Sunday, July 13, 2008

The 50 Best Translations

The Translators Association of the Society of Authors celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion they have compiled
... as a sampler, to provoke thought, and get people talking
a list of 50 outstanding translations of the last half century.
1. Raymond Queneau – Exercises in Style (Barbara Wright, 1958)

2. Primo Levi – If This is a Man (Stuart Woolf, 1959)

3. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa – The Leopard (Archibald Colquhoun, 1961)

4. Günter Grass – The Tin Drum (Ralph Manheim, 1962)

5. Jorge Luis Borges – Labyrinths (Donald Yates, James Irby, 1962)

6. Leonardo Sciascia – Day of the Owl (Archibald Colquhoun, 1963)

7. Alexander Solzhenitsyn – One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Ralph Parker, 1963)

8. Yukio Mishima – Death in Midsummer (Seidensticker, Keene, Morris, Sargent, 1965)

9. Naguib Mahfouz – Cairo Trilogy (Leila Vennewitz, 1965)

10. Octavio Paz – Labyrinth of Solitude (Lysander Kemp, 1967)

11. Mikhail Bulgakov – The Master and Margarita (Michael Glenny, 1969)

12. Gabriel Garcia Marquez – 100 Years of Solitude (Gregory Rabassa, 1970)

13. Walter Benjamin – Illuminations (Harry Zohn, 1970)

14. Paul Celan – Poems (Michael Hamburger and Christopher Middleton, 1972)

15. Bertolt Brecht – Poems (John Willett, Ralph Manheim, Erich Fried, et al 1976)

16. Michel Foucault – Discipline and Punish (Alan Sheridan, 1977)

17. Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie - Montaillou (Barbara Bray, 1978)

18. Italo Calvino – If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller (William Weaver, 1981)

19. Roland Barthes – Camera Lucida (Richard Howard, 1981)

20. Christa Wolf – A Model Childhood (Ursule Molinaro, Hedwig Rappolt, 1982)

21. Umberto Eco – The Name of the Rose (William Weaver, 1983)

22. Mario Vargas Llosa – Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (Helen R. Lane, 1983)

23. Milan Kundera – The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Michael Henry Heim, 1984)

24. Marguerite Duras – The Lover (Barbara Bray, 1985)

25. Josef Skvorecky – The Engineer of Human Souls (Paul Wilson, 1985)

26. Per Olov Enquist – The March of the Musicians (Joan Tate, 1985)

27. Patrick Süskind – Perfume (John E. Woods, 1986)

28. Isabel Allende – The House of the Spirits (Magda Bodin, 1986)

29. Georges Perec – Life A User’s Manual (David Bellos, 1987)

30. Thomas Bernhard – Cutting Timber (Ewald Osers, 1988)

31. Czeslaw Milosz – Poems (Czeslaw Milosz, Robert Hass, 1988)

32. José Saramago – Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (Giovanni Pontiero, 1992)

33. Marcel Proust – In Search of Lost Time (Terence Kilmartin, 1992)

34. Roberto Calasso – The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony (Tim Parks, 1993)

35. Naguib Mahfouz – Cairo Trilogy (Olive E. Kenny, Lorne M. Kenny, Angela Botros Samaan, 1991-3)

36. Laura Esquivel – Like Water for Chocolate (Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen, 1993)

37. Bao Ninh – The Sorrow of War (Frank Palmos, Phan Thanh Hao, 1994)

38. Victor Klemperer – I Shall Bear Witness (Martin Chalmers, 1998)

39. Beowulf (Seamus Heaney, 1999)

40. Josef Brodsky – Collected Poems (Anthony Hecht et al, 2000)

41. Xingjian Gao – Soul Mountain (Mabel Lee, 2001)

42. Tahar Ben Jelloun – This Blinding Absence of Light (Linda Coverdale, 2002)

43. W.G. Sebald – Austerlitz (Anthea Bell, 2002)

44. Orhan Pamuk – Snow (Maureen Freely, 2004)

45. Amos Oz – A Tale of Love and Darkness (Nicholas de Lange, 2004)

46. Per Petterson – Out Stealing Horses (Ann Born, 2005)

47. Irène Némirovsky – Suite Française (Sandra Smith, 2006)

48. Vassily Grossman – Life and Fate (Robert Chandler, 2006)

49. Alaa Al Aswany – The Yacoubian Building (Humphrey Davies, 2007)

50. Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace (Richard Pevear, Larissa Volokhonsky, 2007)
The list contains some of my favourite books (e.g. Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being for example, Gunther Grass' The Tin Drum), as well as a few I started but didn't finish (e.g the Calvino - why read on once you've got the joke? Eco's The Name of the Rose which I couldn't get into despite loving the film, and Xingjian Gao's Soul Mountain which was one of the worst reading experiences of my entire life!)

But the list shows up a lot more "potholes" in my reading and a gentle nudge in the right direction is always a good thing!

What titles would you like to see added or subtracted?

(Incidentally, did anyone else notice that Naguib Mafouz's Cairo Trilogy appears twice on the list in different translations?)

*(I took this list from the Times because their link was down.)


animah said...

Calvino - "why read on once you've got the joke". Sharon, Calvino is fun, he takes your mind through twists, hoops, takes you underwater and you come up gasping - it isn't about getting the joke - it's the journey he takes you through.

I'm surprised to find Snow here. I can imagine Turkish must be hard to translate, as Pamuk is a difficult read. I've been told its the translation more than anything, and that's what's put me off. Snow is on my bookshelf - I'll try to read it.

Interesting that no Japanese works are here.

mel said...

I donated my copy of 'Soul Mountain' to Payless. I forced myself to read one chapter. It was like doing penance. One friend couldn't get past the 1st page & another only read one paragraph.

bookseller said...

murakami's norwegian wood
saint-exupery's little prince
gaarder's sophie's world
neruda's twenty love poems & a song of despair

bibliobibuli said...

animah - "if on a winter's night" is, like martin amis' "time's arrow" a very important post-modern work, snd for that i admired it for it's cleverness and for doing something that no other author had done. cleverness applauded i moved on to read something i'd enjoy more. every book has its reader. i'm not calvino's.

Burhan said...

For Georges Perec, I think 'A Void' (La Disparition) translated by Gilbert Adair is also a good translation. The original novel & the translation have no letter 'e'. Granted that it's harder to do so in French than in English. But, still.

Jordan said...

I'm glad to see John E. Woods' translation of Perfume on the list. The rich variety of sensory experiences described in that book surprised me, because after reading translations of Paulo Coelho's O Alquimista (The Alchemist, which I was lucky enough to be able to read in the original Portuguese) and especially Orhan Pamuk's Snow (can't read Turkish, unfortunately), I got this idea into my head that translations couldn't possibly be adequate. It was so nice to know I was wrong about that.

Anonymous said...

Like the CK Jeans ad with Brooke Shields, "Nothing Comes Between Me and My Calvinos" for Animah :-)))

- Poppadumdum

Anonymous said...

Haha! I'm loving the bad puns.

Animah, you missed the Yukio Mishima. Not that I've read it, but it's on the list and it's Japanese....

I don't know, I don't think Georges Perec is the most difficult author to translate. I love his work but I find the language fairly straightforward; the challenges are elsewhere. Same with Marguerite Duras.

Sharon, them's some strong words about Soul Mountain! What did you hate about it? I haven't read it, but am curious if what you didn't like was inherent in the original, or might have been a problem with the translation. I've read Ha Jin, who writes in English, and I am really not a big fan at ALL. I wonder if there are linguistic/stylistic conventions in Chinese writing that translators try to convey in the English, and that Ha Jin maintains (consciously or not) in his work -- such as a particular kind of sparseness that to me sounds stone cold. Like a dead person writing, only that would probably be more interesting.

-- PS

bibliobibuli said...

i did write a little more about it here. i must say, to pedal back on the complete damnation, that i did like some of the episodes in it (e.g there is a beautiful piece on masks). but the parts don't create a whole and this was agony, even for a committed reader who seldom dumps a book.

piersbp said...

People, People! The GREAT thing is, primo, that the FANTASTIC FRENCH WRITER RAYMOND QUENEAU is top of the list! And secundo, that the work of his fabulous translatrix Barbara Wright is similarly numero uno. Once you have read the Exercises then there's a WHOLE HOST of other BRILLIANT STUFF to enjoy - so - ENJOY!

bibliobibuli said...

piersbp - both i and machinist who drops by here are incredible queneau fans, oulipo-ing all the time. the rest of my blog readers probably don't have any idea what i'm talking about, which is fine because one of these days i must surely blog oulipo.

Argus Lou said...

Did anyone else find Paulo Coelho's English version of 'Brida' horrible to read?

mel said...

The only book of his that I read was 'The Devil & Miss Prym' & I found the language / translation very stiff & painful. I dunno, I just felt like I was being talked down to ...

Argus Lou said...

Yep, "stiff and painful" is about right although I didn't find 'Devil' quite as bad as 'Brida'. There are quite a few "thought to herself"s in 'Brida' -- aarrrgghhh! And uninteresting descriptions of witches' rituals. I'm sending it back to the library unfinished.