Translators reflect on their work: its mechanics, frustrations, rewards and meanings.
Editors Allen (Modern Languages and Comparative Literature/Baruch Coll.) and Bernofsky (MFA Program/Columbia Univ.) have assembled a knowledgeable and articulate collection of translators who describe in considerable detail a process that most readers think little about. Eliot Weinberger notes that “translators are the geeks of literature.” David Bellos talks about the problem of maintaining a sense of “foreignness” in a translation. Several writers also talk about the issue of whether to maintain some of the words of the original in a translation—a way to retain a sense of the original. Catherine Porter raises an issue that a number of the writers mention: their lack of status in the academic world and their virtual invisibility with readers. Several essays deal with the problems translators face in specific languages. Maureen Freely writes about translating Orhan Pamuk from Turkish into English; Jason Grunebaum discusses the problems of translating from Hindi to English. If the audience is South Asian, perhaps one method is appropriate, but if the audience is American, then what? There is some translation playfulness in the volume, too: Haruki Murakami describes his translation of The Great Gatsby, an essay that, in turn, Ted Goossen translates from Japanese into English—and then follows with some reflections of his own. Lawrence Venuti discusses the difficulty of translating from archaic literary forms. Co-editor Bernofsky describes how she revises—usually four drafts—as she prepares her own translations from German, and Clare Cavanagh closes the collection by showing how the villanelle, a poetic form unknown in Poland, arrived there via translation.
Perhaps too textually dense for general readers, but the book raises and clarifies a variety of significant issues about the many decisions translators must contend with.