Peter Mountford’s debut novel is getting translated into Russian - hooray! Right? Oh, wait, the Russian rights were never sold…Read how the author discovered his pirate translator, and why Mountford helped him.
“I considered contacting AlexanderIII to offer translation help, but I sensed that if I wrote to him, he might vanish. He might even stop translating the book. So I became a voyeur to my own book’s abduction and, confusingly, found myself rooting for the abductor.
Though I was impressed by AlexanderIII’s dedication, his numerous message-board queries did not inspire much confidence in his translation abilities. At one point, he indicated that he was struggling with ‘white-liberal guilt.’ (Me too!, I wanted to chime in.) He postulated that white liberal guilt meant: ‘the guilt for consuming white substance (cocaine).’”
After hearing this morning that Mo Yan won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature, I began to wonder what books are available in English and then, who his English translator is. Which is how I stumbled upon this old interview with Howard Goldblatt, who, incidentally, has worked on the translations for a few of our books, as well (above).
Howard Goldblatt is a Research Professor of Chinese at Notre Dame and has translated over thirty Chinese-language novels into English. Read the interview - his is a fascinating story and I love what he says about translation.
Q: It sounds like you did something you liked and people responded.
A: I just consider myself incredibly lucky. And even though I’m an anti-militarist, an old 60s leftist and unreconstructed liberal, I bow down to Uncle Sam, because if he hadn’t sent me to Taiwan, where would I be? I’d be dead, I’m sure. I would have had an unspectacular career selling shoes or something, because I had no other talents. And I would have been a racist, and now I’mnot. Vietnam also turned me into a pacifist. I’ve gotten older and more conservative as I go along, but still I haven’t lost that perspective. Vietnam did that to me, and to a lot of people—the ones it didn’t kill or mess up forever. It gave us a different angle.
Q: Who do you translate for?
A: I believe first of all that, like an editor, the translator’s primary obligation is to the reader, not the writer. I realize that a lot of people don’t agree, especially writers. I don’t think that these things have to be mutually exclusive, but I do think that we need to produce something that can be readily accepted by an American readership. Ha Jin can get away with writing unidiomatic English and many people are charmed by it, but a translator’s English is expected to be idiomatic and contemporary without being flashy.
Translators are like ninjas. If you notice them, they’re no good.
Etgar Keret, speaking with Nathan Englander about the art of translation at the Edinburgh International Book Festival
More at World Literature Today.
While reading a moving passage from Saramago’s Nobel acceptance speech about his illiterate grandparents, Jull Costa’s voice broke slightly. A sniffling sound made me turn my head to find both of my companions – and many others in the room – with moist eyes. It was clear that for Jull Costa translation is not merely a job or an exercise, but a means of reading sensitively, deeply, respectfully. At the end of her talk, one was left with Jose Saramago. Without having been self-effacing or trumpeting her talents, Jull Costa had simply conveyed, beautifully, Saramago’s words, and through them, why Saramago matters, and why having his work available in English matters. In response to a question, her admission that her pleasure in translating wasn’t out of a particular interest in Spanish or Portuguese literature so much as it was an interest in the English language elicited a palpable reaction. Even if this seemed an obvious point, I felt I’d had an epiphany: a great translator is, first and foremost, a great reader – and, following that, a great writer as well.
- Scott Walters attends the Margaret Jull Costa event put on by the Center for the Art of Translation.