In Translation

November 30, 2014 non-fiction, Review 5 ★★★★

In TranslationTitle: In Translation
Author: Esther Allen, Susan Bernofsky
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

Summary: Despite a somewhat academic tone, most of these essays addressed questions I found fascinating as a lay reader of translations in an accessible but thought-provoking way.

I’ve loved almost all of the translated work I’ve read and even those which aren’t my favorite have been enjoyable for their novelty, so I was excited to pick up this anthology of essays by translators about their work. The first essay was a bit a of a let down though, too academic and abstract for my taste. Fortunately, very few essays in the collection had this flaw.  Essay two, for example, provided immediate gratification with a discussion of the way translations are allowed to flout literary conventions, which resonated with me as one of my favorite features of the genre.

There were a few essays which I thought became too pedantic or talked about a text without sharing enough of the translation for me to follow. For the most part, though, the essays were easy to read but thought-provoking and raised issues I thought were relevant to me as a reader of translations. The middle portion of the book discussed an incredible range of issues translators can encounter which never occurred to me before. Some of the questions I found most interesting were whether translators should prioritize capturing the feel of the work they’re translating or the exact meaning and how translators should handle words without exact matches in the language they’re translating into. The essays at the end helped me understand what motivates translators. An essay by Murakami about translating The Great Gatsby was one of my favorites from this section.

Even though there were a few essays in this collection which I didn’t enjoy, the vast majority were both intellectually stimulating and fun reading. I think reading these essays will make me a better consumer of translated fiction, more aware of how translating works and which parts of the original are likely to be preserved through the translation process. I’m also going to try to do a better job giving translators a byline on my blog when I read translated work, because good translators are often overlooked. If you’re someone who likes reading translated fiction or are interested in how languages differ from one another, I’d highly recommend this collection.

5 Responses to “In Translation”

  1. Monika @ Lovely Bookshelf

    This sounds like a book I really would like to read! Murakami talks briefly about translating The Great Gatsby in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and it was one of my favorite portions of that memoir.

    • DoingDewey

      I haven’t read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, so I found this a very different experience from reading Murakami’s fiction and I was really impressed that he can also write nonfiction so well. I’d definitely recommend picking this up and I think I might want to pick up his memoir too 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      Oh, great article! Thanks for sharing! I loved learning about the difficulties and nuances of translation, but it wasn’t something I’d ever thought about before. It definitely seems like you’d enjoy this book, although it would probably be less novel to you then it was to me 🙂

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