Saturday, June 12, 2010

Meet the man behind crime fiction's most despicable character

Some good miscellaneous material in recent days, including this video interview that Roger Smith did with the man he says inspired the character Piper in Smith's novel Wake Up Dead.

Piper is the worst fictional human being I have met, a killer, a rapist, an utterly callous gang leader, and a perpetrator of the most despicable acts.

He does most of his fictional thing in Cape Town's Pollsmoor Prison, as close to an earthly hell as anything in crime fiction. And the man whose prison tales inspired his creation, who says he committed in real life acts as horrific as the fictional Piper's, looks and sounds like the kindliest old man you'd ever want to meet.
***
From Bob Cornwell comes word that Crime Scene: Italy is now available, following on similar comprehensive portraits of the crime fiction scenes in France, the Netherlands and Switzerland. These are thorough and compact packages, covering authors, publishers, magazines, Web sites, bookstores and history. And all are available free to view online or download as pdf files.

High fives to Cornwell and the International Association of Crime Writers. They deserve a public service award of some kind.
***
And, from Jeff VanderMeer, a proposal for funding translation of “non-realist" fiction into English — "non-realist or whatever term denotes the totality of fantasy/SF/horror/surrealism/magic realism/etc. without dividing things into the false camps of genre and literary."

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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76 Comments:

Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

There are now upwards of 150 crime writers in Italy, with new writers being published on a regular basis."
I never would have guessed it would be anything like that.
Apart from 'The Name Of The Rose', which I read when it was 'flavour of the month', way back when, I'm sure I've never read any Italian crime novel; perhaps they're not translated into English much.

Given my love of Italian film, at least through the 1970s, and of Italian opera, I imagine that there must be some interesting crime writin being produced there.

June 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has...":

There are now upwards of 150 crime writers in Italy, with new writers being published on a regular basis."
I never would have guessed it would be anything like that.
Apart from 'The Name Of The Rose', which I read when it was 'flavour of the month', way back when, I'm sure I've never read any Italian crime novel; perhaps they're not translated into English much.


Who can put these numbers in perspective? One hundred fifty does not sound like much to me, but Italy has roughly one-fifth the U.S. population, and 750 starts to sound like a lot. On the other hand, at one crime writer per 400,000 population, Italy's rate, Iceland ought to have three-quarters of a crime writer, and yet it has at least two full crime writers.

Among Italian crime writers, I've discussed Andrea Camilleri, Amara Lakhous and Carlo Lucarelli, and I've also read and recommend Giampiero Rigosi. I'll check Crime Scene: Italy now for more names.

June 12, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I subsequently noticed that quite a number of the writers listed in the feature are translated into English: theres no reason why at least some of them shouldn't be good storytellers, and/or writers.
I wonder how many of them write about Italy's Fascist past, as so many of their Golden Age filmmakers did

June 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Carlo Lucarelli's De Luca novels --Carte Blanche, The Damned Season and Via delle Oche -- are about the late Fascist and immediate post-Fascist periods and are the most brilliant historical crime fiction I have read. Do a search for "Lucarelli" on this blog. I have written about all three of the books.

June 12, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Carlo Lucarelli's De Luca novels --Carte Blanche, The Damned Season and Via delle Oche -- are about the late Fascist and immediate post-Fascist periods and are the most brilliant historical crime fiction I have read.
I'll definitely check those out: Italy's reaction to its Fascist past has always interested me
(and if you're not too squeamish Pasolini's 'Salo' is worth checking out, even if his motivations for making it are suspect)

The question now is, do I search by 'De Luca', or 'Luca' in the Dublin City Library online catalogue???

June 13, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I see the Library has copies of his 'Day after day', and 'Almost blue', -which seem to be part of a more contemporary detective series, - but none of those you mention.

I see Amazon has all three, though: nice cover artwork, too: thats clearly Mussolini backgrounded on the Europa edition 'Carte Blanche' cover

June 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has ...

I'll definitely check those out: Italy's reaction to its Fascist past has always interested me...

The question now is, do I search by 'De Luca', or 'Luca' in the Dublin City Library online catalogue???


The De Luca novels grew out of Lucarelli's research for a dissertation on Italian police during the Fascist period. One sees roots of Italy's current tangled police jurisdictions.

I'd try searching for "Lucarelli."

June 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Lucarelli is better known for his contemporary detective series (and, I think, for hosting a true-crime television show in Italy) than he is for the De Luca novels. I haven't read the contemporary novels, but I think they are held in high regard.

Europa always issues attractive books.

June 13, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I might borrow one of the contemporary series crime novels from the Library first, to see whether I like his style, but I suspect I'll prefer his De Luca series.

If anything, between the Harpur/Iles, De Luca, and probably a whole bunch of the others you've blogged, its just proof positive of the diversity thats out there under the broad 'crime fiction' classification.

You'll bankrupt me with all these great book recommendations!
:)

June 13, 2010  
Anonymous marco said...

I might borrow one of the contemporary series crime novels from the Library first, to see whether I like his style, but I suspect I'll prefer his De Luca series.

His style changes quite a bit between the contemporary novels and the De Luca ones. The former are closer to police procedurals/thrillers, and are paced differently.

June 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has ...":

You'll bankrupt me with all these great book recommendations!
:)


There is lots of good stuff out there. And the amount I have not read is staggering.

Well, it probably would not surprise my erudite friend Marco, of course.

June 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

marco has ...

His style changes quite a bit between the contemporary novels and the De Luca ones. The former are closer to police procedurals/thrillers, and are paced differently.


I once flipped briefly through one of his contemporary novels. I was impressed by the degree to which he could shift syles.

June 13, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

marco said
"His style changes quite a bit between the contemporary novels and the De Luca ones. The former are closer to police procedurals/thrillers, and are paced differently".

Thats all the more admirable, then,if he can operate, seamlessly, in different styles.
Marco,if, as your moniker suggests, you're either Italian, or of Italian origin, how do you rate the De Luca novels as Fascism commentaries?

June 13, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

There is lots of good stuff out there. And the amount I have not read is staggering.
The key thing is trying to zero in on the styles/nationalistic topics that most appeal to me, rather than attempting to be too 'catholic'.

I think, in memory of my old Sri Lankan workmates/buddies, I must check out those Tamil crime stories, also

June 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has ...

The key thing is trying to zero in on the styles/nationalistic topics that most appeal to me, rather than attempting to be too 'catholic'.

I think, in memory of my old Sri Lankan workmates/buddies, I must check out those Tamil crime stories, also


Style generally does the job for me. Amid all the current deep speculation about why Nordic crime writing is popular, few have suggested that the reason is that there are some good Nordic crime writers.

National and other sociological factors can play a role, of course. Who would not look to South African crime fiction, for example, for clues about the state of the country.

And the whole sociology of Tamil and other Indian pulp is bound to be of interest to those of us from the outside.

June 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has ..":

Thats all the more admirable, then,if he can operate, seamlessly, in different styles.
Marco,if, as your moniker suggests, you're either Italian, or of Italian origin, how do you rate the De Luca novels as Fascism commentaries?


He's Italian by nationality and residence but a citizen of the world when it comes to reading.

June 13, 2010  
Anonymous marco said...

how do you rate the De Luca novels as Fascism commentaries?

Very highly.

June 14, 2010  
Anonymous marco said...

That said, they are quick, slim novels - not the kind of historical novels that give you lots of information about the period: no infodump, no unnecessary descriptions or explanations. Peter's reviews should give you an idea.

June 14, 2010  
Blogger Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Peter,

The video interview has hooked me on WAKE UP DEAD. Just reserved a copy at the library. Looking forward to this one. Regarding the Italian crime writers, on the Big Beat From Badsville blog, I found BADFELLAS by Tonino Benaquista to be an enticing title that I am going to read, as well as HARD MAN & SLAMMER by Allan Guthrie.

Just finished DIVORCING JACK and really enjoyed that as well.

June 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

just reserved the first two De Lucas, and 'Almost Blue' with my friendly neighbourhood bookstore, so should have them by the time I finish the Harpur/Iles Omnibus
(and if they have a copy of that, I'll probably buy it also)

Marco, are you following Italy for the World Cup?

June 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

marco said:
That said, they are quick, slim novels - not the kind of historical novels that give you lots of information about the period:
That's fine: I don't want a whole lot of background detail; just a good sense of the environment that he's operating in

June 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sean Patrick Reardon has ..":


The video interview has hooked me on WAKE UP DEAD. Just reserved a copy at the library. Looking forward to this one.


"Wake Up Dead" ought to contend for the major crime fiction prizes.

Regarding the Italian crime writers, on the Big Beat From Badsville blog, I found BADFELLAS by Tonino Benaquista to be an enticing title that I am going to read, as well as HARD MAN & SLAMMER by Allan Guthrie.

I recently read Tonino Benacquista's ”Someone Else recently and quite liked it. "Badfellas" is on my list. (Benacquista is French, though, the child of Italian immigrants.) You may know, too, that I'm a Guthrie fan.

June 14, 2010  
Anonymous marco said...

Marco, are you following Italy for the World Cup?

I'm following the World Cup, but with a much more relaxed attitude than in my younger years.
I don't really believe in a defence of the title; it would be nice if we could go far into the tournament, but an early exit wouldn't be a shocking surprise.

June 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

marco has left a new comment ..":

That said, they are quick, slim novels - not the kind of historical novels that give you lots of information about the period: no infodump, no unnecessary descriptions or explanations. Peter's reviews should give you an idea.


That's why the books are so impressive. Many a good historical novel tries to capture the facts of a period through rich historical detail. Lucarelli does something much rarer. He captures a period not through detail but through prose style. His terse writing is a perfect correlative for the period's tension, uncertainty and paranoia. It's the most convincing recreation of a historical period I have ever read.

I guess this means the translation is pretty good.

June 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

an early exit wouldn't be a shocking surprise.
Of course Italy are notoriously slow starters: I remember both 1982 and 2006, but tonight's performance may be a true reflection of this side's abilities, and prospects

June 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And can Italy retain its title without goading a key opponent into a head butt?

June 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

marco has left a new comment l...":

Marco, are you following Italy for the World Cup?

I'm following the World Cup, but with a much more relaxed attitude than in my younger years.
I don't really believe in a defence of the title; it would be nice if we could go far into the tournament, but an early exit wouldn't be a shocking surprise.


As always, this parochial North American is mildly surprised when a man of the left expresses an interest in sports (or in fine food or wine). But Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, that most politically committed of crime writers, was a huge FC Barcelona fan (and a great gourmand, too). What a continent!

June 14, 2010  
Anonymous marco said...

And can Italy retain its title without goading a key opponent into a head butt?

The head butt was well into extra time in the final, so yes, I wouldn't say "goading the opponents" is a key part of our strategy. Could France have qualified for this World Cup without a obvious hand goal in overtime against Ireland? We will never know.

this parochial North American is mildly surprised when a man of the left expresses an interest in sports

It's true that the exponential growth of the salaries and the stranglehold the richer clubs have over the first positions in the league has strongly dampened my enthusiasm towards professional football.

June 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Could France have qualified for this World Cup without a obvious hand goal in overtime against Ireland?
as a 'victim' of that particular 'main de Dieu' I'm realistic enough to accept such misdeeds 'cum grana salis'

June 14, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Italy 1 Paraguay 1

Good thing Marco is taking a relaxed attitude to this one.

Although, as TCK pointed out, Italy are notoriously slow starters so this draw should probably be taken as an ominous sign for everyone else.

As Caesar once so aptly put it after a successful away match against the Brits: We came, we drew, we conquered.

June 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

marco has ...:

The head butt was well into extra time in the final, so yes, I wouldn't say "goading the opponents" is a key part of our strategy. Could France have qualified for this World Cup without a obvious hand goal in overtime against Ireland? We will never know.


France does better when using its hands than when using its head.

It's true that the exponential growth of the salaries and the stranglehold the richer clubs have over the first positions in the league has strongly dampened my enthusiasm towards professional football.

Alarm used to be raised occasionally about the competitive imbalance in major league baseball, at least until sportswriters and commentators realized that no one was going to do anything about it. But the imbalance seems far worse in England's Premier League and Spain's top league, and maybe in Italy's Serie A, too. Do European writers, fans or independent commentators complain about this?

June 14, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Of course, for a yank audience, that should have been tied, rather than drew. So much for a common language.

June 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha ...
Could France have qualified for this World Cup without a obvious hand goal in overtime against Ireland?
as a 'victim' of that particular 'main de Dieu' I'm realistic enough to accept such misdeeds 'cum grana salis'


One Irish fan of my acquaintance regards this hand of God as cosmic revenge on Irish supporters who laughed at England for Maradona's mano de dios.

June 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

One Irish fan of my acquaintance regards this hand of God as cosmic revenge on Irish supporters who laughed at England for Maradona's mano de dios.
'b'fhéidir go bfhuil ceart aige', as a resident of the Munster Gaeltacht, or Irish-speaking community, might say in response to such a charge.
Personally I have to say I could appreciate the bare-faced cheek of both players, although I've enjoyed Maradona's effort for 23+ years more

June 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

As Caesar once so aptly put it after a successful away match against the Brits: We came, we drew, we conquered.

I think the Romans finally lost that one after extra time and penalties.

June 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

solo has ..:

Of course, for a yank audience, that should have been tied, rather than drew. So much for a common language.


An English friend wrote on his blog this week about his car's trunk. His excuse for referring to his car's boot this way was that he was in the United States at the time.

June 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha ...

'b'fhéidir go bfhuil ceart aige', as a resident of the Munster Gaeltacht, or Irish-speaking community, might say in response to such a charge.


Hmm, does that mean "Wait til next time" or something similar?

Personally I have to say I could appreciate the bare-faced cheek of both players, although I've enjoyed Maradona's effort for 23+ years more

The hand of God works where the eyes of the ref do not.

June 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Hmm, does that mean "Wait til next time" or something similar?
No, it means 'perhaps he's right'
(your friend).

The BBC made a programme a few years back of Gary Lineker visiting Maradona in Buenos Aires and asking how he felt about his 'Hand of God' goal, 20 years later.
As I recall he was, quite properly, unrepentant.
Argentina would have won the game anyway: England only scored after the game was already won
(I watched it in New York, where the US broadcasters displayed admirable invention to get around the problem of no ad-breaks during two 45 minute sessions of football)

June 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has ...":

Hmm, does that mean "Wait til next time" or something similar?
No, it means 'perhaps he's right'
(your friend).


Sorry. My Gaelic doesn't extend beyond sláinte, fáilte agus Baile Átha Cliath. And dubh/ Well, and Garda Síochána, thanks to Ken Bruen. Cailín and bean, too, but that's about it.

(I watched it in New York, where the US broadcasters displayed admirable invention to get around the problem of no ad-breaks during two 45 minute sessions of football)

I watched the Brazil-Germany final in 2002 with a large group including two Spanish speakers who were not impressed with the U.S. broadcasters' invention in analyzing Ronaldo's haircut rather than the game. They looked back at us, we nodded in silent commiseration, and the TV was switched to the Spanish-language broadcast.

June 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

watched the Brazil-Germany final in 2002 with a large group including two Spanish speakers who were not impressed with the U.S. broadcasters' invention in analyzing Ronaldo's haircut rather than the game.

I watched the Spanish language broadcast of another game on a small portable tv in a Bronx bar with an expat pal: they had about three regular size tvs showing some mid-season baseball game,none of which they were prepared to give up to a soccer match.

June 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You may have been in hardcore New York Yankees country.

June 15, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

You may have been in hardcore New York Yankees country.
As I recall the other patrons gazes were fixed firmly on the baseball game, and the barman didn't feel that it was worth his while even beseeching them to give up one of their big-screen colour tvs.

We were made to feel 'not worthy', and 'exceedingly grateful'

June 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder how an English or Irish pubkeeper would react to a polite request that he get rid of the soccer and turn on a baseball game, though I suppose that any European pub likely to subscribe to ESPN or some other American cabel channel would have several screens.

I actually did see a bit of ice hockey's Stanley Cup playoffs in Bristol last year in a restaurant that had many televisions.

June 15, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I think there are city centre pubs here that do provide that service
(and presumably Manhattan bars did likewise for soccer fans in 1986)

I've never really got into ice hockey on tv, - although somebody recommended I should watch the players rather than try to see where the puck is, - but I'd like to have got to an NHL game when I was in the States

June 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I never had much trouble following ice hockey on TV. But then, I grew up in Montreal watching "Hockey Night in Canada" every Wednesday and Saturday night.

June 15, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Peter Rozovsky said
I actually did see a bit of ice hockey's Stanley Cup playoffs in Bristol last year in a restaurant that had many televisions.
Could you always follow the puck, or did you watch the player/stick movement?


btw, if you don't see it on tv, check out Maicon's 'Wonder Goal' for Brazil against North Korea tonight: a true 'thing of beauty'

June 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has ..:

Could you always follow the puck, or did you watch the player/stick movement?


The latter, I think. We learned to watch the game as a unit of players and puck, rather than trying to break the action into pieces.

btw, if you don't see it on tv, check out Maicon's 'Wonder Goal' for Brazil against North Korea tonight: a true 'thing of beauty'

Pinpoint passing and shooting are my favorite parts of the game. I always like watching the goals round-up on FIFA's Web site, but the commercial material this year is long, boring, shoddy, ugly and obtrusive, so I probably won't watch as much as I did in previous years. I'll have to watch the matches on TV, I guess.

June 15, 2010  
Blogger Paul D. Brazill said...

That Roger Smith interview! ! !

If you can read Italian then this is a cracking link to Italian crime writing

http://www.liberidiscrivere.splinder.com/

And if you're on Facache you can contact them there.

Giulia from LS is doing a guest blog for me soon.

June 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul, I can struggle with Italian. Thanks.

That Ice is such an engaging sort, isn't he?

June 17, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Peter, and marco, I'm up to page 40 of Carlo Lucarelli's 'Carte Blanche', and the translation, by Michael Reynolds, seems to me to be far too literal.

I don't know any Italian, apart from whatever of Caesar's Latin survived to modern times, but much of the dialogue seems very stilted to me, and much of the description, also.
Or perhaps thats Lucarelli's style?
I note Oonagh Stransky did the translation for 'Almost Blue', so it should be interesting to compare
(interestingly enough, the Italian-sounding 'ralizini' is the word verfification for this comment)

June 17, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

TCK, Carlo Lucarelli’s De Luca Trilogy as translated by Michael Reynolds leaves much to be desired. This was clear from the intro, which is the same in all three books, I believe. Yes, the translation is a bit stilted (I read "The Damned Season" in Italian some time after reading the English version) but my main gripe was that, instead of a masterful translation like those by Stephen Sartarelli of Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano novels, Reynolds too often seemed content to pick the first translation offered by a dictionary instead of searching for the mot juste. I seldom have a quibble with Sartarelli's choices but very much wanted to tinker with Reynolds' translations. Too bad, as the De Luca Trilogy is excellent.

I thought Oonah Stransky's translations of the 2 Ispettore Grazia Negro novels that have been translated into English -- "Almost Blue" and "Day After Day," the 2 you saw in your library's catalog, were much better. Few quibbles from me with those. But these are #'s 2 and 3 of a (I believe) 4-novel series. Wish #'s 1 and 4 were also available in translation. Yes, they are set in contemporary Italy.

I tend to be rather sexist when it comes to crime fiction featuring women cops as the lead protagonist, usually don’t like it, but I do like Grazia Negro. She’s tough and smart and, sure, a bit vulnerable, but never a ballbusting bitch. And Lucarelli writes a woman character with great understanding. He demonstrates this partly by having Ms Negro spend the first book dealing with the physiological symptoms both of PMS and the onset of her period – which are never played either for laughs or postfeminist crap by Lucarelli—and I would imagine that most women readers will find themselves cramping in sympathy! And she still gets the perp!

June 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Celtic Kagemusha has ...

Peter, and marco, I'm up to page 40 of Carlo Lucarelli's 'Carte Blanche', and the translation, by Michael Reynolds, seems to me to be far too literal.

I don't know any Italian, apart from whatever of Caesar's Latin survived to modern times, but much of the dialogue seems very stilted to me, and much of the description, also.
Or perhaps thats Lucarelli's style?
I note Oonagh Stransky did the translation for 'Almost Blue', so it should be interesting to compare

I found the prosed clipped, but I don't remember finging it literal or stilted. But this may be Lucarelli's style, if only for these novels. I mentioned that I glanced briefly at one of his non-De Luca novels and found the style sharply different.

June 18, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Some good arguments for reading Lucarelli's Grazia Negro novels. Oonagh Stransky is one of the subjects of this set of interesting interviews with translators. Here's what she had to say about one of the subjects you mention:

"There is a fine line between faithfulness and flexibility. I feel driven by the first but entitled to the latter. Lucarelli's book, for example, went overboard describing what it felt like for the woman detective to have her period. Now the author is a man and I'm a woman, and the editor was a woman. I translated it faithfully but brought up the fact that it sounded wrong, heavy-handed, and so on and consequently we made some fine tuning adjustments."

June 18, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, thanks for the link. Very interesting. Although I can't claim to do any translating on the scale of those folks who do it for a living, translating is a regular part of my workflow and I found myself identifying with a number of their observations. Their comments about the pros and cons of working with an author are echoed by indexers, too. People often think it's strange that translators (and indexers) don't tend to collaborate with authors but those translators clearly articulated the reasons why it’s seldom done. The techniques they employ to get into the “groove” of translating were also illuminating. I think of it as a kind of letting go (“Use the force, Luke”)-- letting the story help take you beyond a “faithful” translation to one that, hopefully, capture’s the author’s intent rather than the precise translation of his/her individual words.

Stransky’s comment re Lucarelli’s “Almost Blue,” that you cited, (“I translated it faithfully but brought up the fact that it sounded wrong, heavy-handed, and so on and consequently we made some fine tuning adjustments”) was surprising -- there I was praising Lucarelli for his insight into “the curse” and thinking that he must have grilled his wife or girlfriend for all the gory details! -- when it was the woman translator who took what he had written and made it just a wee bit better. THAT’S what I look for in a really good translation.

The unheralded translator is a bit like the male dancer in 19th century ballet, whose task as a “porteur” was to help make the ballerina look her very best. A grateful readership is out there and we appreciate what a good translator can do. We just don’t always realize it until we read a subpar translation.

I was reminded of the review of Jo Nesbo’s “The Redbreast” in the “Daily Telegraph” – “[Nesbo] is well-served by his elegant translator, Don Bartlett, whom I bet many foreign crime novelists would kill to get hold of.”

June 18, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The unheralded translator is a bit like the male dancer in 19th century ballet, whose task as a “porteur” was to help make the ballerina look her very best. A grateful readership is out there and we appreciate what a good translator can do. We just don’t always realize it until we read a subpar translation.

A good translator probably wants to be even more invisible than a porteur.

I always wonder what a translator feels his or her job is when confronted with clunky prose in the original language. And I always hestitate to say an author is a bad writer, by which I mean a poor prose stylist, based on a clunky translation.

June 18, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Elizabeth said:
Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano novels, Reynolds too often seemed content to pick the first translation offered by a dictionary instead of searching for the mot juste. Absolutely; and I felt that it affected the flow and rhythm of the novel.
Hopefully, I'll be able to make allowances for it as I proceed, but its almost like the sensation of being a front seat passenger with a driver whose gear changes are far from smooth.
I bought both the first two 'De Luca',- I couldn't put my hands on the third, yet, - and also 'Almost Blue' so instead of reading the De Lucas in succession I might read 'Almost Blue' next

June 18, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

its almost like the sensation of being a front seat passenger with a driver whose gear changes are far from smooth.

Hmm, I should glance at the De Luca novels again and see if I detect these translation lapses.

June 18, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

It improved by about halfway in, so it had a better rhythm to it, but that stiltedness returned, intermittently.

I don't think I've read any other modern, or 20th Century Italian fiction, but, if I were to compare it to Italian films I know, I'd say its like a cross between Bertolucci's 'The Spiders Stratagem', and Fulci's 'giallo' 'Don't Torture A Duckling'.

I note in the biog. notes that 'Almost Blue' was filmed: I'll read that next

June 18, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know "Don't Torture A Duckling," though I agree with the sentiment.

June 18, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

For both the initial scene of the crime and the indoor encounters with three female characters I was imagining 'giallo-type' scenes, whereas the various scenes featuring only De Luca and his assistants, or his boss or former associates, were more political/historical in nature.

Even though I suspect he could have been better served in his translator, I'm certainly looking forward to the remaining books in the series

As for "Don't Torture A Duckling" I'm not a 'giallo expert', but while it isn't quite up to the standard of the best films of Argento and Bava, its a lot of fun
(even though the killer is all too obvious)

June 19, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Peter and Elizabeth: I'm about halfway through 'Almost Blue' and there's unquestionably a noticeable difference, and improvement, on the De Luca translations: I strongly suspect that Oonagh Stransky is truer to Lucarelli's 'voice' than Michael Reynolds because there's a more natural flow to the prose, and a complete absence of the stilted, and overly-literal translation I detected with 'Carte Blanche'.

Having said that I suspect I'll probably much prefer the De Luca series.

Whereas 'Carte Blanche' was an original blend, this one is more straight lurid giallo/serial killer; perhaps showing some influence of Thomas Harris, also

June 21, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Granted that it has been some time since I've read the De Luca books, I can't quite being myself to call a translation bad without reading the original. But I did make this post some time back. In retrospect, I may have been a bit hard on one of the translator’s decision, but the general point still stands: A translator should make clunky prose better.

June 21, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Peter, since you said "I've read that one should refrain from criticizing a translator's work unless one has read the work in the original language as well as in translation. That is snobbery and balderdash." in the previous thread, are you now saying that you wouldn't criticise the translation without both having read the original, and having a good enough grasp of the nuances of the original language.

By saying in my previous comment that I 'strongly suspect', I'm acknowledging that I haven't read either original.
But I came across too many instances of the kind you've cited in the second paragraph of that earlier thread, that makes my criticism valid.

Some of these perhaps should have been picked up by an editor, as you suggested, or were first drafts that, due to deadline pressures, the translator never got the opportunity to fine tune, but the difference between the two translations is marked

June 21, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, I realized what a wuss I had turned into since made that old post.

To a reader, I suppose it doesn't matter if a bad piece of prose is a translator's fault or an author's. Quite naturally, I suspect that few translators would criticize the writing in works they had translated.

The comment defending Nick Caistor gave rise to an interesting question: Can a good translator produce a bad translation?

June 21, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I presume you're defining a good translator as someone who can both provide suitable equivalents for the nuances of the original language, and also of the author's stylistic quirks and prose rhythms, so on that basis I would say no, unless he's under severe time constraints, is translating from a less-familiar language than that with which he made his reputation, or on the basis of the old stand-by, 'the exception proves the rule'.

I've never really had cause, or inclination, to compare different translations of classics, but I'll certainly swear by the Pevear/Volokhonsky 'Karamazov', and the Edith Grossman 'Don Quixote'

June 21, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I hate to say that I know a good translation when I see it, but especially in popular fiction, the first criterion has to be readability. Classic, nonfiction, scholarly works and works of historical interest may lay greater emphasis on literal translation.

Suitable equivalents or, when that is not possible, suitable counterparts.

June 22, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I'm not sure what you mean by "I hate to say that I know a good translation when I see it", particularly after saying you're slow to criticise a translation

But as for "especially in popular fiction, the first criterion has to be readability",, of course that's true but to whom must it be readable; for example translating James Ellroy, or even Ken Bruen into, say, German must provide interesting problems in itself, and in such situations its at least as important for the translator to retain the rhythms and the 'argot' of the original.

June 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, it just means I'm modest about my qualifications to assess a work of translation given that I may not know the original language and have probably not read the work in the original. To assess a piece of translated writing, yes, but to assess the translator's work -- that's a bit more difficult.

In the case of of Ellroy and Bruen, one could argue that the rhythms and the argot are part of the readability.

June 22, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

How about this for coincidence?: I just watched Bava's 'The Girl Who Knew Too Much' for the first time, and there was a reference in it to a (fictional?) novel called 'Ariadne's String', which had just been published in Philadelphia, although, the narrator believed, it hadn't yet been translated into Italian!

June 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fictional, as far as I can determine from a quick search, though Philadelphia once was a center of publishing and might still have been so when the movie was made in the 1960s.

Coincidence, yes, especially since the movie is a giallo.

June 22, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Peter, have you read anything of Jean-Claude Izzo, or Massimo Carlotto; from the blurbs and synopses at the back of my edition of 'The Damned Season' they sound quite promising

June 23, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I haven't read Carlotto, but I have read Izzo's "Marseilles trilogy," a remarkable set of books that I have written about several times here. I recommend that you read the books in order.

June 24, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Peter have you ever read a serial killer novel that doesn't let you get inside the mind of the killer?
(I'm currently reading 'City of Lost Girls', following on 'Almost Blue' and 'The Lolita Man').
And if you have, or read more than one, have any of them worked better than the more conventional approach

June 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I haven't read many serial-killer novels, but that was one of the things that impressed me about "City of Lost Girls": Hughes got inside the serial killer's head and was still able to write a non-boring book. That was the tack I took in my discussion of the book, that Hughes took traditional, even hoary motifs and handled them with zest. "City of Lost Girls" has plenty more going on than the inside-the-killer's-head bits, and that saves those bits from looming too large.

One of Ken Bruen's Brant and Roberts novels spends some time inside a killer's head, but the time is so brief and so funny as to stand out from what I imagine is the standard.

June 26, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

ok, thanks.
Yeah, I've found that topic you did on my Blogger 'dashboard' so I'll revert to it once I've finished the book.

But I'd still be interested if anybody knows of any, because I'm just wondering could it be as effective, or would readers, or potential readers, feel cheated.

As for 'City', nice to see early references to Tarkovsky, - I love pretty much all his films, - and Antonioni

June 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, well, would one call David Peace's novels serial-killer novels? The one I've read does not get inside the killer's head as far as I can recall.

June 26, 2010  

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