace for a tidal wave. Meanwhile, former French intelligence officer John Spencer Larivière, his karate-trained, steamy Eurasian partner, Victoire, and their bisexual computer-genius sidekick, Luc, pick up an ordinary freelance assignment that quickly leads them into the glacial silence of the great north, where a merciless war is being waged for control of discoveries that will change the future of humanity. [provided by the publisher]


Bernard BESSON

Award-winning thriller writer Bernard Besson, who was born in Lyon, France, in 1949, is a former top-level chief of staff of the French intelligence services, an eminent specialist in economic intelligence and Honorary General Controller of the French National Police. He was involved in dismantling Soviet spy rings in France and Western Europe when the USSR fell and has real inside knowledge from his work auditing intelligence services and the police. He has also written a number of prize-winning thrillers and several works of nonfiction. He currently lives in the fourteenth arrondissement of Paris, right down the street from his heroes.
Julie Rose is a prize-winning, world-renowned translator of major French thinkers, known for, among other works, her acclaimed translation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, which was published by Random House in 2008. She has translated twenty-eight books, including many French classics, and writes on the side. She lives in her hometown of Sydney, Australia, with her husband, dog and two cats.


Today, as part of the Virtual Book Tour of Bernard BESSON with his spy mystery, I’m delighted to interview the famous translator Julie Rose, who made this book available for us in English! Apart from being a book blogger, I have been an English-French translator myself for over 25 years, so I’m very grateful to Le French Book for offering me this opportunity to talk with Julie Rose.

reading bug1. Julie,
how long have you been a translator?

Any special highlight in your translation career?

Julie Rose

I first went public as a translator of literature with Racine’s classic Play, Phèdre, for the Sydney Theatre Company, in 1991. I raced through it in 10 days and it’s still one of the most pleasurable experiences I’ve had. I didn’t try to mimic Racine’s poetic structure – we don’t have any real equivalent. But I did try to reproduce that characteristic 17th– century tension between the icily perfect surface of the language and the chaos of the underlying passions. Fabulous fun.

Before that, I’d done a lot of interpreting and ‘non-literary’ translating. Like most translators of my generation, I fell into the job – or was pushed – rather than chose it as a career path. It was a logical step, though. I was a linguist, good at languages, I was always fascinated by words and loved being in the elastic space between two cultural spheres, always gleefully hopping between them.

Les Misérables has to be the major highlight for me. Victor Hugo’s interest in the real world was encyclopedic. He was never content to mention a thing, whether it was man-made, like lace or jet beads or sewerage systems; or whether it was a natural phenomenon. He had to know how it was made or formed and explore all its features in minute detail

2. What was the most challenging in translating The Greenland Breach?

We’re back to technology again, but also to Les Misérables, which is also a thriller, one of the first. Bernard Besson, the author, is a man who knows what he’s talking about. He was high up in French intelligence and was also a cop. I had to be meticulous about getting the spookware right. And given the general theme of catastrophic climate change and the way that issue meshes with a host of others, like world finance and politics, there was a lot of ‘real-world’ detail that needed to be exact.

3. What was the most enjoyable?

My favorite bits are when the earth itself is sucked into the action and becomes the enemy. The descriptions of some of the geological phenomena unleashed as the ice melts are truly stunning. You’re left feeling wrung-out but with a renewed sense of mission. The husky scenes will be particularly painful to dog lovers.

It would make a stunning epic movie – it’s so cinematic.

Besson also has a lot of fun with the characters, who are sketchy in the comic-book sense of strongly-outlined stereotypes. He plays with those stereotypes and twists them into interesting shapes.

The translation needed to be detailed – there’s a lot of info – but also spare, with all fat trimmed off, so as to not get in the way of the movement.

4. Did you have to do a lot of background research to help you translate it?

Quite a bit. There is the science – Earth sciences, geology, digital technology –  that had to be checked and made accessible. That was a journey on its own, into amazing worlds, natural and manmade. There is also Besson’s acute and up-to-the-minute reading of the geopolitical scene revolving around Greenland and the stakes of what happens there. Everyone wants a piece of Greenland these days. There are the rare earths, which we use in our computers and cell phones and so on, and there is the oil and gas and melting permafrost. Everyone is there, even Australia. As I was translating the book, I read about two Australian mining companies that have gone in. And, of course, China has a massive presence. Besson portrays potential – and real –alliances and misalliances that are a lot more subtle and interesting than what we usually read about.

5. Did you have to communicate with the author? How was it?

I have to confess to an extremely childish need to find the answers all by myself. I almost never ask anyone anything. It’s as though that would be cheating! Don’t ask me where that comes from, but I think it actually helps in a practical sense – to tease out sentences that are complex, to delve into meaning and fact, as hard as you can. In this case, Besson’s prose was luminously clear most of the time. And I had an excellent editor and chief editor, who did great work questioning anything even slightly strange.

6. I have been an English-French translator myself for over 25 years. I would love now to translate fiction. Do you mind sharing how you launched into fiction translation? Any recommendation on how to do so?

I’d already done several plays, including the Racine I mentioned, and Molière and Botho Strauss (I used to win prizes for German!), and Marguerite Duras, etc.. But otherwise only books of critical theory and philosophy. I was asked by Minnesota Press to do a particularly grueling book of political philosophy by Jacques Rancière (Disagreement). It was one of those books with what I call “18th-century sentences” – you know the ones, they go on for several pages, with about fifty dependent clauses. It felt to me like only three people in the world would understand it, and I wasn’t one of them. It was a problem. But eventually, with the help of a (small) daily glass of scotch, I solved it. The editor wrote me a fan letter, and when he moved to The Modern Library at Random House, he invited me to do Alexandre Dumas père’s The Knight of Maison-Rouge. The shift from Rancière to a rip-roaring populist novel about Marie-Antoinette might seem bizarre, but it was perfect.

When you translate, you are faced with a problem, no matter what the genre or style or place in the literary hierarchy. The problem is always how best to hear the author’s voice – style – and reproduce it.

You take those skills, as a mimic, a performer, wherever you go. But you’re probably freer to enjoy the challenge with fiction than with anything else. Of course it’s your own voice you have to dredge up and command. That’s liberating.

7. When and where do you prefer to do translation work: in complete silence? with music background? What is most conducive?

It’s funny how this changes with age. When I was a teenager, I always did my homework listening to pop music on the radio, quite loud, in the “cubby” down the back. Now, I can’t listen to pop, mostly I can’t listen to anything with words. Unless I’m translating, say, Catherine Ray’s Stepping Out, which required a lot of Joni Mitchell and a few French singers from the 1960s. With the Rancière I mentioned, I had to have jazz, mostly Bill Evans and Stan Getz, but occasionally John Coltrane or Miles. It helped enormously. Most things I do take certain classical pieces, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Bach… Bach’s good for Virilio.

With Hugo I had a field day. There were lots of styles and periods and, even, I think, words. Even some Emmylou Harris – the really sad songs.

Sometimes you need music, sometimes you need silence, and you definitely need a dog – or a cat, a parrot, a rabbit, a pet snail – a familiar – always.





 Greenland, the north face of Haffner Bjerg, 6:30 a.m.

Lars Jensen felt the ground tremble beneath the snow. He straightened up and abandoned his position, petrified by what he was seeing to the west, toward Canada. The last phase of global warming had begun just as a big red helicopter flew past from the east. It doubtless belonged to Terre Noire, the Franco-Danish oil-and-gas company that was carrying out geological surveys.

From the rocky slopes of Haffner Bjerg, events were taking an unimaginable turn worthy of Dante. With a sound as ominous as the crack of doom, the Lauge Koch Kyst had begun to tear away from Greenland and plummet into Baffin Bay in the North Atlantic Ocean. A colossal breach a mile and a half deep was opening up in the middle of the island continent. The trench ran for miles, as if an invisible ax had just split the ice cap in two.

Terrified, Lars backed away, forgetting what he had come to the top of the world to do. He’d guessed that his presence on the slopes of Haffner Bjerg had something to do with the death of the Arctic. The advance wired from an anonymous account on the island of Jersey was every bit as incredible as the cataclysm under way.

A mist shot through with rainbows rose from the depths of the last ice age. Behind the iridescent wall, thousands of years of packed ice raked the granite surface and crashed into the sea, stirring up a gigantic tsunami. He pressed his hands to his ears to muffle the howling of Greenland as it began to die.

It took Lars a while to get a grip. His hands were still shaking as the thunderous impact reached him. It was even more frightening than the ear-splitting sound. Greenland was plunging into Baffin Bay. In a few hours, the coasts of Canada and the United States would be flooded. He fell to his knees like a child, overcome by thoughts that had never before crossed his mind. An abyss was opening inside him, and it was just as frightening as the one in front of him. It wasn’t until his fitful breathing slowed and his lungs stopped burning that he was able to get back to the tawdry reality of his own situation.

He lay down again on the hardpacked snow. With his eye glued to the sight of his rifle, he found the trail that the dogsled had taken from the Great Wound of the Wild Dog. That’s where the team would emerge, heading for Josephine and the automated science base that sounded the great island’s sick heart. The Terre Noire geologists were known for their punctuality, but at two thousand euros an hour, he would wait if he had to. Say what you like, the end of the world was good business.

Paris, fourteenth arrondissement

18 Rue Deparcieux, 11:30 a.m.

John Spencer Larivière put the phone down and shot Victoire a triumphant look. It was an expression she didn’t like.

“What’s got into you?” Victoire asked.

“North Land’s offering me a hundred thousand euros for a mission. I’ve got a meeting tomorrow with Abraham Harper’s wife, Geraldine.”


“She’ll let me know at the last minute.”

“What kind of a job?”

“She didn’t say.”

“She’s obviously going to ask you to investigate their European rivals, Terre Noire, Nicolas Lanier’s outfit. I don’t like it, John. Don’t go looking for trouble. Don’t forget you’re French. Remember where you come from.”

“Still, a hundred thousand euros…”





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6 thoughts on “Interview with Julie Rose – The Greenland Breach

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