The whole world's in Franzen Freedom frenzy, and Germany's no exception. And of course somebody has to do the job of translating the book in record time - because while the author took nine years to produce the book, the German version has to be finished yesterday.
I've written about the multiple translator phenomenon before, specifically the six-man team who had to translate Dan Brown in ten days. Which may or may not have been a success, I don't know. But now there are a couple of rather more literary titles being translated by team effort.
I have a sneaking suspicion this is not an entirely new phenomenon. I know of one prominent North American novel that was translated by two different people to get it onto the market quickly back in 2003, and the name of the translator at the front of the book is a pseudonym. But now publishers seem to be more open about doing it.
The prime example at the moment is Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals/Tiere essen. The book was translated by Isabel Bogdan, Ingo Herzke and Brigitte Jakobeit, and my friend Isabel accompanied the process occasionally on her jolly good blog. Which takes us back to the subject of translators building buzz for their books.
The German publishers Kiepenheuer & Witsch have garnered huge amounts of publicity elsewhere too and are setting up a new online readers' community for the book along the lines of their successful, groundbreaking, etc. etc. DFW site unendlicher spass. I look forward to seeing the site and whether the translators will be as involved this time as DFW's translator Ulrich Blumenbach. Certainly, it'd be interesting to find out how that collaboration worked.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Franzen's previous translator Bettina Abarbanell has been working with Eike Schönfeld on changing Freedom into Freiheit. It's due for release on 17 September, just over two weeks after the official US publication date. As in the case of Foer's book, the German publishers Rowohlt have chosen excellent translators for the job - but one wonders whether an 800-page novel can be translated excellently by two different people. Won't we be able to see the gaps? Schönfeld gave a couple of clues about the process in an interview with the Hamburger Abendblatt last month, if you read between the lines:
Not every author is suitable for every translator, says Schönfeld, and sometimes you work under exceptional conditions, somehow. For instance when a writer like Franzen speaks quite good German himself. Or when you have to translate a book faster than you'd actually want to.
Obviously, translators are always under time pressure, but as it becomes easier to get hold of the original versions, publishers are in an even greater rush to reap their investments on the home market. If I were a bestselling American author though, I'd want to know that my book was getting the best possible treatment in the translation process. And I'm not sure that includes being chopped into sections and then stuck back together again, no matter how talented the translators and editors working on it may be.