Saturday, August 26, 2006

Death of the author...

No No No No No Don't stop reading! This isn't a piece of critical theory...

...just an interesting take on the art of literary translation.

I have huge admiration for anyone that spends time translating books from other languages into English. What would my life be like sans Dostoevsky, Szerb, Murakami to name but a mere fraction of the writers I love for whom English is not their first language. (Ok - I might be a multi-linguist by now but it's FAR more likely I wouldn't have been exposed to their work)

I recently met Robert Chandler who translated the excellent (and bizarre) book The Railway by Hamid Ismailov. He also translated a book of Russian Short Stories for penguin recently that has flown off the shelves. When I suggested his work was a labour of love he said "Yes, I do labour but I really, really love it so that's ok..." My kind of guy.

Anyway to cut to the point I just had a conversation with an Italian student about literary translation. She said she had done translations for business before and it was dead easy - you could be very literal. But now she was trying literary translation. This, according to her, is an altogether more complex process. You have to find the right words to convey the sense but to do this means you can't translate literally. But every liberty you take has to be checked with the author leading to vast e-mail exchanges and long international phone calls.

"It's so much better if they're dead" she said.


If a rather attractive Italian lady contacts you and wants to translate your work - DON'T BE FLATTERED!


After all we all know what happens to sales the moment an author dies...

1 comment:

  1. I had a Japanese translator some years ago who e-mailed me every other day, long long queries.. the trouble was that her English was so poor and the translation so bad that after a time I simply couldn`t reply - I did not know where to begin to try and correct her so I just stopped replying. And after a time she stopped e-mailing. The translation must have come out and my books sell well in Japan but I do often wonder what relation the thing they are reading bears to my original. But then again, maybe it doesn`t matter so long as they enjoy it.