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The 50 outstanding literary translations from the last 50 years
Thread poster: Claudia Alvis

Claudia Alvis  Identity Verified
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Jul 14, 2008

The Translators Association of the Society of Authors celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion they have compiled a list of 50 outstanding translations of the last half century

1. Raymond Queneau – Exercises in Style (Barbara Wright, 1958) Buy the book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Heinrich Böll – The Clown (Leila Vennewitz, 1965) Buy the book

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

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

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

[ the complete list at Times online ]

[Edited at 2008-07-14 18:07]

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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
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Hard to believe Jul 14, 2008

The originals are outstanding, but the translations? At least the Solzhenitsyn book is a known exemple of hasty translation of hot stuff for the sake of the English publisher.

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Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
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Some reviews of the Ivan Denisovich translations Jul 14, 2008

At least four English translations have been made. Of those, the 1963 Signet translation by Ralph Parker was the first to be released and remains the easiest to find[citation needed], followed by the 1963 Bantam (Random House) translation by Ronald Hingley and Max Hayward. The 1970 translation by Gillon Aitken was released as a movie tie-in. The fourth translation, the only one authorized by Solzhenitsyn, was done in 1991 by H.T. Willetts and is generally considered to be the best.[citation needed]

Of the two translations neither comes close to reproducing the rough vigor of the author's concentration camp slang. Each has been done with too much haste. Each relies on standard four-letter words rather than the author's salty idiom. However, Ralph Parker's version in the Dutton edition is superior to the patchwork thrown together by Max Hayward and Ronald Hingley for Praeger. The most striking blooper of the Hayward- Hingley translation is to put in the mouths of the prisoners the phrase "Comrade Warder." The prisoners were forbidden, as Solzhenitsyn notes, to call the guards "comrade," which is the customary Soviet greeting. They had to address the guards as "Citizen," removing their hats five paces away and keeping it off two paces beyond the guard.

In a way it is a pity that we have on hand two simultaneously published and competing American editions of the book, for they are bound to get in each other's way so far as prospective readers are concerned, and the more readers this book has the better. However, both versions seem to me satisfactory on the whole, though the Hayward-Hingley translation (Praeger) is somewhat more forceful and slashingly idiomatic in style. The Parker translation (Dutton) has been authorized in Moscow, but that should not prejudice readers one way or the other.

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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
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Rabassa Jul 15, 2008

Heinrich Pesch wrote:

The originals are outstanding, but the translations? At least the Solzhenitsyn book is a known exemple of hasty translation of hot stuff for the sake of the English publisher.

I would also question Rabassa, I know he's considered up there among the best ES-EN translators ... but I came across a translation by Rabassa that I thought failed on a lot of levels ( a few years ago, Garcia Marquez, but can't remember which work, and maybe he was having a bad day).

Why isn't Margaret Jull Costa on this list? She is a superb translator from Spanish and Portuguese to English. Is she maybe too comtemporary (Saramago, Marias ... )?

By the way, I can't check the list, that link doesn't work.

[Edited at 2008-07-15 00:11]

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Yates and Irby Jul 15, 2008

I feel the Labyrinths book (Borges, mostly Ficciones) does not belong here, either. The translations are generally not too pleasant to read and suffer from interference whenever English has a similar-sounding word to the original Spanish. Even the sentence syntax got "conserved" a lot of the time when it should not have.
There is a reason why Andrew Hurley re-translated the stories, and I think he did a better job.

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Magali Trinquier  Identity Verified
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Patrick C.Power who produced The Poor Mouth from Flann O'Brien Jul 16, 2008


I wonder if someone has a clue about Patrick C.Power (most probably an Englishman) who translated An Béal Bocht (Flann O'Brien, 1941) from Irish in 1973. I'm currently working on the translation while learning Irish for a Master Degree.

The translation was published under the title The Poor Mouth. I haven't heard about other works of his.

Thanks for any piece of information.


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