My Thoughts on Reviewing Translations

Or at least some of them, as part of Words Without Borders’ online symposium on reviewing translations.

As you can see, I was writing in prescriptivist mode.

Let us start by rejecting the ideal: a few reviewers that I know of still hold tough to the willfully naïve idea that the translation is a discrete work, separate from and equal to the original. Per this logic, all that has come before is immaterial—the translation is simply evaluated as is.

I’ll repeat it: let us reject that, while at the same time acknowledging the immense work performed by translators, those people who open up the literary world to us. And in fact, let us honor that work by agreeing that this naïve approach is not sufficient. The fact is that a translator’s job is an incredible balancing act, wherein so many things are considered at once: a different language, a different culture, a different writer, a different public, a different set of editorial and publishing standards, just to name a few. All of these things are bound up in each and every decision that a translator makes—in other words, each and every word in a manuscript. To pretend that these choices are immaterial is to choose ignorance and to do a disservice to both the author and the culture from which a book comes.

Like it or not these facts exist, and an honest reviewer must attempt to come to terms with them . . .


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