The first chapter of Alicia Gimenez-Bartlett's Dog Day, translated into English by Nicholas Caistor, contains lapses that an editor should have caught. "It was a chorus that made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck" should have been "The chorus made (the) hairs stand up on the back of my neck." That's basic. "It" constructions and the verb "to be" slow sentences down. If such constructions are acceptable in Spanish, too bad. Each language has its own quirks and peculiarities that may not translate well. A translator should take these into account and try to reproduce the effect of the original even if that means departing from literal, word-for-word translation. And if he or she fails to do so, an editor should step in.
Elsewhere, Caistor has a hospital patient prone, when he almost surely was supine. Was this patient really on his belly rather than on his back? Probably not, since Gimenez-Bartlett gives a description of his face. Did Caistor simply use the wrong word? Does a single word serve for prone and supine in Spanish? Too bad. Caistor is translating for an audience that reads English.
Other sentences tell when they should show. A character's tortoiseshell glasses "contrasted sharply with his juvenile appearance." Juvenile appearance? What does that mean? Or: "'Signor Garzon ... ' I declared theatrically, ' ... allow me to introduce Ignacio Lucena Pastor.'" Theatrically? Did she bow deeply, scraping the floor with an exaggerated flourish? Did she lower her voice to a stage whisper? In a workingman's bar, customers wear "different-colored overalls according to their line of work." Welders in grimy, scorched gray? Mechanics in white long since died black by accumulation of grease? Or is the intent to portray a dehumanizing regimentation of the working classes, sorted into colors by their bosses? We'll never know; all we get is "different-colored overalls."
Here, Caistor's task may be trickier. Does good Spanish writing simply not insist on the specificity of description that good English writing does? Are these simply weak passages on Gimenez-Bartlett's part? If so, what is a translator to do?
© Peter Rozovsky 2006
Crime fiction in translation