Writing a novel in a single language, for a homogeneous audience is a difficult enough task. However, when a foreign publisher decides to publish a novel in another language, even more challenges ensue. Diana Thow of The Iowa Review discusses these obstacles with Funeral for a Dog author Thomas Pletzinger and translator Ross Benjamin. The following are selected excerpts from the full interview:
DT: Ross how did you involve Thomas in your translation?
RB: I'd say it was question and answer mostly.
TP: The translation was a very slow process. In the beginning we met, talked about the book, drank beer. We would work on one page or two pages and then go for a walk with the dog in between, or have dinner. I think during that time, Ross, you got an idea of what I wanted the book to sound like.
RB: I was doing a brain scan of you. A Vulcan mind-meld while we were getting to know each other.
DT: Can you give me an example of some of the questions you would ask?
RB: While translating I find that when I want to ask an author a question it rarely consists of wanting to know what a word means. [I]f you're able to talk with the author, the most important material you can gain is at the textural level. How the author is using language and what they are doing with that language that is new and unexpected. It took a lot of time for Thomas to address all my questions.
TP: While we're talking, I'm looking at my e-mail folder and in this folder it says: Ross Benjamin, 714 e-mails.
RB: Right. And some of those e-mails contain a hundred questions each.
TP: [T]here were issues that came up when we thought about presenting the book to an American audience. [C]ultural issues. Like the scene with the Argentines and Cubans playing the drums. In Germany, in Europe, we're apparently not as sensitive to ethnic labeling as in America. No one in Germany thought this kind of labeling of the characters was a problem. But it characterizes the narrator as a little racist, very different from how I'd intended him to be. And Ross, I like your solution a lot; you wrote, "The Cuban regular was playing ukulele...," so Svensson, the narrator, actually knows him.
RB: Yes. But this is one of the things that you can't do if you can't work with the author. I wouldn't go so far as to change a text in that way, but the author can in light of the cultural issues that come up in the process of translation. We're talking about a higher level of fidelity, to the representation of a character rather than a strict adherence to the literal translation.
This article is from the April 6, 2011 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.
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