Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tuesday news

Happy Birthday, Harper Lee! You may have only published one book, but you made it count. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the things I think most Americans have in common. Via Harper's fellow Alabaman Anna Claire.

Despite the fact that it's her own novel's release day, YA and fantasy author (and lovable blogger) Sherwood Smith devoted her post today to reviewing two other YA/fantasy debuts (one of them my friend Cindy's). Talk about paying it forward, Sherwood. That's so cool I went out and ordered several of your books. Any Sherwood fans in the house?

Do you read books in translation? Why, or why not? When you read a translation, would you rather it were perfectly faithful to the original in content and language reflection, or would you rather it were more English-ified so it's more readable, even at the cost of cultural elements? (I got in a well-mannered fight with someone about this just yesterday; I subscribe to one of those opinions, but I won't tell you which.) Do you like supporting international literature, but secretly find translations daunting? (For me: check, and check--and I'm not ashamed to admit it, because I want to fix the problem.) This is a longer conversation that requires a whole post, but in the meantime check out this blog post. The specific topic addressed is whether or not publishers should print a translator's name on the cover of a book in translation, but it touches on many of the central issues. As an editor, I want to support translation and international literature as much as I can; but from the marketing side of things, everything's so sticky.

Confused about when titles should be italicized and when they should be in quotation marks? The Blood-Red Pencil editors provide a cheat sheet.

Now back to *my* red pen.


Travis Erwin said...

Novels simply do not get better than TO Kill A Mockingbird and Harper Lee is the one person I'd most like to sit and talk with over lunch.

moonrat said...

Me, too. She must have been nice if she was able to put up with Truman Capote.

Stuart Neville said...

I've read quite a few translated novels, most recently Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist, which was fantastic. I'm not sure how big the wave of Scandanavian crime fiction has been in the US, but the likes of Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo have done very well in the UK.

There's occasionally a slight stiffness to the prose in translated works that I'v noticed. One of the best translations I've read, in terms of the flow of prose, was The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa.

Ann Victor said...

Today must be a good deed day in publishing! On my blog I just posted about another random act of kindness. I think today is my "I LOVE people" day!

I do read novels in translation (most recently Gabriel Garcia Marquez) and most movies I watch are foreign art films with sub-titles, mostly European (French, German, Swedish) but some oriental (Japanese)

I think the translator's name should be mentioned clearly. The prof who supervised my master's is an award winning translator in South Africa (from Afrikaans to English) and he spoke quite a lot to me about the responsibility a translator has to keeping the integrity of the author's original sense. Was very interesting.

Ann Victor said...

Sorry, mistake in last post:

"oriental" should read "Oriental"!

Lisa said...

I confess to only skimming the post on translations. I've been reading lots of books in translation lately and I have learned to have an enormous amount of respect for what translators do. I now have a great deal of appreciation for how a particular translation can make or break a book.

The books I've been reading are all quite old, in addition to having originally been written in a language that was not English. Translators have enormous decisions to make with respect to the two questions you've posed. In addition, there are frequently historical, cultural references that don't translate and decisions need to be made there too. I like to read introductions from the translators that explain the approach they've taken and I like to see end notes where they are appropriate and provide clarification.

The newest translation of Proust's In Search of Lost Time is a great example of how much goes into a translation. So far, only 4 of the 7 volumes of the American version have been published, but all of the British translations have been released. The American translation differs from the British version in punctuation, spellings, and whatever else each translator decides to specifically do.

In addition, each of the 7 volumes are translated by a different translator. I've read the first three and although they all "feel" about the same, I can note some differences between how each person approaches the work.

From what I understand, the last Proust translation was done in 1922 and that alone would be enough reason to think that a reader would have two entirely different experiences with Proust, depending on which translation she's chosen to read.

Granted, the average modern best seller isn't going to be quite the challenge to translate as Proust is, but I am stunned at the idea that a translator's name wouldn't appear on a book!

cindy said...

i have her crown duel in my next batch to order. she is so so so nice and encouraging. i was truly humbled!

Carrie said...

I vastly prefer it when translations are perfectly faithful to the original in content and language reflection. I did my college thesis on the translation of poetry from French to English, and I argued in favor of more literal, less colloquial, translations.

I have favorite translators for certain authors, absolutely.

Belynda said...

I believe the question of translations is best answered by the episode of "Newsradio" where Jimmy does a reading of his twice-translated memoir "Jimmy James: Macho Donkey Wrestler".

I'm completely kidding, but yes I love Marquez and Murakami, and despite the pitfalls I do appreciate when a translation is kept true to its original style and culture.

I've read quite a few translated novels, most recently Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist, which was fantastic.Stuart, "Right One" is on my list even though I'm usually not a horror girl. My friend said it's one of the best he's read in a long time. The movie was BRUTAL but I hear the book is a departure. Thanks for the recommendation!

cindy said...

i don't read translations often because i'm not usually aware of them. only the ones that hit it big.

JES said...

If I'd met her when I was a kid, I'd probably to this day have a fantasy crush on Scout.

Translation: I love translations of works whose native language I can't read. It's like the acclaimed latter-day versions of Homer's works: does someone seriously think that civilization would be better off, that modern readers would be better served, with word-for-word translations only? I don't believe language* is a medium principally for denotation: in a hand-to-hand battle, I'd vote for (and bet on) connotation every time. And the best way to honor connotation is to honor the target language's conventions -- idioms, rhythms, even slang, and so on.

And yes, I want to see the translator's name on the cover. In a font bigger than the author's? No way.

Yet it makes a big difference that Horton Foote (and not, say, Andy Griffith, William Faulkner, or Truman Capote) wrestled Harper Lee's work into a screenplay. Likewise, the translator's name on a non-English-language work is important.

* At least in fiction, though I might argue the point for non-fiction as well.

metteharrison said...

I've done translations myself and I think that when working with nonfiction, it is best to stick to a more literal translation, but I think the problem with doing so in fiction is that the translation just sounds so clunky and it feels like the author isn't a good writer, when that is not at all the case. I think of Cornelia Funke as a case in point.

csmith said...

Let me preface this by saying I read about 7 languages, so I am by no means the usual translation-audience. I actually prefer reading translations side by side with the original text for the first few pages. If the actual feel of the book is the same (I know, such a tenuous word, feel) I'll continue with the translation.

But some concepts (the worst of which is that of love, in my opinion) have problems being translated with the actual nuance that the source text projects. The truly brilliant translators can convey that nuance without belabouring the point. It is brilliantly subtle.

So I guess, off the top of my head, I'd completely agree with having the translator's name on the cover. If I know they've done a good job in that language before, I'd be more likely to buy the book rather than taking a risk.

BuffySquirrel said...

I read Russian novels in translation because I don't read Russian.


Sherwood rocks.

BuffySquirrel said...

Oh, there was more question?

I prefer the novel to stay true to its culture. How else can I learn about writerly perceptions of other cultures without learning 2k languages?

gringo said...

On translated novels:

I think it depends on the work. If I'm reading Plato, I want it as close to the original as possible. If I'm reading Cervantes, I'd like it to read as if he intended it to seem in English, even if that means taking liberties.

Putting the shoe on the other foot, I'll explain why. I first moved to Mexico about seventeen years ago and I spoke very little Spanish. My wife spoke very little English. After a few years, I become fluent in Spanish and my wife began to improve her English to the point where she picked up my copy of Twain's _The Adventures of Tom Sawyer_. She struggled with it, so I purchased a translated version for her (which she loved). I then read the translated version and found it to be lacking because much of the dialog didn't come off as Twain had intended. If the translator had been more creative and taken some liberties, it would have been better.

Now that I read Spanish, I can say that I would have preferred the translations of Cervantes into English to have been more creative, because Cervantes comes off so much more fluid in Spanish than the close translations into English portray his voice.

Robin L said...

Thanks for bringing Cindy's book to our attention! It sounds aMaZing! And funny timing on Sherwood Smith talking about Cindy's book. I was just yesterday looking for CROWN DUEL at my local bookstore and couldn't find it on the shelves. Now I've ordered both books from Amazon. Can't wait to dive in.

Congratulations, Cindy!

PurpleClover said...

Yes, I read books that have been translated and prefer they are closer to the original content. One of the best books I've read was Isobella Allende's Daughter of Fortune and I thought it was so beautiful.

I think the closer to the original books are, the better the understanding will be of that culture. We should learn about other cultures and what is the norm for their society. Not read something assuming they are basically just like us with another language. That's boring.

Although I guess it gets sticky when you want larger sales. You will find those that you can draw in if you make it relate to their culture more. bleh!

Andromeda Romano-Lax said...

Oh boy, this translation conversation is fascinating. But on a smaller point late in your post, you must explain your own thoughts, Moonrat, about the TITLES IN SHOUTING CAPS TREND. I started doing it probably because my agent and editors did it with my novel, then realized perhaps it wasn't necessary and dropped it from my own blog, but I find many visiting authors want to cap their books. What's going on? We all like when the titles jump out. But should we simply italicize? (Or at least pick one darn style and be consistent?)You're an editor -- TELL US!

darkened_jade said...

I definitely prefer books that are translated to be changed to make them a little more fluid in the language they end up. Direct translations may stay true to the original intentions, but if it is awkward to read few people are going to stick with it. That said, there are minor changes in the name of flow, and major changes that actually radically change the context and feel of the piece.

If a book is translated, the translator (or translators) should definitely be clearly listed, as they add much to the final version that will be read, not to mention the author may not agree with some of their changes so it should be clear that someone else has had a hand in it.

Nancy said...

Well, several people have said it already, but I'd like to throw my vote to the "love translations" crew. My dream-translator would further the voice before the words with the understanding that a character who speaks in a poetic voice, should be translated in poetic words. A rude character, gets to use the rude ones.

What to do though with the un-translatable? Those words and phrases which simply don't exist in the language of translation.

As an example, we Americans have that harmless saying about a..holes and opinions. I unwittingly translated it word-for-word to German including the shoe-dropping "everybody has one" at the end and used it in conversation - to absolutely zero effect - unless you want count a slight wrinkling of my conversation partner's nose.

I tried it again later, changing the body part to "nose". No nose wrinkling, but still no meeting-of-the-minds.

Some time later, I sat in a concert hall with 3,000 other fans to hear a well-known American novelest read from his newest novel. During the question and answer period, the gentleman used the saying in question. I cringed and waited to find out what the reaction (if any) would be. Is Mr. Novelist - respected, nay beloved Literat allowed lingual license that is denied to me? One of the first things our German friends said was that they were disappointed and hadn't realized that in person his language was so vulgar. Sigh.

Never one to give up easily I tried it again recently, but changed the structure of the saying to (directly translated back into English) "Just as we each have a nose, we also have separate opinions."

The lighthearted comedy, and shoe-drop effect designed to elicit a smile in the midst of heated discussion at the end is gone. But, we communicated, my conversation partner and I. We agreed to disagree amiably and parted friends. Isn't that the point of the words?

I believe that the translator is also writing a book; one that has already been written in another language, but one which has never been written in his. His name belongs on the cover.

I buy books which give credit to the translator wherever possible. When they don't, and I happen not to be particularly impressed by the book, as a reader I'm in trouble. I can't tell who is responsible for the dull story. Without prominent placement of the translator's name, I can't know if the next book will be any better.

My Solution? Life is short, I don't buy the author anymore. His name is stuck in my memory, and it's his book I didn't like.

Are there books which shouldn't be translated? Are there languages which simply don't lend themselves to certain characters?

Sorry for the length, Moonrat. You caught one of my hot buttons there...

Mary Witzl said...

I love everything about Harper Lee. She's like J. D. Salinger, but sweet.

I enjoy reading translations, but I always feel so sorry for the translators. They make so little money and it's such a hard job to do well. I hope that the translator will toe the line between faithfulness to the original and natural English, but I'd rather read natural-sounding English than a faithful-to-the-letter translation that sounds stilted . The hardest thing is working around all the cultural anomalies that sound so unnatural in English without an explanation.

Charles Gramlich said...

I read translations but always wonder how close they are to the original. I'd rather have them stay as close to the original as possible.

Anonymous said...

I read a lot of translations and have edited multicultural and world lit anthologies for the high school level containing lots of selections in translation. None would have been included if they had clunky translations that gave no glimmer of the writer's talent.

I feel strongly that translators should be named on the front of a book. If they're doing their jobs, they should be conveying the style and spirit of the author's language as well as just translating the content.

I think the Spanish language translator of so many of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's books, Gregory Rabassa, is a superior writer/translator; if he wasn't, the English-reading audience would not be so in love with Marquez's work. Another good one is Maureen Freely, who translates the Turkish Nobelist Orhan Panuk's work. Translating is an art, there's no question.

And we need more novels in translation! I cannot get enough. (One more good book in translation that I just read is Girl with a Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Alas, I cannot remember the translator--my bad.)

Alyssa said...

I definitely read books in translation (and my Fill in the Gaps list will have me reading more of them). Besides the opportunity to read so many more books, I often really enjoy the different tones translated books have. The sign of a good translation, for me, is something which is readable but also carries a tone of the original language. I mean, if you read a book translated from a language you don't speak, it's not that you recognize the tone from the original language, but when the translator uses phrasing or wording that are perhaps closer to the original, I think you do get something of a feeling for it. I recently read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera translated by Edith Grossman and felt that way about it.

I guess I want a translation to be edible in English, but I also want to taste the original language.

Sarah Laurenson said...

OMG, Moonie, I love you. I didn't know Sherwood Smith had a blog or a website or anything. I'm reading Inda now. Loved Crown Duel. Need to investigate further. *sigh* More time lost.

LallaLydia said...

This is a fascinating topic. I do literary translation and I think the best answer is that the translation depends upon the context, intent and register of the source text.

Drawing from my own work, when I translated from French to English for a novel set in ancient Central Asia, the writer used language that was sometimes a bit archaic (reflecting the "antiquity" of the book) but usually in the register of current usage. Therefore I translated the text into smooth and readable English, since the author did not engage in word play or particularities of a culture with his text.
But if you encounter some sort of dialect or intentionally archaic words in a text -say, smatterings of Haitian French used in standard French- you would definitely want to remain faithful to that. Interestingly enough, different cultures have different views on the role of translation. I attended a conference where two translators working on a project from New Zealand English into French ended up ditching the French publishing houses because all the editors wanted to put the translation -which was heavily influenced by Maori words, colloquialisms and accent- into standard Parisian French. To remain faithful to the original text, the translators published with a Francophone Caribbean publishing house that was much more willing to accept the creative and "non-standard" translation (being in a region of the world that uses many Creole dialects was surely of great influence in this decision).
But I ask you, when you're reading something, would you rather read "You're making me walk" or "you're pulling my leg"? just because the first is faithful to the original, you will be hardpressed to figure out what that means in context -especially where it's not very important to the story- than if I render it into common usage.

In my opinion, great translators are able to render texts so beautifully that you can often forget they were written in another language but still take in the full world of the original culture. I find many Hispanic writers have great success with their works in translation.

Whew, this issue deserves its own blog! I'm enjoying yours, though.

LallaLydia said...

And yes, as a translator I *definitely* think translators should have their name (in a smaller font, grant you) beneath the original authors. A lot of time, effort and creativity goes into moving art from one language and culture to another!

moonrat said...

LallaLydia--re: translators who are so successful you forget the book wasn't written in this language--I totally agree with you. But this was actually the bulk of my argument the other day--the hardcore purist translation school sees that philosophy as a form of cultural imperialism. It makes for an interesting debate.