The End of Oulipo?

The End of Oulipo? My book (co-authored with Lauren Elkin), published by Zero Books. Available everywhere. Order it from Amazon, or find it in bookstores nationwide. The End of Oulipo

Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Lady Chatterley's Brother. The first ebook in the new TQC Long Essays series, Lady Chatterley's Brothercalled “an exciting new project” by Chad Post of Open Letter and Three Percent. Why can't Nicholson Baker write about sex? And why can Javier Marias? We investigate why porn is a dead end, and why seduction paves the way for the sex writing of the future. Read an excerpt.

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Translate This Book!

Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

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Naked Singularity

Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

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Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

Starting March 2011, read the greatest novel from an experimental master. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Last Samurai

Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

A group read of one of the '00s most-lauded postmodern novels. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Tale of Genji

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Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

Your Face Tomorrow

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Interviews from Conversational Reading

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See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


  • Nostalgia June 15, 2014
    Few habits are as prone to affliction, or as vulnerable to an ordeal, as the bent of a peddler’s consciousness. Placeless, the peddler completes an untold number of transactions; there are ideas to conduct (through language, which can transact a mind) and feelings to certify (through tasks, repeated interminably). […]
  • Why Literary Periods Mattered by Ted Underwood June 15, 2014
    There are some writers who are, and likely always will be, inextricably linked to the “period” with which their work is associated, and in many cases helped to define. Surely Wordsworth and Keats will always be “Romantic” poets, while Faulkner and Woolf will remain modernists, as the term “modern” has been fully appropriated to describe the historical era be […]
  • Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz June 15, 2014
    August 1939. You sail to Buenos Aires on the Chombry as a cultural ambassador of Poland. Why say no to a little holiday on the government’s tab? Soon after arriving you sense that something isn’t right. You emerge from a welcome reception and your ears are “filled with newspaper cries: ‘Polonia, Polonia,’ most irksome indeed.” Before you’ve even had a chance […]
  • Accepting the Disaster by Joshua Mehigan June 15, 2014
    The first collections of most young poets, even the better ones, carry with them a hint of bravado. Flush with recognition, vindicated by the encouraging attentions of at least one editor and three blurbists, the poet strikes a triumphant pose and high-fives the Muse: “We did it, baby.” When Joshua Mehigan published his impressive first collection, The Optim […]
  • The Histories of Herodotus, translated by Tom Holland June 15, 2014
    Two of the greatest of Tom Holland's predecessors in translating Herodotus are Victorian scholar George Rawlinson and Aubrey de Selincourt; the former translated Herodotus in 1860, making an enormous hit (despite the fact that its detractors often referred to it as “dull and prolix"), while the latter's 1954 Herodotus was another enormous hit, […]
  • Bullfight by Yasushi Inoue June 15, 2014
    The premise of Yasushi Inoue's debut novella Bullfight, celebrated in Japan as a classic of postwar literature, is unassuming enough: an evening newspaper sponsors a tournament of the regional sport of bull-sumo. As practical and financial issues arise, the paper's young editor-in-chief, Tsugami, soon realizes he has taken on more than he can handl […]
  • Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones June 15, 2014
    Sworn Virgin was made to be translated. Elvira Dones wrote this book not in her native language of Albanian but in Italian—a necessarily fraught and complicated decision. In an Italian-language interview with Pierre Lepori, Dones speaks about her choice of language: “Sworn Virgin was born in Italian . . . I’ve lived using Italian for nineteen years, it has s […]
  • On the Letters of David Markson June 15, 2014
    Knowing these narrators and how their lives paralleled David’s own, it’s difficult to deny his being a recluse. I certainly held that image of him, and nursed it, secretly cherishing it because it meant I was one of the few people with whom he corresponded, and with whom he would occasionally meet. Arranging our first meetings in person was something of a ni […]
  • Storm Still by Peter Handke June 15, 2014
    Storm Still (Immer Noch Sturm) does not necessarily represent new terrain for Handke. Originally published by Suhrkamp Verlag in 2010 and now available for English-language readers thanks to Martin Chalmers’ fluent translation, the play chronicles the dissolution of the Svinec family, a family of Carinthian Slovenes—a quasi-fictionalized version of Handke’s […]
  • Red or Dead by David Peace June 15, 2014
    David Peace's novel Red or Dead is about British football, but it partakes in the traits of Homer's epic. This is a novel about the place of myth and heroes in modern society, about how the cyclical rhythms of athletic seasons reflect the cyclical patterns of life. It is a book about honor and fate, and one which bridges the profound, dreamlike ter […]

Buddenbrooks: Which Translation?

Katy at Love German Books asks which translation of Buddenbrooks we're reading. I don't know which Sacha and John are reading, so maybe they'll chime in and enlighten us as to which and why.

For my own part, I'm reading John Woods', and I can tell you exactly why. I read the Porter translation of Doctor Faustus and found it decent, until a few months later when I happened to get a hold of a copy of Woods'. The Woods was clearly superior work, so I saw no reason to even bother with the Porter for Buddenbrooks.

According to Theodore Ziolkowski's review in The New York Times, I made the right choice:

"Buddenbrooks" was the first product of the 30-year collaboration between Thomas Mann and the American translator Helen T. Lowe-Porter (1876-1963), through whose renditions most of his works became known to the English-reading public. Although its competence was acknowledged, it is not the strongest example of her craft. As she pointed out in her "Translator's Note," Lowe-Porter had special difficulties with the dialects, to which the novel owes much of its humor and the sharpness of its characterizations. "This difficulty is insuperable," she concluded. "Dialect cannot be transferred." Accordingly, she leveled Mann's colorful variety of speech into a uniformly even style, in certain cases simply omitting passages. As a result, much of the novel's humor was lost.

These inadequacies alone would probably justify a new translation. John E. Woods, whose intrepidity in the face of linguistic difficulties is attested by his prize-winning renditions of such writers as Arno Schmidt ("Evening Edged in Gold") and Patrick Suskind ("Perfume"), is not dismayed by Mann's play with dialects. He has restored passages omitted by Lowe-Porter and found ingenious renderings for tricky puns: for example, a Latin teacher's rule of thumb for rules of gender: "What's good for the goose is good for the gender." He has also retrieved occasional passages that Lowe-Porter omitted for reasons of delicacy: some lines on flatulence, for instance, that aptly characterize Tony Buddenbrook's boorish son-in-law.

Elsewhere Mr. Woods's vocabulary is closer to the earthiness of Mann's language, as when Hanno Buddenbrook, after gorging himself on Christmas sweets, states that he's about to "throw up" — which Lowe-Porter ambiguously renders as, "I think I'll just have to give it all up." Mr. Woods not only remains closer in vocabulary to Mann; he renders Mann's style more faithfully than his predecessor, who did not hesitate to recast and shorten Mann's sentences.

It is a truism that every generation needs its own translations. Lowe-Porter provided a valuable service by making Mann's novel initially accessible to the English and American publics. In Mr. Woods's sparkling new translation, the reader approaching "Buddenbrooks" in English now encounters a work that is closer in style, vocabulary, idiom and tone to the original and can thus appreciate more fully the monumental achievement of the artist as a young Mann.

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  1. The Danger with Translation Wyatt Mason: My professor, upon returning the paper, patiently explained that Helen Tracy Lowe Porter, Mann’s erstwhile voice in English, had a habit of serial...
  2. This Month, We’ll Be Reading Buddenbrooks Last spring I was completely blown away by Thomas Mann's novel Doctor Faustus. On the spot I vowed to read more Mann, and then didn't...
  3. Buddenbrooks: A Post-War and Peace Novel While we're reading Buddenbrooks, I think it will be useful to consider the book as a sort of work written in the tradition of War...
  4. Hahn’s Translation Blog There continues to be good material up at Daniel Hahn’s blog, where he chronicles his translation of Estação das Chuvas ("The Rainy Season") by José...
  5. In Translation The Guardian asks 10 experts to recommend 10 writers not writing in English that we should be reading. Of the 10, 2 ring a bell:...

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1 comment to Buddenbrooks: Which Translation?

  • Thanks for clearing that up. John Woods really is an excellent and highly spirited translator. But it’s also the case that translation as a whole has moved on since Lowe-Porter’s time, and certain things that were perfectly acceptable back then are anathema now (like the omissions and smoothing out mentioned in the review).
    So I’m with you all the way…

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