At the end of 2016, translator Jean-Louis Courriol received two important awards: the Doctor Honoris Causa title from Tibiscus University in Timisoara and the Eugen Lovinescu Award from the Museum of Romanian Literature.
These are not the first awards Courriol has received in Romania for translating and promoting Romanian literature in the French-speaking world. In 2015, he received the title of Honorary Ambassador of Romanian Literature in Europe at the Transylvania International Book Festival. Passionate about both poetry and prose, Jean-Louis Courriol has translated and published some classic writers, some of whom were until then considered untranslatable, as well as contemporary authors.
Mihai Eminescu, Liviu Rebreanu, Camil Petrescu, Marin Sorescu, Marta Petreu, Ion Baiesu and Augustin Buzura are but some of the names French readers have been able to discover thanks to Jean-Louis Courriol. The latter first came into contact with Romania at the beginning of the 1970s, while teaching classical languages. Discovering that Romanian was a kind of modern Latin, he began to study it. Later sent by the French state as a lecturer at the Alexandru Ioan Cuza University in Iasi, eastern Romania, he started speaking Romanian with a regional accent. Camil Petrescu is the first Romanian writer Courriol translated into French and the choice was by no means random. Petrescu was the one of the favourite writers of Courriol’s future Romanian wife, Florica Ciodaru, a well-known translator herself.
Jean-Louis Courriol mentioned what Romanian books have marked his life: “It’s hard to say because there are so many of them. But if I only had to mention only one, this would naturally be Mihai Eminescu. But then, of course, there’s Liviu Rebreanu. And Marin Sorescu. And Cezar Petrescu, who is unfortunately considered of secondary importance in Romania. As Marta Petreu said, it is important to re-evaluate Romanian literature in relation with other cultures. In my case, I do so in relation with French literature, in which I continue to believe. We should not forget, however, that French literature is not above Romanian literature. For me, Romanian literature is just as important a point of reference as French literature. Just as the Romanian language is like a second mother tongue to me.”
In an interview with writer Marta Petreu, Jean-Louis Courriol said there are still masterpieces of Romanian literature that have yet to be translated. Jean-Louis Courioll: “Marin Sorescu is one of my most important discoveries, because he is the poet who brought me closer to Mihai Eminescu. Because, as I said in the speech I gave when receiving my honorary doctorate, Mihai Eminescu seemed for me an almost unreachable monument, but also a monument that has been praised once too many times. But when I read They Had to Have a Name by Marin Sorescu, maybe the most beautiful homage paid to Mihai Eminescu, I grew closer to his work. I reached Mihai Eminescu through Marin Sorescu. I also reached Liviu Rebreanu through Eminescu. And I reached Marin Sorescu once again through Liviu Rebreanu. And I can go on making connections.”
Jean-Louis Courriol has translated as many as six books by writer Liviu Rebreanu. In addition to translation, he taught Romanian language and literature at the University of Lyon. Since 2000, he has been an associate professor at the University of Pitesti, which has set up the Liviu Rebreanu Institute for Research in Literary Translation and Interpretation, where he teaches alongside Florica Ciodaru Courriol. According to him, it is not easy to promote Romanian literature. Working with his wife, however, helps a lot, he says: “It is really hard, but having Florica by my side helps. Of course, French and other foreign publishers do not welcome us with open arms. But it is not necessarily their fault, sometimes it is the translations themselves, which are not always convincing. It may be that they were not convincing because they were not always the most relevant for Romanian literature. I am convinced that Romanian literature cannot penetrate other cultural spaces if it is not known from its grassroots. You have to know, at least partially, Mihai Eminescu, Liviu Rebreanu, Cezar Petrescu, Camil Petrescu, Lucian Blaga, Tudor Arghezi, or Marin Preda. My opinion is that it is hard to promote Romanian literature if you don't know these authors. Of course, you could have a hit with a book by a contemporary writer, but the success would only be short lived.”