9 October 09 | Chad W. Post

I’m just going to let this speak for itself . . . It’s a letter to the New York Times from esteemed translator Esther Allen who is also the executive director of the Center for Literary Translation at Columbia and the author of To Be Translated or Not To Be, a recent PEN/Ramon Llull Report on translation and globalization. She writes:

There is a problem with the coverage of Herta Muller’s Nobel in today’s Times.

The Times articles consistently mention the fact that Muller writes in German, and even bemoan the problem of the paucity of literary translation published in English. But never once is any of Muller’s translators named or alluded to, not even when those translators’ words are excerpted extensively.

In last year’s coverage of LeClezio’s Nobel, translators were credited; their omission this year becomes all the more inexplicable.

Herta Muller is not really so obscure — she’s one of the lucky ones, with at least four books published in English. That has happened because a number of literary translators have championed her work and brought it to an English-speaking public. Their names are Michael Hofmann, Martin Chalmers, Philip Boehm, Michael Hulse, Valetina Glajar and André Lefevere.

These are not clerks or copyists — these are dedicated, skilled performers whose insight and erudition make it possible for literature to move from one cultural medium into another. They should not be condemned to operate in total obscurity, especially not at a moment like this one.

Muller herself, like Imre Kertesz and a number of Nobel winners in previous years, has been a translator — her writing involves movements between cultures and languages. Translation is integral to this story, not an incidental inconvenience or annoyance to be suppressed or overlooked.

As a daily reader and supporter of the New York Times, I would hope that in the Times‘s ongoing coverage, translation and the work of translators can be given their rightful place in this story.

UPDATE: Esther heard back from Dwight Garner of the Times, who agreed with her point and said, “it’s a situation I hope we can rectify in future writing about Herta Muller.”


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