Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Translators On Translation

While the English-speaking world flips out over Edith Grossman's Why Translation Matters and Tim Parks' ode to the (oddly male) translator, Germany is having its own epiphany.

My fellow translator, fellow blogger, fellow book-lover and all round jolly good fellow Isabel Bogdan now has her own column in the rather good online publication Titel-Magazin. You can read all about how hard it is to translate refrigerator, what translation does to translators, and how translation is a performative art. And this week Isa's hat-string's gone and popped, as the Germans say.

Did the translation fall from the sky? A translation has appeared to us, hallelujah? No, it jolly well did not! Someone spent months working on it, you idiots! Excuse me, but it's true. Someone struggled and wrestled, slogged away, brooded, researched, chained herself to her desk, conferred with the author and the editor and in the end survived only on coffee and cigarettes so that Germans can read a book, and what then? First she gets a pretty damn modest fee, and then: "Finally out in German." "Now in a new translation." "Read by." Well, thanks a lot.

It's in German, by the way.


Reader in the Wilderness said...

I just finished reading and blogging about Hans Fallada's Every Man Dies Alone and am wondering what your opinions were about the translation by Michael Hofmann. I had questions about it, but am no expert. I tried searching to see if you had a post about it but was unsuccessful in finding one. Thanks.

I love German books and love your blog.


kjd said...

Thanks Judith! I just read your piece and liked it a lot. I hadn't considered that Fallada was reflecting on his own failings and quiet rebellion, that's an interesting take.

I've read about half of Every Man Dies Alone (or in the UK Alone in Berlin) and I will post something about it in future - there's an event coming up in Berlin next month.

Although I wasn't all that taken with the book itself, I found the translation exhilarating. Michael Hofmann is one of the stars of German-English translation and his language here is dazzling, I think. I haven't compared it with the original but I found the book a joy to read from the linguistic point of view, at least. Hofmann goes that little bit out of his way to find words we don't always use every day. And while that's not what every book needs, I think it works well here.

But you didn't mention what you thought of the language, the phrasing. I don't think you have to be an expert to pass judgement - just think about how the choice of words seems to you, which is what the translator does: choose the author's words again in the target language.

Sometimes reviewers fall into the trap of getting hung up on individual words - I don't know, slangy stuff that seems out of place or something. IMHO, it's better to just get a general feeling of how the language itself comes across.

Maybe we can talk about it again once I've posted about it.