It is based on Dante’s Inferno, and the linguists who translated Dan Brown’s new blockbuster novel from English into other languages lived in distinctly underworld conditions, it has emerged.
By Nick Squires, Rome
For two months, 11 translators of different nationalities were tucked away in an underground “bunker” near Milan where they worked under the strictest security to translate Brown’s new book into French, German, Italian and other languages for its simultaneous release on May 14.
When they arrived in February 2012, they were put into “lockdown”, as one official put it. Their mobile phones were confiscated and they were placed under strict instructions to reveal nothing of the plot of the book.
To prevent leaks to the outside world, the translators had limited access to computers, were banned from taking any notebooks or papers out of the bunker and had to hand in the manuscripts they were working on each evening.
Minibuses transported them to and from the hotels they were staying in.
They were accompanied by security guards and ate in a staff canteen in the headquarters of Mondadori, the Italian publishing giant that is owned by Silvio Berlusconi.
Each was given an alibi and cover story, to offer to anyone who showed too much curiosity about what they were doing all day down in the bunker.
They worked such long hours, for seven days a week, that they saw almost nothing of Milan and could not wait to get home to their families.
The extraordinary security measures and the translators’ strange experience were revealed in interviews with an Italian magazine, TV Sorrisi e Canzoni, which is owned by Mondadori.
“Free time, what free time?” said Dominique Defert, a French translator. “Milan? Where is Milan? It might as well have been in a distant galaxy.” Esthel Roig, the Catalan translator, said: “I went to Milan three times and it was fantastic to see people, shops and restaurants, but I was too tired to really enjoy these things.”
The hotel where they stayed was “lost in the middle of nowhere”, and she desperately missed her cat, she said.
Carole Del Port, another French translator, said: “The time outside the bunker was essentially reduced to nothing – lunch, dinner at a very late hour (we were mentally exhausted) and sleep.
“But it was a unique, fantastic experience – a rare opportunity to work in a group for weeks and to experience total immersion in the world of Dan Brown.”
Fabiano Morais, a Brazilian translator, said: “I have to say, not being able to use the internet on the computer on which I was working was a bit strange, especially at the start, but then I got used to it.”
Annamaria Raffo’s task was to translate the book from English into Italian. “I worked every evening until 8pm, sometimes later, and then there was just time to jump on board the minibus (back to the hotel), grab a bite to eat and then fall into bed,” she said. “Sadly I cannot say that I saw anything of Milan’s nightlife.”
Each time they entered or exited the underground bunker, the weary translators had to make a note of where they had been – a much-needed cigarette break, for instance, or a short walk. “To see the snow”, was the reason given for one break by Mr Morais, the Brazilian, because he had never seen snow before.
Inferno is the latest book by Brown to feature his hero, Harvard “symbology” expert Robert Langdon, who was played by Tom Hanks in the film versions of The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.
An entry on Amazon describes Inferno as Brown’s “highest-stakes novel to date”. The plot is summarised: “In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology, Robert Langdon, is drawn into a harrowing world centred on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces . . .
“Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science.
“Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust . . . before the world is irrevocably altered.”
One translator joked: “I’m not allowed to tell you anything about it. If I did I’d have to shoot you.”