Thursday, March 22, 2007

More on translated crime

I think this article has been around for a while, but a botched link prevented me from getting to it sooner. It's in Crime Time, and it offers more thoughts on translated crime fiction, this time from Natasha Cooper. She finds awkwardness in the English translation of Andrea Camilleri's dialogue, and she praises the English version of The Seville Communion by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. (She calls the author Antonio Perez Reverte -- an especially bad mistake, since Cooper in the same piece singles out a copy editor for criticism.)

Cooper is sensitive to the difficulties a translator faces in capturing a work's emotional tone, and she singles out the translation of Jose Carlos Somoza's The Athenian Murders for praise (though she calls him Juan Carlos Somoza. She must have a mental block against Spanish first names. Either that, or Crime Time's site is being hacked.) That translation, she says, "works particularly well because [the novel] is actually about translation."

I would suggest that Mike Mitchell is at least as good as the translators Cooper fails to name. His fine English versions of Friedrich Glauser's novels for Bitter Lemon Press come up with ingenious and relatively unobtrusive renderings of Glauser's subtle use of German dialects.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now that's an article to get a translator's blood boiling!

I will not launch into a harangue detailing the theories of translation, and in particular those regarding 'faitful' and 'unfaithful' translations. Just because I had to endure two semesters' worth of theory doesn't give me the right to inflict it upon others.

But what gets me is when she writes,
"I cannot believe this is the case with the original. My Italian doesn't extend beyond menu explanations and so I cannot check."
What Cooper should've really written was, "My Italian doesn't extend beyond menu explanations and so I cannot judge." Really, if she doesn't know Italian, what is she basing her opinion on? It could very well be that the line doesn't 'work' in Italian either. If that is the case, does she believe the translator should have intervened?

I am in no way saying that its not possible that the translation is bad. But, its unfair to judge an entire translation by one sentence, one word. Wyatt Mason, a writer for the New Republic, likens reading translations with the purpose of finding 'errors' to scaling Everest merely to count the number of frozen alpinists along the way.

Cooper, I'm afraid, is just one of the many people in the writing business that doesn't understand translation. And, she certainly doesn't appreciate it as much as she may claim to. Case in point, she doesn't even give credit where credit is due. Couldn't find the names of the translators? The internet and Google is great for that.

Stephen Sartarelli translated The Shape of Water. The translator for both The Seville Communion and The Athenian Murders is Sonia Soto.

March 31, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I posted somewhere about Stephen Sartarelli's translations of Camilleri, particularly about his rendering of a wonderful passage in which Montalbano grows exasperated with Livia's use of cliches. The translation uses English cliches. What, I wonder, are the Sicilian equivalents in the original, and what were Sartarelli's thoughts as he tried to find English counterparts that would convey a similar effect?

I agree that Cooper is high-handed. I, too, noted her failure to name the translators whose work she claims to appreciate.

With respect to her remarks on the Italian translation, what she should have written was: "The English version is stilted. Is the original as well? Is the fault, in other words, the author's or the translator's? And if the original is stilted, is it not the translator's duty to produce a readable version (unless he or she is doing a scholarly, word-for-word translation)? This is just one of the challenges a translator faces."

I wrote something similar when I questioned some passages in a translation of a novel by Alicia Gimenez-Bartlett. Considering the subject of this blog, translation has come up often. Here are my collected comments on the subject, starting with the Cooper comment, if you feel like delaying your work a bit more:

March 31, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That was a nice remark by Wyatt Mason. I will quote it often!

March 31, 2007  

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