Our resident translation expert Daniel Hahn is back with a response to the hotly debated issue of how and where to credit translators’ work. This question comes from Michelle Loh in Singapore.
Why aren’t translators’ names on most book covers? Are you for or against this practice of keeping translators’ names hidden?
Some people believe that readers are scared of translations. They assume—whether rightly or wrongly—that a reader is more likely to pick up a book whose front jacket reads
Title of Great Novel!
than a book whose front jacket reads
Title of Great Novel!
Name-Of-Awesome-Novelist, but actually not really because I’m afraid it’s been translated by Unrecognisable-Translator-Person so it’s probably quite obscure and kind of foreign and anyway you know what translations are like (LOL!) and tbqh you can’t even really be sure of what you’re getting…
(I paraphrase, slightly.)
Their argument, then, is that translations are hard enough to sell as it is without your having to remind people that the book is a translation before they’ve even picked it up. There are plenty of publishers I like very much who make this argument, and I do understand. I do think it underestimates our readers, but where most publishers are concerned I really don’t see this as a lack of respect for the translator’s work.
Last September, three British universities—Bristol, Cardiff and UCL London—launched a two-year-long project on “Translating the Literatures of Smaller European Nations” in partnership with Literature Across Frontiers. The purpose was to “understand better the ways in which, through translation, these literatures endeavour to reach the cultural mainstream.” In addition to scholarly research, the project involves three public workshops and a conference.
The first of these workshops, held in February 2015 in Bath, explored the question of “Who Reads the Literatures of Small Nations and Why?”. I had the pleasure of attending the second workshop, “Choreography of Translation,” which took place at the British Library in London as part of the European Literature Night in April 2015 (a third and final workshop, on promoting literature in translation, is planned for early 2016). Featuring publishers Vladislav Bajac of Geopoetika in Belgrade, Susan Curtis-Kojakovic, founder of Istros Books, translator (and Asymptote Close Approximations nonfiction judge!) Margaret Jull Costa, and Nicole Witt of the Frankfurt Literary Agency Mertin, the BL event ended up being more panel discussion than workshop, partly because the venue was not particularly conducive to the workshop format.
By contrast, a conference at Bristol University on September 9-10 provided many opportunities for lively discussions. The participants were a perfect mix of literature and translation studies scholars and practising translators from across Europe, covering a range of smaller European literatures from Catalan to Turkish. I’ll try to highlight some of the major issues covered, divided into often overlapping categories.
I’m about to fly off somewhere
and my fear of heights plus myself
finds me resorting to tranquillisers
and having confused dreams
If I should die
I want my daughter always to remember me
for someone to sing to her even if they can’t hold a tune
to offer her pure dreams
rather than a fixed timetable
or a well-made bed
To give her love and the ability
to look inside things
to dream of blue suns and brilliant skies
instead of teaching her how to add up
and how to peel potatoes