Book bloggers and reviewers should pay much more attention to the work of translators of literary works as they usually do – I am no exception, although I have devoted some blog posts in the past to translation issues and will do so also in the future. Sometimes we bloggers and reviewers do not mention the translation at all, not out of bad intentions or disrespect, but out of habit. We all should make efforts to change that.
One of my favourite fellow bloggers, Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life has recently brought a text to my attention which was published some time ago on the website of Words without Borders, the always interesting online magazine for international literature. As a part of their series On Reviewing Translations, three excellent and renowned literary translators (Susan Bernofsky, Jonathan Cohen, and Edith Grossman) submitted “Some thoughts for reviewers of literary translations“.
As much as I appreciate the work of translators (and these three are excellent!), and as much as I agree with the general tendency of this document, I disagree with their argument regarding the appraisal of translations.
A reviewer can only judge the quality of a literary translation when he/she knows the language from which the book is translated well; a translated book can be a smooth read and set in the most elegant prose, but if it renders the words and choices of the original author correctly is something I cannot know when I am not able to really compare it with the original. And let’s be honest – how many readers and reviewers are able to do that? Praising a translation for its elegant prose without knowing the original – I personally would feel like a cheat if I would do that.
The second disagreement I have is with the last point they make. Sorry, but a literary translation is not supposed to contribute to the literary life of the English (or any other) language, to our speech, art, and sensibility – a translation is supposed to render faithfully, and congenially a literary text into another language, not more and not less.
So, let’s pay more attention to the difficult and extremely important work of translators, but let’s be also honest. Sometimes we readers are not really able to know how well they did their job; and the same goes for the vast majority of reviewers.
Just my two stotinki…
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