With those European classics in mind, I've been trying to pin down the moment when I made that knowing connection with a translated book, which might seem a bit dense of me but I know I'd taken it for granted until I read The Artificial Silk Girl by Irmgard Keun.
Admittedly it was all helped along by holding the beautiful little shrink-wrapped US Other Press hardback edition, with its dusky pink cover, in my hand.
Shrink-wrappers on books always make me feel a bit special, as if the publisher has treasured the books enough to want them to reach me in pristine condition. I feel a sort of daft but deep reverence for the contents before I even open it, but at the time I had some reservations about Kathie von Ankum's translation which I've read several times since that first read in March 2005.
It was a single word that just wouldn't sit right... 'gotten'.
A great big Americanism in the midst of a sentence and it stopped me in my tracks.
That 'gotten' has irritated me ever since...would Doris really have said that in 1920s Berlin?
That was until last week when I read what Edith Grossman had to say in her fascinating series of essays Why Translation Matters and I discover that Edith is not one to mince her words so brace yourselves..
'I have discovered to my horror, that far too many British publishers insist on Anglicizing texts that have been translated by those of us who, to their minds, are little more than semi-literate American ex-colonials who flatter ourselves into thinking that the yawp we speak and write is actually English.'Yes, it made me sit up a bit straight too.
It had never occurred to me that I was making such a value judgement about that single word 'gotten', but on reflection of course I was and embarrassingly I rather prissily said so back in 2005, in those pre-blog days when I wrote a few Amazon reviews...which thankfully I don't now.
It wasn't Queen's English but why on earth should Queen's English be deemed so right and surely I can cope?
'Translation expands our ability to explore through literature the thoughts and feelings of people from another society or another time.'
So my thanks to Edith for sorting out that little dilemma.
Interesting to note that Edith Grossman now has clauses written into any contracts with UK publishers giving her final lexical control over her work, and how essential that now seems. It's a bit like a doctor writing a prescription and the pharmacist being allowed to change it to something different, unthinkable.
New York based Edith Grossman perhaps the
foremost translator of Spanish language writers, among them Gabriel
Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlo Fuentes, whilst her
translation of Don Quixote is 'widely considered a masterpiece', details quite what
life would be like without translation. And whilst bewailing the abysmal record of
publishers to embrace and invest in translated works, flags up the
frustrations and lack of appreciation for the translators profession
(and no I hadn't noticed it either, but the translator's name hardly
ever features on the cover of the book) taking reviewers squarely to task for
so rarely referencing the translator or the translation.
Well thank heavens I'm not a reviewer, and perhaps Edith doesn't read the blogs, but reflecting back I do know we consistently recognise the endeavours of the translator on here, the Literature in Translation tag when I remember to use it, groups many of those posts together and we've had some interesting discussions about it.
I said as much recently about Adriana Hunter's translation of Beside the Sea by Veronica Olmi.
"I have to applaud Adriana Hunter's translation of the mother's narrative voice which I feel sure has been captured and preserved in perfect pitch; it's remarkable and I feel sure very close to the original French because it works, maintains the vernacular, nothing incongruous or out of keeping with the characters on the page..."
and how interesting this reading trail might be because those thoughts fly in the face of something I quoted from Susan Sontag back in 2007
"The translator's primary duty is to stay
as close as possible to the
original text with the understanding that the result will, precisely,
read as a translation.To naturalise a foreign book is to lose what is
most valuable about it: the spirit of the language, the mental ethos out
of which the text emerges."
I shall be reading these texts closely.
Googling Queen's English proved interesting as I roamed this list of traditional Queen's English sayings, which seem to have come some way since the Sovereign had anything to do with it, so I regretfully passed over the canine appendages description for reasons of impropriety and a dread of spam and have settled on spiffing to describe Edith Grossman's
very forthright and informative book for which I thank her.
'Imagine how bereft we would be if the only fictional worlds we could explore, the only vicarious literary experiences we could have, were those written in languages we could read easily. The deprivation would be indescribable.'