|(Games People Play)|
The complainer objected to the name chosen for a poker game in the Gianrico Carofiglio novel translated in English as The Past is a Foreign Country:
"The fat man cut the cards and said, 'Five card stud.' He said it in the same tone of voice he'd used all evening. What he thought of as a professional tone. A good way to recognize an easy mark at a poker table is to see if they use a professional tone."Who is Carofiglio kidding?" my reader objected. "There's no other way to start a game of five card stud. Playing the first card face down and second one face up wouldn't tell you jackshit about anybody."
"He dealt the first card face down and the second one face up. A professional gesture, as if to prove my point."
I speculated that five-card stud might be a rough English equivalent for a game in the novel's original version whose Italian name English and American readers would not recognize, and it turned out I was right. Rather than a lapse on Carofiglio's part, I wrote, "We've uncovered some sloppy work by the translator, then."
Today the translator weighed in with a reply that made me ashamed of my flip comment. That translator is Howard Curtis, and here's what he had to say:
"Sorry I've only just seen this thread. As translator of The Past is a Foreign Country, I'd like to comment on the above remarks about my `sloppy work' on the poker aspects of the book. Not being a poker player myself, I had to do some research when translating these sections, and `five card stud' did seem to be the most accurate translation of what was being played at that point. The poker references were checked and approved by someone at the publishing house who knew about poker, and the original UK edition carried a preliminary note explaining that this was an Italian version of the game, employing a 32-card deck. I haven't seen the US edition, so I don't know if this note was reproduced."Having written about the challenges translators face, I should have speculated about Curtis' choice rather than dismissing it. In any case, it appears this problem was difficult, if minor. The U.S. edition of the book does, indeed, offer an explanatory note, but is that enough? I'd read the novel without noticing the note. The poker references passed muster at the publishing house, but not with a reader out there in cyberland (Ireland, actually). Could translator or publisher have chosen another way to explain the game?
I suggested that the translator might use the original Italian name a time or two in the text, perhaps with an unobtrusive explanation, and let context take care of the rest. Would that have worked? I don't know, but I am reminded once more of how bloody difficult a translator's job can be, especially if the work in question is popular fiction, where ease of reading is paramount.
© Peter Rozovsky 2011