Tim Wilkinson Interview

Hungarian Literature Online has a really nice interview with Tim Wilkinson, who is probably best known as Imre Kertesz’s new translator.

But for all publishers out there, Tim’s translated a lot more than Kertesz. In fact, he has a whole host of translations sitting in his desk waiting for a publisher . . .

Which authors would you like to translate and why, if you had the time?

I often translate just for my own pleasure, independent of whether I’ve been commissioned or not by a publisher. If I manage to “sell” one of these translations later on, then all the merrier, but there’s usually no guarantee that this will ever happen. Consequently, I’ve done translations of works—usually one or two—written by ten to twelve different authors, but these manuscripts are still slumbering in the depths of my desk drawer. There is also a list of authors I haven’t translated yet, but would if I only had the time. Among them are István Szilágyi, László Végel, György Spiró and Dezső Tandori, whom I’ve lately included. Ádám Bodor and Péter Lengyel are also on this list, but I know others are already translating them.

And speaking of Kertesz:

In your opinion, what results in a bad translation? And what, do you think, really makes a translation come alive?

When reading a translation or any other piece of writing, it’s extremely obvious if a solid knowledge or understanding of the language just isn’t there. I wrote about this when Imre Kertész received the Nobel Prize. The first English translation of Kaddish for an Unborn Child was painfully bad and fully deserved my criticism that the child, in this case, was actually stillborn. There was hardly a decent sentence in the entire translation—true, Kertész does use rather lengthy sentences in this novel, but that is no excuse. The translation of Fatelessness was barely any better. (In this translation, for example, nine chapters were made into eleven, and I’m talking about the most basic level!) Last year there was an obviously young, American critic writing for an Internet journal who accused me of committing sacrilege, as if I had sent the Rosenberg couple to the electric chair. But if some person (or persons) does not possess a sufficient knowledge of either Hungarian or English, is this something that should remain unmentioned in a critique of the translation?

Unfortunately, there is a long list of English “translators” who really aren’t a great help to Hungarian literature. What makes a translation good? That’s obvious: exactly the opposite of everything I’ve already mentioned. Knowledge, understanding, the right kind of style… these are all very important. In a nutshell, if someone has never learned to write in good, polished English—his or her native language—then this someone will never be a good translator. It’s as simple as that.

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