I’m currently reading Funeral for a Dog by Thomas Pletzinger for a review. So, I don’t want to say too much about it, but it is worth a look, even if it does have some issues. (More on that soon enough, though you can read Chad Post’s review in The Quarterly Conversation right now.)
In the meantime, Diana Thow has conducted an interview with Pletzinger and the book’s translator, Ross Benjamin. As to Benjamin, I’ve read two of his translations recently (Funeral for a Dog and Speak, Nabokov) and they are sterling. Obviously I don’t read German so I can’t speak to what the original reads like, but Benjamin’s English renditions are quite good, and he does seem to have an eye for interesting texts.
Anyway here’s a bit from the interview:
DT: Can you give me an example of some of the questions you would ask?
RB: While translating I find that when I want to ask an author a question it rarely consists of wanting to know what a word means. A dictionary can tell you what something means, but if you’re able to talk with the author the most important material you can gain is at the textural level. How the author is using language and what they are doing with that language that is new and unexpected. This is perhaps not completely penetrable upon a first read, not without a more involved discussion. It took a lot of time for Thomas to address all my questions.
TP: The question about Heimwehtourismus for instance.
RB: Yes, that one was never really resolved. The word is Heimwehtourismus, which is used in a specific way in the novel, and it has a specific meaning that’s difficult for anyone who’s not familiar with the German context. A Heimwehtourist is a tourist, literally a homesickness-tourist—it’s one word.
DT: You translated this as “nostalgia tourist,” if I remember correctly.
RB: In one place I did, yes. The word describes somebody who travels to their former or their ancestral homeland out of nostalgia, and it’s often closely associated with tourists who visit their former homes in what was once east Germany but is now Poland or the Czech Republic, but it has an even broader application than that. In Thomas’s novel there is a scene in which a character travels back to a former home in the east, and the word is used there, but there are also places in which the longing for home is used more metaphorically. There are characters who are searching all over the world for a sort of home, and they are called Heimwehtourists as well… so “nostalgia” doesn’t really capture it. Often I used a contextual solution, and occasionally I think I might have added allusions to clarify. But yes, that was one question that went on forever.