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Review of "Why Translation Matters"

I know I had a week off (more or less, and thanks again to Edward Gauvin for kicking such ass last week), but all I’ve really got right now is this review I wrote of Edie Grossman’s Why Translation Matters.

Honestly, this is one of the only things I’ve ever written that I’m pretty proud of. (And all props to Scott and Heidi for their support and help—y’all effing rock.) Really curious to hear what people think of this . . .

Back in 2003, the New York Times ran an article entitled “America Yawns at Foreign Fiction” driving home the idea that American publishers don’t publish many books in translation (the commonly cited statistic is that translations make up less than 3 percent of all books published in America), that readers don’t care to read international literature (the opening line of the article is a joke about how Americans had no idea who Imre Kertesz was when he won the Nobel Prize), and that this situation is unlikely to change.

All pretty depressing stuff for anyone interested in works from beyond our borders, but, to be honest, none of this was very surprising. Conversations about literature in translation are ruled by negativity: Translators aren’t paid enough. Publishers don’t support literature in translation. Booksellers ignore these books in favor of Twilight knock-offs and other schlock. No one reads anymore anyway. Translation is impossible.

No wonder Edie Grossman is a bit touchy:

“We read translations all the time, but of all the interpretive arts, it is fascinating and puzzling to realize that only translation has to fend off the insidious, damaging question of whether or not it is, can be, or should be possible. It would never occur to anyone to ask whether it is feasible for an actor to perform a dramatic role or a musician to interpret a piece of music. Of course it is feasible, just as it is possible for a translator to rewrite a work of literature in another language. Can it be done well? I think so, as do my translating colleagues, but there are other, more antipathetic opinions.”

The whole review can be found at The Quarterly Conversation.



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