Sunday, April 30, 2006

On translation and crime fiction

A reader sent me this link to Sarah Weinman's article Pen World Voices Festival: Taking Crime Fiction Seriously. In the middle of the article there is a fascinating bit about Larry Venuti, Henning Mankell, and Boris Akunin arguing about translation.
But it was only when an audience member asked about the author-translator relationship that the panel really got going. Though they didn’t exactly fight, the debate was spirited enough that it could have lasted for at least another hour. Essentially, Mankell voiced the opinion that a translator has to capture the author’s voice ("must convey a language that is mine,” in his words.) He’s rejected translations that, while letter-perfect, simply didn’t do that. Akunin agreed, saying that there were several candidates to translate his work into English but he chose Andrew Bromfield based on the sample he provided, not to mention his pedigree - fluent in Russian with a Russian wife. But Venuti, surprisingly, disagreed with the writers, essentially stating that a translation can only be one possible interpretation of the work in question and that there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” translation.

I have a feeling that Venuti would admit that bad or wrong translations exist. In fact, I wonder how many literary translators turned to translation because they read something that outraged them and thought, "Hey! I can do that better." The issue is, perhaps, "Better for what?" Better for a particular time, or audience; better for a desired impact or effect.

Anyway, after reading Weinman's article, I'm curious to read Akunin's crime novels!

1 comment:

Paul Davidson said...

I think Umberto Eco does a pretty good job in describing good and bad translations (and proving bad ones exist) in On Translation.