Sam Taylor -- whose translation of Laurent Binet's HHhH is just out in English -- writes about translation in the Financial Times, in New word order.
With examples from his own experiences and those of a few other translators, it's pretty interesting -- but Taylor undermines his credibility in noting that: "HHhH had won a Prix Goncourt"; that's not exactly a lie, but is certainly phrased in a highly misleading way -- which is not something you want in your translator.
(Most English-speakers surely are only familiar with one prix Goncourt -- the prix Goncourt, which is, indeed the only one of any consequence.
What HHhH won was the 'prix Goncourt du premier roman', a first-novel prize that is taken about as seriously as any other first-novel prize (i.e. not at all), and whose others winners -- aside from perhaps Jean-Christophe Rufin's The Abyssinian -- you're unlikely to have ever heard of (much less come across in English translation).)
The crazy part of it is that we are breeding professional, competent, homogenised writers who will go on to teach writing that is professional, competent and homogenised. The intriguing part of it is whether this movement towards creativity and self-expression is really the start of a kind of Occupy -- that it could be dangerous and confrontational, not homogenised at all.
Hmmm, yeah, one can wish .....
She also notes:
One of the problems with US courses -- those ant colonies -- is that students read nothing except contemporary American writers.
This produces the factory fiction so typical of writing programmes.
Worse, it sets up a resistance to anything that is not immediately recognisable.
What the Americans do better than us is to pay and persuade the best writers to teach on the best courses.
There are now 2900 reviews at the complete review, and so we've updated our look at How international are we ?.
There are now books originally written in 57 languages under review -- Georgian is the most recent addition; see the updated full breakdown here.
Among the last 100 reviews (numbers 2801 through 2900) were books originally written in English and 24 other languages; interestingly at least one book in each of the 17 already most popular languages was reviewed (and one in each of 21 of the top languages 23).
The languages the most reviewed books were originally written in were:
The countries where the most writers came from were France and the US, with 13 titles reviewed each.
Only four of the American-authored titles were novels; 10 of the French ones were -- though the two longest reviews were of American novels: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, and In One Person by John Irving, both coming in at over 2000 words.
(The average review was 834 words long -- 12.4% longer than for the previous hundred reviews.)
For the first time ever, 20 per cent of the reviews were of books authored by women (19 had been the previous high for any hundred-book span); see our updated author-sex breakdown of books under review.
This pushes us up to ... 14.97% of all books reviewed (434 total) being authored by women, up from 14.79%.
The reviews were also of recent books: while we count when a book was originally published, not when the translation was first published in English, 11 reviewed titles originally appeared in 2012, another 11 in 2011, and 64 in all in the 2000s.
Interestingly, more books from the 1910s and 1920s (4 each) were reviewed than books from the 1960s (1) or even 1980s (3); we also reviewed four 1950s titles.
Fiction dominated, as always, with reviews of 75 novels and 6 story collections; only one play was reviewed, and no poetry at all.
The International Writers Festival in Jerusalem opened 13 May and runs through the 18th; it features what looks like pretty much every Israeli writer of any note, as well as foreign authors such as Arnon Grunberg, Krasznahorkai László, Jo Nesbø, Aleksandar Hemon, and Gary Shteyngart.
I haven't heard how this worked out, but I hope it caused more than a few raised eyebrows: as Maya Sela reported in Haaretz, Israeli writers' festival to prescreen speeches in bid to ban political content -- because in 2010 an author dared be critical of Israel; apparently this is the sort of literary festival where such things aren't just frowned upon but rather simply banned.
Apparently it only applied to the 'opening speeches', given by Zeruya Shalev and Krasznahorkai; given that there have been no reports of any strong reactions or actions, one way or another, it seems this wasn't much of an issue.
(Meanwhile, Grunberg does note on his weblog that: "Last night, during my event at the International Writers Festival in Jeruzalem the Nakba Day was mentioned only in passing by Sayed Kashua. None of the other authors present, including myself, responded to what Kashua had to say."
I'm not sure whether to hope that was out of apathy, ignorance, or intimidation.)
Among the foreign authors in attendance is Algerian writer Boualem Sansal, author of The German Mujahid (published in the UK as An Unfinished Business) and winner of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade -- which, sigh, naturally also has caused a fuss: as Oren Kessler reports in The Jerusalem Post, Algerian author sparks uproar with Israel visit.
At least he seems to be taking it in stride:
Sansal said reactions in Algeria to his Israel visit were mixed.
"On my website it was 50/50 -- half said they should do to me what they did to Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
The other half said it's great, that it's wonderful and we can learn from Israel's experiences."
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Pingali Suranna's sixteenth-century Telugu novel, The Sound of the Kiss, or The Story That Must Never Be Told (which isn't even the first Suranna title under review at the complete review).
The great Mexican author Carlos Fuentes has passed away; see, for example, obituaries by Nick Caistor (The Guardian), Marcela Valdes (The Washington Post), and Anthony DePalma (The New York Times).
He was active until the very end -- including giving out interviews: El País just published one by Francisco Peregil, and in Publishers Weekly Robert James has A Conversation With Carlos Fuentes -- mainly about his forthcoming-in-English novel, Vlad.
(I already have a copy, and should be reviewing it soon; meanwhile, see the Dalkey Archive Press publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
Several of Fuentes' works are under review at the complete review -- though not the epic Terra Nostra, or The Death of Artemio Cruz:
They've announced that Felicitas Hoppe has won the Georg-Büchner-Preis -- the most prestigious German author- (as opposed to book-) prize (and worth €50,000); see, for example, the (German) Börsenblattreport.
None of her work appears to have been translated into English yet, but she's been in the US several times (including apparently getting an MA from the University of Oregon), most recently earlier this year as a fellow at the Villa Aurora, where she was working on 'Ilf and Petrow revisited' -- following up on Ilf and Petrov's 1935 American road trip (see the Princeton Architectural Press publicity page for their book).
The 'big American literary prizes --= the Pulitzer, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award -- pay squat or close to it (if they even bother naming a fiction winner ...), but every year a graduating senior at Washington College takes home The Sophie Kerr Prize, which, depending on how well the endowment is doing, pays out around $60,000 -- only $58,274 this year, but it's been as much as $68,814 as recently as 2009.
awarded each year to the graduating senior who has the best ability and promise for future fulfillment in the field of literary endeavor
They announced this year's prize yesterday, and it went to Kathryn J. Manion:
Manion, an English major from Clarksville, Md., took the prize with her submission of four short stories she considers works in progress, and excerpts of her thesis on the role of letter writing in literature -- a study that drew from the novels of Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, George Eliot and Emily Bronte.
They've announced the James Tait Black shortlists, in fiction and biography.
Recall that this year they will also be awarding the Best of the James Tait Black Prizewinners -- the best of the first ninety years of the prize (which, however, apparently only considers the fiction winners (which seems entirely appropriate and fine with me: fiction is all that counts, after all)).
They've announced Orhan Pamuk får Sonningprisen 2012 (though not yet at the English-language part of the official site, last I checked).
This biennial prize -- which they describe as: "Denmark's largest cultural award" -- has a pretty good list of previous winners.
It also comes with DKK 1 million -- about US $ 172,500, at the current exchange rate.
At Publishing Perspectives Chad W. Post has an editorial, reviewing this year's PEN World Voices Festival -- which he found to be a bit of a dud -- and suggesting what he'd like to see in future years, in PEN World Voices: Make it New, Make it International (Dammit) !
I have to admit I was a bit disappointed by this year's festival too -- and somehow even managed to attend more international literary events that weren't part of the official festival than actual PEN World Voices events that week .....
(On the other hand, Melville House managed to bring Mahmoud Dowlatabadi from Iran for the festival (no easy task) and getting to meet him (and having him sign a copy of The Colonel) pretty much made my month, so there was at the least that super-highlight for me.)
I'm on board with many of Chad's suggestions -- though I don't know how realistic some of the desirable ones (a central location !) are.
And I do kind of like some of the esoteric and political panels (which he'd like to see less of), especially when you get an interesting mix of foreign authors weighing in.
(As far as the promotion of the festival goes, Chad certainly has a point: I realize I'm pretty much a nobody, but being New York City-based and covering a lot of international literature at this site (including both news about as well as reviews of works by many of the authors appearing at the festival) I'm a bit surprised that no one at PEN made any effort to sell me on any events, or indeed anything at all; they did kindly send me the printed program in advance, but if the World Voices Festival has an e-mail list (and I sure hope they do) I'm certainly not on it.
Sure, it hardly matters -- I'll cover what I can, regardless -- but if they're not reaching out to me how many other more significant opportunities are they also ignoring ?)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Boileau-Narcejac's 1954 thriller, Vertigo -- originally published as The Living and the Dead, but now taking its title from the Hitchcock film it inspired
Translation to and from Arabic has been so low to the extent that, according to the UNESCO Index Translation, out of top 50 languages it is the 17th language being translated to other languages, and 29th target language (translations to Arabic)
As longtime readers may recall, I don't believe the Index Translationum is completely reliable (and I assume that Arabic is one of those languages where there are more reporting issues than, say, Western European languages); still, there seems little question that there should be more translation both from and into Arabic.
But the situation surely has improved in recent years, and there seems to be great potential for continued improvement.
Thirty out of 50 writers speaking at this year's Festival of Asian Literature are female, an impressive change from the London event's launch in 2007 when only two women were involved
But there's more to it than that, of course -- and good to hear that:
But it's about quality writing, not quotas, as Loftus Parkins stresses.
"Despite a desire to promote Asian women writers, I didn't make a conscious effort to invite mostly women to the festival.
I chose the best books, and the best moderators. It just so happened that 30 are women."
The Times of Malta profiles EU prize-winning author Immanuel Mifsud, in Writer's plea: Open our market ... and our minds, as he argues: "Maltese literature urgently needs to be translated and exported".
Easier said than done, of course .....
They've announced that the submissions are in for this year's Nigeria Prize for Literature, and there are 214 writers in race for Africa's largest prize in Literature.
(Compare that to the Man Booker, where they'll barely consider half as many titles .....)
The prize rotates through four genres from year to year; this year the prize goes to a work of prose again.
Tomorrow, 14 May, at 19:00, The Bridge presents a group of Dalkey Archive Translators -- Burton Pike, Damion Searls, Todd Hasak-Lowy, and Mary Ann Newman -- in a reading and discussion moderated by Joshua Cohen, at McNally Jackson Books in New York.
Should be good.
When my daughter was small I used to take her to school every day and we always passed by a house that stood on the corner of a street.
And suddenly, one day, I had the absurd idea of telling a story in that house.
So I bought it and began to write.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Perihan Mağden's Ali and Ramazan, just out from AmazonCrossing.
(Admirably, AmazonCrossing often doesn't just bring out individual titles by foreign authors, but commits to publishing several -- so, for example, another novel by Magden is due out later this year.)
Laurent Binet's HHhH recently came out in English, to wildly differing critical opinions (see the links at my review for many of them).
As it turns out, some of the problems reviewers had with it may have to do specifically with the English version and how the text was mauled in translation.
Anthony Cummins just reviewed it in The Spectator and notes, for example:
This translation changes Simone Veil to Simone Weil, Tunis to Tunisia, and Birmingham to Stoke-on-Trent.
Binet's half-brother becomes a brother-in-law.
Heydrich says 36 Jews were murdered on Kristallnacht, one more than stated previously.
There are cuts as well as slips.
Our presumed ignorance or impatience may account for lost lines about, say, medieval Bohemia; but why does Heydrich no longer vow to shove his deputy into a mass grave ?
Why indeed ?
Cummins also writes:
Far better to have HHhH in English than not at all, of course, yet more could have been preserved, in terms of tone as well as detail.
[...] The French expects you to know the story already; the English worries you won't keep up.
This points to one of the major under-reported problems about literature in translation: aside from the translator there's another figure that lurks ominously -- and often interferes horribly -- in bringing a text from one language to another: an 'editor'.
Whoever had that responsibility here certainly seems to have failed -- not only in catching mistakes (Weil for Veil, jeez ...), but also in reshaping the book in a way that has diminished it.
(Note also that there is no editorial note, at least in the American edition, acknowledging that the text has been changed and cut for English-speaking audiences .....)
This kind of stuff drives me nuts -- but is widespread practice; if there's any one thing I could change about how translations are published in English it would be to get 'editors' to keep their dirty mitts off the stuff.
(They'll all tell you that sometimes it's 'necessary', or for the best; it's not. Never. Fidelity to the text should be the highest priority !
(Especially since aiming to 'please the reader' generally inevitably goes terribly wrong).)
I'm sorry that I didn't read HHhH in the original, or at least have the original to compare it to, but getting one's hands on originals is even more arduous than getting the books in English in the first place (whereby in this instance -- as in so many others -- I had to resort to borrowing my copy from the library, sigh ...).
It's frustrating not being able to consult the original when reviewing books in translation -- but then it is the English version that the majority of readers of the complete review are presumably interested in; too bad they (and I) can't count on that being simply a true-to-the-original English version .....
(I do note, however, that these flaws don't really affect my biggest objections to the book and Binet's approach; possibly things aren't quite so bad in the French version, but I can't imagine that the translation and editing alone are behind the issues I have with these.)
(Also: all things considered, I think it's now probably a pretty safe bet that HHhH will not be in the running for next year's Best Translated Book Award .....)