Friday, March 28, 2014
As I started working on my 30-something translation project, I came to an interesting realization. The best translators are like the best butlers, waiters, and wedding photographers - they are invisible. For example, at our wedding, we told our photographer that we didn't want posed photos - just candids. And he delivered - well over 400 shots. But no one remembered him being there. Not even I - even though, as I walked down the aisle, he stepped out for a fraction of a second, took a shot, and stepped back in. That was how good he was. The best translators must be that way too. When working with truly excellent conversation interpreters, people talking to each other eventually lose the sense of the third person - they truly feel as if they are talking TO each other, not through the third person. And with literary translators, when someone reads their work, the impression must be clear - this is Pushkin, this is Tolstoy, this is Zola, and this is Neruda. Not "this is thus and such author translated by" - but "this is THAT author". It has to be unmistakable. Such is the great challenge of those of us who choose to leap over the language barriers and introduce readers to works outside of their own language. The foreign language offerings at American book stores and on line remain scant. I was reminded of that just yesterday, as I was re-reading a Russian-language science fiction anthology including fourteen writers from five different countries. Having read some of the stories in their native language as well as in Russian, I can honestly say - Russian translators have done a great job, because there was - unmistakably - Bradbury, and there was Asimov, and there was Priestley. So, clearly, countries outside of America exchange their works back and forth - and I think it's really important for the same to happen here, because American readers are very much missing out. Once again, I urge those of you out there who are fluent in more than one language, to consider translation. Yes, there are legal headaches involved, and the translation process itself is far from easy - it can be a delight one day, and a nauseating headache the next. But when you see the readers' response - that "Oh, my God, I've never heard about this writer - and I love this stuff!" reaction - it is absolutely worth it. Best of luck!