Thursday, April 14, 2011

Translating Literature, Reviewing Translated Literature

The online magazine for international literature, Words Without Borders, has launched a series to explore the ways that book reviews handle translation. As it is explained on the WWB website:

Reviewers and translators each have varied opinions on how translations should be discussed, and on who should be doing the discussing. At a recent panel on the future of book reviewing, review editors stressed the importance of translation coverage, though one admitted that he would rather pass on a translated book than assign it to a reviewer who might not “get it right.”  (Getting it right, according to him, means finding a reviewer with the ability to determine whether the translator has been faithful to the original language, and whether or not the translation “sounds” anything like the original text.) The issue came up again the following week, at a subsequent panel of book review editors. One made the point that there are essentially two kinds of reviews for translations, one for books that are appearing in the language for the first time, and another for books that have been translated before. Another editor said he expects an overall level of expertise from his reviewers on both the writer and the language, and a third said that a reviewer does not need to be a specialist in the language the book was written in, in fact she encouraged people to cover works from languages outside of their knowledge to follow their interest in contemporary literature.  
So far, Word Without Borders has published five articles from literary translators such as Edith Grossman, Daniel Hahn, Lorraine Adams and more. You can find a list of the published articles here.

One major problem, especially in the English speaking book market, is the ridiculously small amount of translations (only 3%!). Edith Grossman also tackles this issue in her essay Why Translation Matters (you can read a review of her book in the New York Times Sunday Book Review of 8 April 2010).

I met one editor at a major UK publishing house who mentioned the ignorance and laziness of anglo-saxon editors (including himself) on the matter. It is good that they are aware of the issue, but it is really bothering that not much is done from their side about changing attitudes towards literary translation.

Another interesting publication that came out recently is the Diversity Report 2010: Literary Translation in Current European Book Markets. An analysis of authors, languages, and flows, written by market researcher and consultants Rüdiger Wischenbart. The report looks into who gets translated in European fiction and who is not through a survey of 200 well renowned authors of contemporary fiction across 12 European languages.