Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Quote of the week

Also known as translation failure of the week...
The salon they entered was large. It had three windows.

-p. 40, "The Family Moskat" - Isaac Bashevis Singer, translation by A.H. Gross
It's very nice that people translate books. Really. It makes life simpler for most of us. But it's pretty disappointing to find lines like these in the midst of a book that deserves better. I suspect the blame lies with the translator, as the quote sits awkwardly compared to the rest of the page. I may obviously be mistaken and it's Isaac Bashevis Singer's fault but the impression was that the translation flubbed. Thankfully, most of "The Family Moskat" is better written (and translated) than these two sentences. It would make for pretty uncomfortable reading if not...


  1. I still fail to understand what the problem is with the sentence, and it hardly sounds like a translation fail. Probably just a writing fail.

  2. I think to be a translator is such a tremendous responsibility! You know, you can think about translating as a rather technical job, but in actuality, they need to be as much an artist as the author, in their own way.

  3. I'm out of town at the moment but I can't wait to go home and look to see who translated the copy I have, as it is one of my favorite books of all time. But I agree; translation skill just makes a huge difference, and I think we can't really know what the writer is like even with a good translation - suppose the translator is better?

  4. Gogalucky - It feels like a problem with the translation because it is so awkward compared to the rest of the book and doesn't match Isaac Bashevis Singer's style. These sentences just sound so juvenile. In retrospect, I am not certain the fault is also entirely that of the translator. A.H. Gross passed away before completing the translation and this could just as easily be an editor's fault.

    Caite - Absolutely. This is one reason why translators need to be top notch and well-respected. Many books give little importance to who translated it, which can be problematic.

    Rhapsodyinbooks - I see I wasn't very clear in the post. The book is well written and translated all throughout until these two sentences. You're right that some books fall flat because the translation wasn't good enough. I have to wonder if this is one of the "reasons" publishers give for avoiding books in translation. With this case, just like it's disappointing to find terribly written lines in the midst of a good book, it was disappointing to find two awkward sentences that should have been one well-written sentence...


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