Yesterday’s Boston Globe has a nice interview with Marian Schwartz, one of the great contemporary translators, whose translation of Olga Slavnikova’s 2017 was recently released. (Here’s a link to K.E. Semmel’s review of 2017 that we ran last week.)
Q. What is a good translation?
A. I think a translation is considered “good’’ when the reader likes it, even if it’s tough going. Bulgakov’s “White Guard,” for example, was known for years in the Glenny translation, which was a pleasure to read but had little to do with the original text and omitted crucial bits; everyone but Slavists loved it. I hope that my new translation reproduces the full range of devices and effects of the original. Incidentally, our capacity — and willingness — to appreciate difficult texts seems to have changed, particularly for canonical texts.
Q. In what way?
A. I think we’ve become more receptive to foreign elements. Constance Garnett, whom I will defend to the end of my days, is now criticized for not being faithful to Tolstoy’s text, for setting his books in what feels like an English garden, but in my view it cannot be bad when a translation gives people access to works that they would never otherwise have read. As I was saying, though, our taste for foreignness has increased. A simple example: 50 years ago, names of Chinese characters were translated — “Peach Blossom’’ and the like — whereas now the preference is for the transliterated Chinese names. There is an ongoing debate among translators about “foreignizing’’ and “domestication,’’ but wherever a translator’s choice falls, today it will probably be closer to foreignizing than it would have been 50 years ago.
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .