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the Complete Review
the complete review - literary / autobiographical


Diplomat, Actor, Translator, Spy

Bernard Turle

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To purchase Diplomat, Actor, Translator, Spy

Title: Diplomat, Actor, Translator, Spy
Author: Bernard Turle
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (Eng. 2013)
Length: 41 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Diplomat, Actor, Translator, Spy - US
Diplomat, Actor, Translator, Spy - UK
Diplomat, Actor, Translator, Spy - Canada
Diplomat, Actor, Translator, Spy - India
  • French title: Le Traducteur-orchestre
  • With an Afterword and Translated by Dan Gunn
  • This edition includes the French text, as an insert

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nice, short, very personal take on translator's life and craft

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       In Diplomat, Actor, Translator, Spy French translator Bernard Turle surveys his translating life and work in twenty-six brief (and, yes, alphabetically arranged) chapters. He describes in the first entry ('Alphabet') learning letters and reading, until his: "life was overrun by the alphabet" and he found he had become: "a sandwich-man composed of letters" (and, yes, the original French term he uses is 'homme-sandwich'). Interestingly, he has now turned to another language and script, having taken up Hindi. For now, he's best known for his translations from the English -- with a bit of an Indian focus (Manu Joseph, Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi (who is dropped off at his first meeting with Turle in his chauffeur-driven Bentley), Sudhir Kakar), but having also translated big name authors such as Peter Ackroyd, Martin Amis, T.Coraghessan Boyle, and André Brink, among many others; amusingly, he reports that the book that "today brings me my best royalties" is, of all things, What We Did on Our Holidays, by Geoff Nicholson.
       The alphabetical arrangement of the book allows Turle to offer brief pieces on a variety of aspects of translation, as well as personal information and anecdotes, without the bother of constructing a more connected narrative. It makes for an entertaining and informative -- if, of course, slightly unfocused -- grab-bag.
       Turle's identity as translator and identification with translation is highlighted; even when he writes a book himself it's pointed out to him that it contains: "so many different voices"; rather than any that might be identifiable as his singularly own, Turle clearly is more comfortable taking on those of others.
       He suggests:

A translator is a spy whose paymaster is a writer. He is at the service of the latter's principles, themes, discourse, images, his style, image, ego, and he is at the service above all of the implacable imperative not to betray him.
       It seems an odd stance for a translator, whose allegiance should surely be not just primarily but solely to the text -- screw the author (even if he shows up in a Bentley). Turle apparently thinks differently -- and goes on to describe meeting Mohammed Hanif, to discuss A Case of Exploding Mangoes, and his frustration that, while Hanif answered all the text-related questions, the author refused to let himself be drawn out on anything about his personal life. Hanif has soared in my estimation by refusing to deal with Turle directly with regards to the translation of his next novel after this experience, Turle now: "required to pass through his agent".
       "Translation is metaphor as such"; translation as kaleidoscope: Turle offers a variety of ways of looking at translation. There's also hands-on information, as he describes his six stages of translating a work, from an initial scan ("to verify our compatibility" (losing out on the big payday P.D.James-work offered because "the fear of having to frequent the morgue" scared him off)) to seeing the book in published form.
       Helpfully, the (beautiful, as always) Cahiers edition includes an insert with the French original. The translation is close throughout -- but a few sections are presented slightly differently: in French, in a section omitted in the English version, Turle felt obliged to explain the "terme d'argot" 'whatever' (as also in how the English-language publishers translated the title of one of Houellebecq's novels), while the single French line of the 'X' section -- "Un traducteur est un auteur né sous x" -- requires a whole paragraph of explanation (of what it means to be "né sous x") before the single line is presented in English translation.
       Turle also offers hopeful observations about an expanding world of translation, such as:
One day, fewer Indian novels will be translated in Europe that have been written in English, and more Indian novels written in Hindi, as well as Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Urdu, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, und so weiter.
       One can only hope .....
       Diplomat, Actor, Translator, Spy is an appealing little volume on translation -- personal, but coming from someone with an impressive body of work to his name, and hence a great deal of experience. With a reach extending also east, and openness to at least one non-European language -- but centered on translation from English -- Turle's perspective is certainly of considerable interest.
       Recommended to anyone dealing with translation.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 May 2013

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Diplomat, Actor, Translator, Spy: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Bernard Turle is a French translator.

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© 2013 the complete review

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