Over the weekend, I read Nobel Prize-winner Doris Lessing’s The Summer Before the Dark. I can’t say I felt too drawn to her writing, but I’m not going to write a review of it here anyway. What is interesting is that the first section of the book I chose happened to mention translation (well, actually, interpretation), and I had some definite issues with how our field was portrayed.
The main character, Kate Brown, is good with languages and her husband agrees on her behalf for her to fill in as a conference interpreter for a few weeks one summer. First of all, though she interprets at meetings, her job is always described as “translator”. Readers of this blog, of course, know the difference between a translator and an interpreter.
Also, Kate Brown is very well-paid; she earns enough from what probably amounts to no more than two months of work to be able to buy designer clothes, go to a fancy hairstylist, travel in Turkey and Spain, stay at an expensive hotel in London, and then still have enough to live on in a rented room in London for more than a month. Are any of you interpreters doing that well?
Finally, after working as an interpreter (not a translator!) for only a short while, Kate Brown’s boss tells her that she is wasting her talents as an interpreter and should instead work as an…(wait for it!)…administrator! That’s right, since you don’t need any talents or skills to be an interpreter (or translator), even though you are apparently very highly paid (to be fair, Mrs. Brown does earn more money as an administrator, but she still got a good salary as an interpreter). Maybe I’m not a good translator, since no one has suggested I go into administration instead!
Besides getting annoyed at all this, Lessing’s novel also made me wonder about how translators (or interpreters) are described in other novels. You’d like to believe that novelists would do research before writing about a field they don’t know much about, but did Lessing? Do you know other novels or short stories that feature translators or interpreters? If so, how are they portrayed?
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