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The A to Z of Literary Translation: S to V

By Georgia de Chamberet

Schools of thought about the rights and wrongs of translation are summarized by Susan Sontag as follows: íI suppose that the two opposed schools of translators are those who feel, like Nabokov, that a good translation has to be a literal transcription of the original, no matter how flat or awkward, or those who believe that a translation has to be a complete imaginative recreation, like Robert Lowell's translations of Rimbaud in Imitations. Each one has its virtues. To be flippant, I might say that I believe one theory on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and the opposite on the other days of the week.ë

Translators carry an author to a new audience; conveying their vision, storytelling skills, originality and much more besides. Where would the giants of world literature be without their translators? Appelfeld, Balzac, Bassani, Bernhard, Borges, Borowski, Breton, Bulgakov, Cao Xueqin, Cervantes, Cioran, Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Fournier, García Márquez, Hesse, Ibsen, Kafka, Kierkegaard, La Fontaine, Lampedusa, Levi, Mahfouz, Mann, Musil, Narayan, Nietzsche, Proust, Pasternak, Rousseau, Sacher-Masoch, Sartre, Sivadasa, Solzhenitsyn, Stendhal, Sun-Tzu, Svevo, Tagore, Tolstoy, Tzu, Vargas Llosa, Voltaire, Zhongshu, Zola, Zweig, and countless others, could not have made their mark globally without them.

Uniqueness in storytelling and style are hallmarks of foreign fiction. Diversity and intercultural understanding are the name of the game. Witness the enduring popularity of foreign heavyweights published by Penguin Classics, Everyman's Library and others.

Voice and its variants — that of the author and the translator like an echo — and adapting a sound or rhythmic pattern foreign to local readers. A novel should be informed by some idea of the language of musical form. Al Alvarez recommends in The Writer's Voice: íIt is the business of writers to create as true a voice as they can … To write well you must first learn to listen ... which is something writers have in common with readers ... reading well means opening ears to the presence behind words and knowing which notes are true and which are false.ë

Published Apr 24, 2008   Copyright 2008 Georgia de Chamberet

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