Jill Timbers is a translator from Finnish to English who recently posted on the ALTA listserve about a very curious situation going on in Finland w/r/t the new J.K. Rowling book. I asked her to expand on this a bit, since it’s a situation that raises all sorts of questions about translation quality, profit versus art, and how all of this plays out in a country where people can read English “good enough.”
Are quality translations at risk?
A new book by J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame is due for release in English on September 27, 2012. You’ve surely seen the hype.
I wrote about its translation into Finnish for Lisa Carter’s blog, Intralingo.
In brief: Otava, the Finnish publisher that won the bidding rights to this new book, wants to capitalize on the moment. Although translators are not permitted to see the Rowling book before it is actually published, Otava wants the Finnish translation ready for the Christmas sales period—and is requiring the translator to turn in the fully polished and completed Finnish translation by October 18. That’s exactly three weeks from receipt of text to completion. The book is supposed to have 480 pages. Do the math: 23 pages of polished final text every day for 21 days in a row—without even allowing for time to read the book.
Jaana Kapari, who translated the Harry Potter series, declined. Another translator has agreed to the terms.
Here are some of the issues this raises. You’ll find more.
What kind of translation can one produce at that pace? Where is there time to search for nuance and recreate word play?
Finnish is not an Indo-European language. Even if such a frenetic pace were conceivable in French or German, say, how can one transfer 480 pages of English into true, uncorrupted Finnish in that period? Finns often lament how English is seeping into their language. People even use a literal version of “in the long run” nowadays, which makes purists cringe. In contrast, readers comment on the brilliant language Kapari employs in her beautiful Finnish translations of Harry Potter. What will happen now?
Will Rowling care?
No one has yet to see Rowling’s newest novel. We can wonder: what is important in her text? Is conveying the storyline enough, or do her language and style deserve painstaking transferral?
As in so many countries, nowadays most Finns can read English. Pretty well. Well enough? Will a fast Finnish translation offer the same experience or perhaps a better experience than a sort-of comprehension of the source text? Both situations could involve missing out on . . . lots.
Then again, if translations do not recapture the original in all its depth and color, will the Finnish readers settle for an adequate grasp by reading only the English, and will best sellers ultimately not be translated into Finnish at all?
UPDATE: Just got a new message from Jill about how the German translator was able to read a copy of the book before starting the translation. There’s speculation about whether the German publisher paid extra for this right, and whether the Finnish publisher decided to forgo that possibility. Interesting.
“Rambling Jack—what’s that?”
“A novel. Novella, I guess.”
“Yeah, it looks short. What is it, a hundred pages?”
“Sorta. It’s a duel language book, so really, only about… 50 pages total.”
“And this—what. . .
Many authors are compared to Roberto Bolaño. However, very few authors have the privilege of having a Roberto Bolaño quote on the cover of their work; and at that, one which states, “Good readers will find something that can be. . .
In Josep Maria de Sagarra’s Private Life, a man harangues his friend about literature while walking through Barcelona at night:
When a novel states a fact that ties into another fact and another and another, as the chain goes on. . .
César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .
Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .
For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .
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. . .