Literary analysis is difficult even for the most confident readers; people sometimes find it hard to get past visceral “I liked it” or “I hated it” reactions when it comes to literature. Perhaps not surprisingly, it seems even more challenging for some to think critically about translated literature.
So I’ve developed a set of reading guidelines/discussion questions, which I use in reader workshops and reading groups. I’ve included a section specifically on translation. Here are the questions I have so far:
Who is the translator?
Where is s/he from? Does that influence the translation?
What is his/her background? What education does s/he have? What languages does s/he work with? What other texts/authors has s/he translated?
What is the context s/he is translating in and what role does that play?
Is the translator also a writer? How do those two roles influence one another?
Has the translator written about the art of translation? What are his/her views on it?
How has his/her translation work been reviewed/judged/critiqued?
Can you detect the translator’s voice in the text?
Are you aware that you are reading a translation? Why do you think you notice the “translationness” of the text?
How do you think this translator has managed to maintain the author’s voice, style, rhythm, positioning of the words, relationship of words to each other, and all the other factors that make up a creative work?
Is this a “good” translation? What would that mean and how could you tell?
What makes this text international and in what ways does its “internationalness” matter? Also consider whether and how the text enhances (or, alternatively, diminishes) your understanding of the author’s or book’s cultural background.
What other points for analysis/discussion would you add?