Two from the Times on Translation.

1) Benjamin Moser discusses the importance of remedying the lack of enough translations into English in Found in Translation:

In college in the 1990s, I happened upon a Brazilian writer so sensational that I was sure she must be a household name. And she was — in Curitiba or Maranhão. Outside Brazil, it seemed, nobody knew of Clarice Lispector. […]

As I later learned, Lispector’s first name was enough to identify her to most Brazilians. But two decades after her death in 1977, she remained virtually untranslated; among English speakers, she was unknown outside some academic circles. One pleasure of discovering a great writer is the ability to share her work, and I was stymied. Lispector’s obscurity reinforced itself. People couldn’t care about someone they couldn’t read. And if they couldn’t read her, they couldn’t become interested.

It took me years to realize that this vicious cycle would not magically be broken. I started writing Lispector’s biography, a project that took five years. The result, “Why This World,” generated interest in a series of English translations of her novels. […]

It shouldn’t be assumed, as I long did, that all great foreign writers will eventually reach English-language bookstores. As publication in English becomes more important, even editors open to translations are overwhelmed. (And few read Norwegian.) For every Karl Ove Knausgaard or Elena Ferrante, who are translated almost as soon as they appear in Norwegian or Italian, there are many Lispectors.

2) And Andrew Roth reports on an attempt to do something about it in Columbia University Press to Publish New Translations of Russian Literature:

Russian and American academics, publishers and Russian government officials announced on Saturday that they would collaborate on an ambitious new series of Russian literature in translation to be published by Columbia University Press.

The idea, tentatively named the Russian Library, envisions dozens, and perhaps more than 100, new translations of Russian modern literature and classics, selected by the publisher with support from a committee of Russian and American academics. […]

Jennifer Crewe, the director of Columbia University Press, said that the book list should include a “smattering of classics” that needed new translations, as well as post-Soviet and current Russian literature. With time still needed to select the first series of titles and translate them, the soonest they would be published is 2017.

Needless to say, I welcome this project. (Thanks, Eric!)

Comments

  1. Bathrobe says:

    “The English language, like rats or kudzu, has become an invasive species.” Nice one!

  2. David Eddyshaw says:

    I bought my first Clarice Lispector novel after seeing a review by (or of) Moser himself in The Economist, a paper which is often remarkably good at what you might call the World Music side of literature. All that, and macroeconomics too!

  3. Do you have a wish list of Russian books you’d like to see translated?

  4. If you want your Norwegian literature translated, just pretend its a crime novel.

  5. David Eddyshaw says:

    This may have worked for Sofi Oksanen in Finnish, given that I see stacks of comparisons in reviews between “Purge” and the (unreadable, if you ask me) Millennium series.

    “Purge” is pretty lurid and involves abused women as central characters, but hardly deserves to be lumped in with lumpen Larsson just because of that and because it’s “in Scandinavian.”

  6. Do you have a wish list of Russian books you’d like to see translated?

    I wouldn’t call it a “wish list,” because I no longer read Russian books in translation, but I recently compiled a list of Russian books that still await translation, and I’ll reproduce it here:

    Vasily Narezhny, Rossiisky Zhilblaz (A Russian Gil Blas, 1814) and Bursak (The seminary student, 1824); A. F. Veltman (all novels); Aleksey Pisemsky, Vzbalamuchennoe more (A troubled sea, 1863); Nikolai Leskov, Nekuda (No way out, 1863); Aleksei Remizov, Prud (The pond, 1908) and Krestovye syostry (Sisters of the Cross, 1910); Mikhail Kuzmin, Chudesnaya zhizn Iosifa Balzamo, grafa Kaliostro (The wondrous life of Joseph Balsamo, Count Cagliostro, 1919); Vladimir Zazubrin (Zubtsov), Dva mira (Two worlds, 1921); Vsevolod Ivanov, Tsvetnye vetra (Colored winds, 1922) and Vozvrashchenie Buddy (Returning the Buddha, 1923, “a little-known masterpiece”); Ilya Ehrenburg, Trest «D.E.»: Istoriya gibeli Evropy (The D.E. Trust: The story of the destruction of Europe, 1923); Panteleimon Romanov, Rus (1923-36); Boris Pilnyak, Ivan Moskva (Ivan Moscow, 1927); Boris Zhitkov, Viktor Vavich (1929-41, praised highly by Pasternak); Nina Berberova, Poslednie i pervye (The last and the first, 1930) and Bez zakata (Without sunset, 1938); Ilya Zdanevich (Iliazd), Voskhishchenie (Rapture, 1930); Ivan Shmelyov, Leto gospodne (The summer of the Lord, 1933-48); Mark Aldanov, Peshchera (The cave, 1934-36) and Samoubiistvo (Suicide, 1958); Yuri Tynyanov, Detstvo (Childhood, 1935); Andrei Nekrasov, Priklyucheniya kapitana Vrungelya (The adventures of Captain Vrungel, 1937-39); Gaito Gazdanov, Nochnaya doroga (Night road, 1940), Vozvrashchenie Buddy (The return of the Buddha, 1949), and Piligrimy (Pilgrims, 1953); Vasily Grossman, Za pravoe delo (For a just cause, 1952-56); Mikhail Prishvin, Osudareva doroga (The tsar’s road, 1957); Fyodor Abramov, Bratya i syostry (Brothers and sisters, 1958); Grigory Baklanov, Iyul 41 goda (July 1941, 1964); Yuri Trifonov, Predvaritelnye itogi (Preliminary conclusions/stocktaking, 1970).

    It’s a continuing scandal that the later volumes of Solzhenitsyn’s Krasnoe koleso (The red wheel) have still not been translated; August 1914 sold well, but apparently November 1916 didn’t, so they’re not bothering with the rest of his major epic. And shamefully little of the wonderful Alexander Grin has been translated; every Russian loves his tales of off-kilter adventures in his own un-Russian invented world, but foreigners know him, if at all, only for Scarlet Sails. And yet they keep translating Anna Karenina… (Note that there are two different novels with the identical Russian title Vozvrashchenie Buddy; I have translated it differently because their plots, and consequently the meanings of the title, are very different.)

  7. “My freshman year, I’d abandoned studying Chinese when our professor said it’d be 10 years before we’d be able to decipher a newspaper.”

    I suppose the professor was trying to separate the chaff from the wheat, but that is a very irresponsible claim to make to impressionable students. I could decipher a newspaper in Japanese after a year of study. Granted I was living in Japan, but I think three years of fairly dedicated study are more than enough to read most of the articles in a normal Chinese newspaper with occasional reference to a dictionary.

  8. The excellent Pushkin Press has recently put out some of the Gazdanov: http://www.powells.com/s?kw=gazdanov&class=

    I’m amazed Grossman’s ‘For a Just Cause’ still hasn’t been translated–it makes me slightly fearful that maybe it’s not very good.

  9. The excellent Pushkin Press has recently put out some of the Gazdanov

    That’s very good news, thanks for passing it along!

    I’m amazed Grossman’s ‘For a Just Cause’ still hasn’t been translated–it makes me slightly fearful that maybe it’s not very good.

    Nonsense! The whole reason I compiled that list (here) is to disprove that idea. If you want further disproof, I can give you a comparable list of shitty Russian novels that have been translated.

  10. Captain Vrungel, of course, is captain Talltale. Or something like that.

  11. Right, and I assume that if a translation ever gets published it will be something like that. (Alas, it will probably be impossible to carry over the pun on Wrangel.)

  12. fisheyed says:

    I think three years of fairly dedicated study are more than enough to read most of the articles in a normal Chinese newspaper with occasional reference to a dictionary.

    Is this really true? There is so much specialized vocabulary in a newspaper, in the political news, the financial section, the sports section, the computersy section, in the science section…

    Perhaps I am just revealing my own linguistic incompetence, but to me reading the newspaper without a dictionary on hand is a rather high bar.

  13. How did Wrangel’s middle name, expressed in Russian, get to be Petrovich?

  14. He was the son of Baron Peter von Wrangel (per German Wikipedia).

  15. According to Russian wiki Ferdinand Petrovich was son of Peter Wrangel, there is actually no mystery. And it is really too bad that the pun won’t survive the translation.

  16. He was the son of Baron Peter von Wrangel (per German Wikipedia).

    Doh! Shoulda looked there first.

  17. Elessorn says:

    I think three years of fairly dedicated study are more than enough to read most of the articles in a normal Chinese newspaper with occasional reference to a dictionary.

    There are values of “dedicated” for which such a thing is not categorically impossible, sure, but the blithe assurance of “more than enough” and “occasional” is wrong in every way. I call language-teaching malpractice.

  18. Elessorn says:

    My apologies, Vanya– I read too quickly, and even so, that came out far harsher than intended. Alas, repent at leisure…

    I agree that ten years is over the top. Still, lack of cognates, a fast-changing slang, a highly-stocked vocabulary, and a writing style far enough from speech that diglossia isn’t entirely a stretch–though there is a continuum– make it seem unrealistic to me.

    With the wide array of new lookup tools that are getting better all the time, I bet it is/will be possible to achieve such a feat that quickly for more and more students, but again, that’s assuming a faster look-up, not overcoming the need for it.

  19. Trond Engen says:

    mollymooly: If you want your Norwegian literature translated, just pretend its a crime novel.

    David Eddyshaw: This may have worked for Sofi Oksanen in Finnish

    There are Scandinavian writers pretending to write crime novels but who really write deep psychological portraits or cultural analyses.

    Swedish Kerstin Ekman is one. She started out writing detective novels, turned to traditional novels in her thirties or so, and in later years she’s been blurring the lines, switching seemlessly and using death and crime as catalysts for processes in rural societies.

    Norwegian Karin Fossum started as a fragile, sensitive poet but turned to detective novels as a way to explore the psychology of, I don’t know, maybe existential doubt. Her murderers, victims and witnesses are complex characters, struggling to navigate between their own feelings and society’s expectations.

    Danish Peter Høegh could be mentioned too. A great writer, and his debut novel A History of Danish Dreams should be read by everyone, but his politico-economic thriller Miss Smilla’ Feeling for Snow is annoying. I don’t believe either the politics or the economics. Or the science, come to that. Or the psychology of the characters. Not even as symbols. When it comes to Scandinavian Eco-Marxistic Magical-Realistic Literary Crime Fiction, I much prefer Norwegian Gert Nygaardshaug.

  20. Trond Engen says:

    Peter Høeg, sorry.

  21. Trond Engen says:

    And Gert Nygårdshaug, with ‘å’. I’m going to bed now,

  22. A-ring or double-a, it hardly matters.

  23. Det er ett og det samme.

  24. “Outside Brazil, it seemed, nobody knew of Clarice Lispector.”
    If this is literally true, then translation isn’t the only relevant issue. Was Lispector unknown to readers in Portugal and other Lusophone countries before she was “discovered” in English?

  25. Her third novel, The Besieged City (1946), was written in Switzerland and was reviewed by at least one Portuguese critic, per WP.en. I don’t know exactly where it was published.

  26. If this is literally true

    I suspect “Outside Brazil” here is simply an alias for the US. You know what Americans are like.

  27. SFReader says:

    Checked Wikipedia articles about her in various languages (best method for answering questions of this nature, by the way)

    Turns out her works were translated into major European languages since 1970s (Spanish, French, English) and 1980s (German, Italian, Dutch). Russian translation came in 2000, Ukrainian in 1995 (apparently she was born in the Ukraine which led Ukrainian Wikipedia to call her Brazilian-Ukrainian-Jewish writer )

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