Posts by M. Lynx Qualey

The Tiff: Is the Translator Responsible for Political Problem Texts?

Yardenne Greenspan and Marcia Lynx Qualey on the choices we translators can make

M. Lynx Qualey: The most important decision a translator must make is: Will I translate this text?

Being an essentially freelance profession, translation has a mountain of drawbacks, but it does make a bit more allowance for choice. The injunction to “translate only what you love” works—as long as you have a stable income outside of translating. I prefer Samah Selim’s version: “Never translate a book you don’t like unless you have to.” Or my own: “Never translate a text you think you’ll regret (unless creditors are outside the window).”

Yet what makes for a “politically problematic” text may have less to do with the text itself and more to do with context. Propagandists thrive on selective translation. The MEMRI “media monitoring organization,” described by Guardian reporter Brian Whitaker, is perhaps the largest ongoing Arabic-English translation project. Some of the individual news and cultural texts that MEMRI translates might be innocuous, but the project as a whole furthers a political agenda.


Untranslating Children’s Nonsense Poems

"The Bengali literary mafia would say: 'This is untranslatable.'"

When Indian author Sampurna Chatterji was growing up, she lived between several languages. Her father taught English, while her mother taught Bengali. In Chatterji’s own schooling, the instructional language was English, but she also learned Hindi and Sanskrit.

“All this creates a sort of strange cacophony in the head,” Chatterji said at a professional seminar at this year’s Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, held from April 30 to May 5.

But this “cacophony” also creates wonderful opportunities for linguistic connections. As she developed as a writer, Chatterji decided not to write in Bengali. “The burden of being Bengali was too much for me,” she said. Her teenage rebellion was not to go off and smoke, but to write in English. READ MORE…

But will translators scare the children?

"My sons can handle knowing their Calvino was translated."

My first literary entanglement—or the first one I remember—was with folktales. While Danish and German tales were undoubtedly my introduction to the form, by the time memory kicks in, I am scouring local libraries and filling Christmas wish lists with requests for Greek myths, Norwegian sagas, Chinese tales, Italian fairy stories (yes, the Calvino), and any others that an intrepid relative might find.


Why good translated literature isn’t just for grown-ups

"Для детей нужно писать так же, как для взрослых, только лучше." (Variously attributed to Maxim Gorky, Samuil Marshak, Leo Tolstoy, others.)

In the life of every bibliophile-parent, there comes a moment when each new children’s book begins to seem very much like the last. A blurry train of flat narratives skim past one’s eyes, filled with stock characters, stale language, and an all-too-familiar anodyne tone. Yes, there are brilliant books that stand out, and these are worth reading and re-reading. But there is also a sameness that suffuses English-language books for young people, a shared set of narrative tools and assumptions. READ MORE…