Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Is It Just Laziness?

This past weekend's Guardian and Observer are suddenly awash with reviews of translations. Enzensberger, Pamuk (twice!), Bolano, Su Tong. Crack open the champagne!

But wait just one moment. There's something odd going on. With the exception of James Lasdun's review of The Museum of Innocence in the Guardian, no one has had the courtesy to mention the translators. Shall I type that again? FOUR OUT OF FIVE REVIEWS FAIL TO MENTION THE TRANSLATORS.

And that although someone has come up with the sparklingly witty and original link headline "Found in Translation" for Yiyun Li's review of Su Tong's The Boat to Redemption (Guardian). This one is a particular treasure, as for one reason or another the reviewer tells us:

The familiar language and the story have not revealed anything new, though perhaps it is fair to point out that some of these issues are resolved in translation. This is because the process of translation allows the familiar to become strange and the strange familiar, a quality that is unfortunately absent from the original text.

Yet the reviewer neglects to name the person who did all this.

Ironically, the Observer letters section contains this:

"Stephanie Merritt's review of Javier Marias's Your Face Tomorrow ("Through the moral maze to a breathtaking finale", 3 January) is most interesting; too few translations get reviewed nowadays. However, when they do, the least one expects is that the translator's name will be mentioned and some comment offered on the quality of his work. Ms Merritt provides neither; she doesn't even tell us Marias's nationality or what language he writes in - though one guesses he is Spanish."

William Dorrell, London.

So allow me to give credit where credit is due. To Martin Chalmers for translating Hans Magnus Enzensberger's The Silences of Hammerstein from German. To Maureen Freely for translating Orhan Pamuk's The Museum of Innocence from Turkish. To Chris Andrews for translating Roberto Bolano's Nazi Literature in America from Spanish. And to Howard Goldblatt for translating Su Tong's The Boat to Redemption from Chinese.

For future reference, reviewers and editors, why not take a look at PEN American Center's very useful Reviewers Guidelines for Translated Books?


Lyn said...

A related bugbear of mine are reviews that purport to comment on the translation - that is, comment on the language/style/whatever of the translation - but which give no indication that the reviewer knows the original text or even the original language. Maybe I underestimate the reviewers, but it certainly doesn't always come across that they know what they are talking about in criticising - or praising - the translation of the work...

Monika said...

Read this article and it made me think of you: The Translation Gap: Why More Foreign Writers Aren’t Published in America.

kjd said...

I read that too. Thanks Monika! What I found odd is that I (and other translators I know) do actually work on a fair amount of the samples she talks about. So for German titles the condition she lays out (good sample translation) is pretty much met.
But then I suppose more books are translated out of German than Bosnian, after all.
Otherwise, a rather apologetic piece.