Friday, June 22, 2007

Out Stealing Translators

Some of you may have heard by now about the novel, Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson, which recently won the Independent Foreign Fiction. The award is special in part because it is quite large (£10,000), but also because the translator, in this case Anne Born, receives half of it.

In this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review,
a long review of the novel mentions the translator exactly zero times (except in the sidebar). If the reviewer has no knowledge of the original language, certainly he or she shouldn’t critique how the translation was done. But to not even state that the book is a translation or which language it was translated from (yes, the review refers to Oslo, but just because a book takes place in a certain location doesn’t mean it was written there) seems to me a gross oversight.

The reviewer, Thomas McGuane, reviews the book quite positively. How does he think that he read the book? In which language? Who and what made the English version that he so admires possible? This is truly a case of an invisible translator, and that a major book section would so blatantly ignore – dare I say “steal” – the important role of translation in making good literature from other countries available in English is depressing.

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