The Aim of A Good Translation

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Readers of literary fiction have high expectations. They demand a book be rich, dense and multidimensional, capable of weaving magic and changing something, no matter how small, about the way they perceive themselves. They also want to be entertained, but on an intelligent level. An author who can create such fiction must have insight, a mastery of language, a compelling sense of rhythm, idiom and nuance, and the ability to transform inspiration into a stunning and transcendent work of art.
When literary works are translated, the translator’s job is to recre¬ate this work of art sensitively and seamlessly in such a way that it is true to the original, as well as being equally enchanting, poetic and perceptive. Grace, beauty, colour and flavour must be captured, and the resulting work must also be capable of being understood by its new audience, and make sense on every level. A translation should have the same virtues as the original, and inspire the same response in its readers. It must reflect cultural differences, while drawing parallels that make it accessible, and it must achieve a fine balance between the literal and the suggestive, the story and its melody. It should be read by readers in its new language with the same enthusiasm and understanding as it was in the old.
And so the role of a translator is many-faceted. He or she must hear the music of the original, and replay it for a new audience; a good translation sings, and displays a rhythm that not only reflects the original text’s origin but also beats to a new drum. A translator is both reader and writer; a translation is undoubtedly one person’s subjective reading of the source text, and, inevitably, it is reflected through that translator’s subjectivity. No two translators, like no two readers, are the same. Words have different resonances and connotations for everyone, and when a translator works, he or she dredges up expressions, interpretations, vocabulary and insight from a host of subconscious pools of language and experience.
In the words of one translator, ‘Literary translation involves making endless choices, weighing up whether to privilege meaning over music, rhythm over rules of grammar, spirit rather than letter of text, in order to give a translation its distinctive voice, while conveying the many layers of the original in a way that preserves the author’s intentions.’
Incumbent to this process, and often the enthusiastic originator of the project, is the acquiring editor at the publishing house, who has felt the vibrations and spirit of the original, and has invested time and energy in ensuring that it will be recreated in equal measure in English. Negotiating a balance between producing a commercially viable book and one that stays true to the author’s vision and literary genius is never easy. The process through which a foreign language text is translated into English can represent a minefield of potential dangers, all of which could hamper the eventual success of the book, and even affect the viability of continuing to publish future titles in translation. And yet, success is not only possible but also achievable, by taking steps to ensure that best practice is employed at every stage.
Increased globalisation and widespread immigration have made readers more aware of cultural anomalies and more open to fresh ideas, different insights, and alternative observations. Many of the titles on the UK bestseller lists are set in countries that have hugely diverse cultures and concerns. There is a refreshing surge in interest in the unusual and even the obscure; perhaps a better way of putting it is that modern-day readers are content to explore differences.
And so a whole new world has opened up, and the process of feeding this demand, and doing justice to an industry that is not only growing but, in some cases, bursting at its seams, requires a stealthy and well-considered hand. Translators are an essential link in the creative process; editors are the seers and the go-betweens, the filter through which translated material becomes the published article.
It is, therefore, hugely important that both translator and editor establish the best way to operate, to keep one another happy and motivated, to form a healthy and successful relationship that will not only benefit the book in question, but also the success of translations in general, to ensure that every stage of the translation and editing process protects the quality and integrity of the original, while simultaneously creating something noteworthy to inspire fresh interest, and claim a new following. Both parties have to negotiate different courses, and both parties need to find their common ground.
And that is what this guide is about—finding and establishing best practice for both translators and editors, in order to achieve the holy grail of translation success, and create a market for increasingly diverse and interesting works by a wide variety of authors.
Many editors and translators have decades of experience behind them; however, in an increasingly vibrant or even resurgent market, practice should be re-examined regularly, to establish what both editors and translators require to create the best possible finished product. Times have changed, and what may in the past have been perceived to be good practice may now be outdated, not least due to changes in communications and print technology. Similarly, the robust nature of the market means that expectations have been lifted, and translations are no longer being seen as inferior cousins to English literary fiction; in fact, they have created a market of their own. So new practices are in order, based on an understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the protagonists: author, translator, editor and publisher.
Paul, Gill. (2009). Translation in practice. Champaign and London: Dalkey Archive Press

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