14 July 08 | Chad W. Post

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the Translators Association of the Society of Authors has released a list of 50 outstanding translations from the last 50 years.

We love us a good list, and like all top XX compilations, this one should generate some discussion. In the Times comment section, someone points out that Edith Grossman is missing from this list, which, in my opinion, is a pretty huge oversight. No Suzanne Jill Levine either . . . And although I’m more of a Ralph Manheim fan than Michael Orthofer (we’re bringing out Manheim’s translation of Jakov Lind’s Landscape in Concrete next year), it is strange (or awkward, or something) to have Manheim’s translation of The Tin Drum at number 4, with the new translation (which Grass himself has lobbied for for years) from Breon Mitchell coming out next year.

What’s confusing to me personally, is the lack of criteria for putting list list together. “Outstanding” doesn’t signify much—is this based solely on the quality of the translation, or the quality of the original book as well? (You need both for a book to be truly spectacular.) Is the ranking based on difficulty, on faithfulness, on how it reads in English? Even if the criteria is particularly subjective, it would be beneficial to explain at least some of the rhyme behind the reason for the list.

But whatever, it’s still a great list of great books. All 50 titles can be found here, and listed below are the top 10:

1. Raymond Queneau – Exercises in Style (Barbara Wright, 1958)

2. Primo Levi – If This is a Man (Stuart Woolf, 1959)

3. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa – The Leopard (Archibald Colquhoun, 1961) (The New York Times ran a long appreciation/rediscovery piece about this book over the weekend.)

4. Günter Grass – The Tin Drum (Ralph Manheim, 1962)

5. Jorge Luis Borges – Labyrinths (Donald Yates, James Irby, 1962)

6. Leonardo Sciascia – Day of the Owl (Archibald Colquhoun, 1963)

7. Alexander Solzhenitsyn – One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Ralph Parker, 1963)

8. Yukio Mishima – Death in Midsummer (Seidensticker, Keene, Morris, Sargent, 1965)

9. Heinrich Böll – The Clown (Leila Vennewitz, 1965)

10. Octavio Paz – Labyrinth of Solitude (Lysander Kemp, 1967)

Update: As Michael Orthofer pointed out, this list is in chronological order, which, yes, I should’ve noticed, but also something that could’ve (should’ve?) been clarified on the Translators Association site.

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