Monday, August 4, 2014

Commentary – Found In Translation

Mulitple Prize-winning Novelist & Crime Writer Fuminari Nakamura

When I comment on books by others I usually mention the translator if it is a book not originally written in English.  I marvel at the skill of any who has mastered two languages and catches all those things that a direct, soulless translation couldn’t provide. Being the typical American — that is monolingual — it is difficult to imagine the immense talent it must take to translate 100 Years of Solitude into another language, for example.

Unfortunately most of us will never know how well the translator did. Unless we read the book in both the original language and in translation, all we can tell is how much we enjoyed the book we read.  But we know that in order to get it right, we’re talking about much, much more than someone knowing the grammar and vocabulary.  There are cultural considerations, slang, rhythm and style. We can, however, make an uneducated guess that if we loved the book, there’s a good chance we owe that enjoyment not only to the writer, but also to the human who translated it.

I offer this.  Below is a paragraph from a soon-to-be-released book in the ‘Deets’ Shanahan series as it went through a series of computer translations.

English version:

“I’ve got to go,” Shanahan said watching as a frail, elderly lady emerged from a well-maintained vintage Buick parked in his driveway.  Her coat tails flapped in the breeze as she placed her purse on the hood of the car and raised her hands to hold onto her hat.  Her body jerked. Her body went limp.  Her hat blew away. She crumpled, dropping straight down onto the gravel below.

Translated by Bing from English to Italian to German to Japanese and Back To English:

"Said was parked in frail elderly persons such as Shanahan women vintage must I go, landscaped in the Buick in the driveway of his home. Tail and placed him on the hood of his bag, to hold his coat for raised his hand to his hat is flashed in the wind. Crack of his body. Her body was limp. His hat blew off. The gravel below you straight was crumpled.

When I reported earlier on Fuminari Nakamura’s incredible ThiefI suspect that even in this era of sophisticated computer programming, the job of the human translator remains safe for a while. His translators, Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates, no doubt keep the talented Nakamura in awards. His most recent book is Last Winter We Parted. Thank you to all of the rarely acknowledged translators who help us poor fools read great books from around the world.

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