Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The international side of Mystery Readers Journal

I have now received the print version of Mystery Readers Journal's Ethnic Detectives, Part I issue, the online version of which I wrote about recently. Much of the issue focuses on "ethnic" detectives in the United States, including several articles that wonder what terms such as ethnic and outsider really mean.

Two of the articles relate more directly to international crime fiction: Adrian Hyland's, on how the Central Australian Outback drew him in, and Matt Beynon Rees's, on his novel The Collaborator of Bethlehem. I've written about Hyland's novel Diamond Dove before, and I'd read about his affection for the people of the Outback. Here he expands on this matter and talks also of his love for the land.

I haven't read Rees yet, but he has some interesting things to say about his setting and his novel, the first of a series. Here's my favorite:

By learning the language, I was able to give my characters some of the formalized greetings and blessings that are an important part of Palestinian speech. I translated them, rather than just putting the original Arabic phrase in italics, because I wanted readers to get the poetry of everyday speech. For example, to wish someone good morning my characters say `Morning of joy,' and the response is `Morning of light.' When someone gives them a cup of coffee, they tell them `May Allah bless your hands' Isn't that beautiful?
© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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9 Comments:

Anonymous May said...

Rees comments are quite useful for a translator...Translators can usually only guess at the motivations of an author. Here, Rees makes it clear that his motivation for translating the arabic phrases is to convey (the poetry in the) meaning. That is, the arabic is not necessarily included for authenticity, or for aural stimulus. If he had left it in italics there would've been the question of whether or not to leave them in italics in the translation, or to translate them...a decision inherently steeped in judgement.

April 25, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for the note. In this case, it helps that the author and the translator are the same person; there are no doubts about anyone's intention,

Now, let's see what happenes when and if Rees' novel is translated into Arabic. Perhaps it helps that Rees' first language is not Arabic. He could therefore be more sensitive to poetic nuances that native speakers might not notice because they use the expressions every day.

April 25, 2007  
Anonymous May said...

I'm not sure how translators handle translating something in the text that is already in the target language.
Just last week, my class was working on a passage of Dominique Sylvain's Passage du Désir (Do you know it?). Lola is French Canadian, but Ingrid is American - and she cuts in from time to time in English. So, what to do when translating into English?
It's a common feature, especially in French, where the modern language is sprinkled with English - just for that touch of cool...but its rather problematic for the translator.

April 28, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I wonder what French translators of Tolstoy do with those passages in War and Peace, where the Russian dialogue is sprinkled with French -- just for that touch of cool. (And no, I don't know Passage du Désir.)

Here's another, more prosaic problem for translators: how to handle everyday references whose meaning is obvious in the original language but might need explanations for other readers. From The Princess of Burundi by Kjell Eriksson:

He pulled out a bag from the clothing store Kapp Ahl from under some boxes.

Swedish readers presumably did not need to be told in the original-language version what Kapp Ahl is. The translator must decide how to convey the information to readers. In this case, the gain in information probably offsets the added clunkiness. The translator might have chosen the generic "a clothing-store bag," but that would have diluted the effect of specificity the author presumably wanted.

April 28, 2007  
Anonymous May said...

Sometimes a translator's note might work. I would think that might be okay for a book like War and Peace. A reader embarking upon such a book cannot possibly be in a hurry, so a little note probably won't be a nuisance.

On the other hand, for the everyday references, I'm of the let-'em-figure-it-out attitude. Does the reader figure out later that Kapp Ahl sells clothes? If so, why put that extra bit in. And if the fact that Kapp Ahl sells clothes isn't made apparent, does it matter? Will the story fall apart if the reader mistaken's Kapp Ahl for, say, a shoe store?

Sometimes, translators who are too kind to their readers are also condescending to their readers.

April 28, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Well, if the translator had chosen " ... pulled out a bag from Kapp Ahl," the reader might have asked who -- or what -- Kapp Ahl is.

The significance, if any, of Kapp Ahl has yet to make itself apparent in the eighty-five or so pages I've read since the reference, so I can't decide if the translator made the right choice.

But let's say Kapp Ahl is a marker of social or economic status, like Nieman-Marcus or Payless Shoe Source. What is a translator to do if faced with the task of producing a version of the story for readers who might not recognize the name?

The one conclusion I can reach is that translation must be a nerve-racking job.

April 28, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Msy, here's another example, from Paradise by Liza Marklund:

"They were going to have her do the kind of stuff she'd done at the local paper, Katrineholms-Kurien, as a fourteen-year-old ... "

There was no need to name the paper here. My guess is that the original version named the paper without adding "the local paper." Marklund presumably figured that Swedish readers, even if they didn't recognize the name, would recognize that it signified "small local newspaper." For English readers, the phrase "the local paper," without the name, would have accomplished the same task.

April 30, 2007  
Anonymous May said...

Well, it seems that the entire assortiment of translation methods has to be pulled out for every single issue. So, you're right - even if I have a personal preference for avoiding explicitation, I'm sure there are times when I'll have no choice.
Your example from Marklund is less clunky than the one from Eriksson, so I think it's okay. Still, it seems to me that from the context, Katrineholms-Kurien must be some small local paper, as who else would hire a fourteen year old?

Why I also say that its okay to make the reader work a little bit is because I have to imagine that readers of translated crime fiction are not your ordinary reader. They're patient readers, and not likely to give up.

Ah, well, these kinds of things simply give a traslator pause. There's plenty of other stuff that makes us tear our hair out. Pennac's got puns!

April 30, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Pennac's got puns, Friedrich Glauser and Andrea Camilleri have dialect ... you've chosen an interesting field of study, one that probably subjects you to clashing goals and principles every day.

To my mind, the Marklund example is clunkier than the one from Eriksson, perhaps because I work for a newspaper so might be more open to shorthand newspaper references.

If I were a translator and compelled to insert explanation in a text, I would try my hardest to make it invisible. Mike Mitchell's interpolations in his translations of Glauser, usually when characters slip into Swiss dialect or formal German, strike me as echoing what a reader might think. Clumsier interpolations strike me as intrusions from the world outside the story, and I resent them.

April 30, 2007  

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