Reed Johnson has a New Yorker blog post about two Russian translations of The Catcher in the Rye, the classic one by Rita Rait-Kovaleva, called Над пропастью во ржи [Over the abyss in the rye], and the 2008 version by Max Nemtsov, Ловец на хлебном поле [The catcher in the field of grain], summarizing the differences by saying “Rait-Kovaleva has subtly shifted Caulfield’s speech into closer accord with good Russian literary norms, while Nemtsov’s Caulfield is both brassier and crasser, exaggerating his supposed iconoclasm”:
Here is how the protagonist of “The Catcher in the Rye” sounds in the original and the two translations—back-translated, of course, into English, which inevitably introduces its own distortions. I’ve tried to preserve the differences in tone, which are apparent from the very opening sentences of each of these works:
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. (Salinger, “The Catcher in the Rye”)
If you truly would like to hear this story, first of all you will probably want to find out where I was born, how I spent my stupid childhood, what my parents did before my birth—in a word, all that David Copperfield rot. But truthfully speaking, I don’t have any urge to delve into that. (Rait-Kovaleva, “Over the Abyss in Rye”)
If you’re truly up for listening, for starters you’ll probably want me to dish up where I was born and what sort of crap went down in my childhood, what the ’rents did and some such stuff before they had me, and other David Copperfield bullshit, except blabbing about all that doesn’t get me stoked, to tell you the truth. (Nemtsov, “Catcher on a Grain Field”)
Michele Berdy, who sent me the link, feels that Johnson wasn’t hard enough on Nemtsov, and I have to agree with her response to the latter’s version: Bleah. She was also kind enough to send the Russian originals of the sentence quoted by Johnson in back-translation, which I have appended below the cut.
Addendum. I won’t make a separate post of it, but Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg has a WSJ piece about translations that’s worth a read; I particularly want to single out this quote from Richard Pevear:
“Most disagreements over words ignore the context, which is all important,” responds Mr. Pevear in an email. He says Tolstoy’s original word for the shoes, “porshni,” “is obsolete in Russian,” describing “primitive peasant shoes made from raw leather.” He says that is “rather close to the first meaning of brogues in the Oxford English Dictionary: ‘rough shoes of untanned hide.’ “
He is responding to Rosamund Bartlett, who said, quite correctly, that “brogues” “conjures up an image of ‘smart shoes with perforations.'” No English-speaker today [aside from John Cowan; see comment thread] thinks of brogues as “rough shoes of untanned hide” (and I might point out that the OED entry he cites hasn’t been updated since 1888). But never mind facts: the important thing is for Pevear to never, ever admit error.
Rita Rait-Kovaleva (1961):
Если вам на самом деле хочется услышать эту историю, вы, наверно, прежде всего захотите узнать, где я родился, как провел свое дурацкое детство, что делали мои родители до моего рождения, – словом, всю эту давид-копперфилдовскую муть. Но, по правде говоря, мне неохота в этом копаться.
Max Nemtsov (2008):
Если по-честному охота слушать, для начала вам, наверно, подавай, где я родился и что за погань у меня творилась в детстве, чего предки делали и всяко-разно, пока не заимели меня, да прочую Дэвид-Копперфилдову херню, только не в жилу мне про все это трындеть, сказать вам правду.