**Before beginning my review, I want to take a moment and thank my fellow blogger Silvia Cachia for the recommendation. You can read her blog by clicking this hyperlink**
Why Translation Matters by Edith Grossman
Published in 2010
Genre: Nonfiction, academic, language
“The vast, constantly expanding sea of contemporary literature can easily swamp any reader interested in keeping abreast of new works and new writers.”
Why Translation Matters, by Edith Grossman, is less of a book and more of an extended argument in defense of the practice and necessity of translating literature. Comprised of three essays and an introduction that gives context as to who Grossman is, Why Translation Matters is part of a series, created by Yale University, that asks experts to explain the intricacies and necessities of their fields. Debunking misconceptions and demonstrating the difficulty of her profession, Grossman creates a compelling thesis that will convince her reader to view translated pieces from a far more enlightened perspective.
I would be remiss if I didn’t begin by saying this since Grossman hones in on it so vehemently: translators are writers; doubly so because they must be aware of the effect of words in more than one language. People often discount the importance of translation; Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez, for example, learned the craft of writing fiction from reading translated texts of literature.
Moving on from the importance of translation, Grossman jumps at the chance to lay into critics and the publishing industries of the United Kingdom and the United States of America. She is understandably aggravated since critics barely mention the translator and if it is brought up they only talk about accuracy; Grossman wonders how they can gauge that since they can’t read the language of the original.
Part 1: Authors, Translators, and Readers today
Grossman begins Part 1 by posing a question: with so many books published in English each year, why add more by publishing translations? This is especially difficult in a country that acts as if its primary language is sanctified. Though, this problem also extends to relationship between the U.K. and the U.S; English publishers will often anglicize (or is it anglicise?) spelling, and their erstwhile cousins in the states won’t publish some books for being “too British.” She also details how NOT to review a translation; the reader must keep in mind that they are reading both the original author and the translator.
A disappointing, if not surprising, statistic Grossman shares is that 50% of all translated literature is translated from English into other languages, while only 6% is translated from other languages into English. She argues that publishers should focus on putting out more translations, especially those of Muslim and Arabic texts. She highlights the irony that in this modern age, despite the fact that we trade and deal with one another, we don’t seek to understand countries and cultures that differ from our own.
Part 2: Translating Cervantes
Part 2 brings the idea of fidelity in translation and its absurdity into question. It wasn’t until after the Renaissance that translations were put under the scrutiny of fidelity; they were simply seen as necessary and the issue wasn’t worthy of mention, let alone criticism. Grossman states that, as a translator of literature, one must choose fidelity over literalism; this means remaining true to the emotions and sentiment that the work evokes rather than trying to translate word for word. Translators must be faithful to the context of the work, not the words used. She also argues that all authors translate from the ideas in their minds to the written word on paper.
The title of Part 2 comes from her experience after being tasked with translating Don Quixote, despite her expertise being in contemporary Latin American literature. She compares the task to trying to translate Shakespeare into Spanish, and shares the multitude of decisions that went into how she would translate the text.
Part 3: Translating Poetry
In the final part of Why Translation Matters, Grossman gives some background as to why, though she does enjoy translating poetry, she doesn’t do it professionally (hint: for the little money there is to be made in translating literature, there is even less in poetry). She argues that syntax may need to be altered “drastically,” but the intention should remain the same. Grossman also discusses the difficulty of translating from Spanish to English because of the difference in their use of rhythm and syllables. Appropriately, the book ends with a poem that addresses translation and is written in both English and Spanish.
Why Translation Matters is relatively short; only 119 of the total 160 pages are dedicated to the essays which are followed by a list of translations and works cited. Her bias does rear its head in places, but the entire point of the book is an argument for taking translation more seriously, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise and is actually appropriate to the content.
I went back and reread my review of Love in the Time of Cholera which, coincidentally enough, was Grossman’s translation. I breathed a sigh of relief after discovering I didn’t fall into the same condescending tone as the critics she lambasts in Why Translation Matters, but there is definitely more I could have done to address the translation. I also neglected to even mention the translator in my reviews of The Prince and Gods and Heroes; I will endeavor to remedy this in the future. I want to once again thank Silvia Cachia for the recommendation; this book has changed the way I will read and enjoy translations of literature knowing that I have gained more from the translation than anything that could have possibly been lost.
Verdict: 4 enlightening essays out of 5
Recommended for: The academically inclined, anyone who has ever read translated texts, critics who read translated texts, anyone interested in learning more about what goes into translating literature, and those who enjoy learning from an expert in their field.
Not recommended for: The academically disinclined, monoglots, people who don’t see the point in reading literature outside the single language they speak fluently, the apathetic, or those who don’t enjoy learning.