Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Books with Translators

We know that translators translate books, but are translators ever characters in books? I don’t believe that it is too common for “translator” to be a character’s job title. Why is that?

I recently read The Liberated Bride by A.B. Yehoshua (I read it in translation by Hillel Halkin) and was happy to see that one character, though a fairly minor one, was a translator. Hannah Tedeschi, referred to as “the translatoress”, is the second wife of the main character’s former mentor, and she translates from Arabic to Hebrew. In fact, she does some on-the-spot translations that the main character judges to be excellent and moving. The reader never sees her working (except in the one scene where she translates as a poet reads the poems, though her actual labor is not portrayed), but we do experience her actual translations.

Can you think of other books with translator characters?

11 comments:

sarah said...

Bel Canto has a protagonist who's an interpreter (and who conveniently speaks every language relevant to the plot). It has some good translation ethics issues-- the character is a hostage, interpreting for his captors to other hostages and to the outside world. Very enjoyable book, too.

Zoe Westhof said...

"A Heart So White" by Javier Marías features an interpreter/translator as the protagonist. It's also a wonderfully written book (translated from Spanish) -- highly recommended!

Bertie said...

In the first of three stories in 'Barins Triangel', by the Swedish author Håkan Nesser, the main character is a translator. It's a well written fantasy-crime story - ever heard of a publisher/employer paying the translator's journey to and stay in a foreign country to enable him to deliver a good translation?

antisoppist said...

Barbara Wilson's crime fiction features Cassandra Reilly, who in "Gaudi Afternoon" is translating a Spanish magical realist novel which she hasn't read. They're funny mysteries but I'm not sure how she manages to translate and travel the world at the same time, especially as this is before e-mail.

Ivan Cortez said...

"The bad girl" by Vargas Llosa portraits the personal and the professional life of a translator.

Erika D. said...

I love this post! But of course you know what I'm going to say, BJ: You must write an article on this!

B.J. Epstein said...

Thank you for all these suggestions!

Best wishes,
BJ

Annika said...

Carol Shields's Unless - the protagnoist is a writer/critic who has also translated an important feminist study into English if I'm not mistaken.

Austin Woerner said...

You should check out The Translator by John Crowley: a novel about a college girl in the early 60s who meets a mysterious exile Russian poet, translates his poetry, and falls in love with him. It's beautifully written and wonderfully plotted. It's also the book that inspired me to become a translator.

B.J. Epstein said...

Thank you again!

Best wishes,
BJ

pola said...

"ever heard of a publisher/employer paying the translator's journey to and stay in a foreign country to enable him to deliver a good translation?"
NEVER :-((( Obviously can find only in a fiction

Ljiljana Krstic
Belgrade, Serbia