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Russian/English style problem -- please he-elp!
Thread poster: Elaine Freeland
Elaine Freeland
Local time: 07:50
English to Russian
+ ...
Sep 7, 2002

Hello everyone! I\'ve got a big problem.



I\'m currently working on a Russian book that the author wants to submit under his own steam in the US. The book was published in Russia some time ago.



No sweat -- I translate the book, the gentleman submits it and... gets rejected everywhere. The problem is, there\'re quite a few differences in style between English and Russian. His book is packed with adjectives, adverbs, passive voice, said-bookisms, etc, etc. It reads nicely in Russian (which is a flowery language overall) but I doubt this style will get him very far with an English editor.



It\'s one thing when a publisher himself picks a foreign book he finds promising and has it translated. It\'s different when a writer, published in his country, wants to break into the English market.



Of course, I can simply edit this book for him but that will demand lots of changes in his style! But he\'s a good writer -- albeit in Russian.



What shall I do? Please help!



Thanks a lot, Elaine


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Alexandru Pojoga
Romania
Local time: 08:50
Japanese to English
+ ...
Tough... Sep 7, 2002

Russian is indeed challenging to translate because of all the color in the language.



I remember a gentleman asking for \"I love you\" in Russian on KudoZ and receiving six distinct answers: all 6 possible permutations of the words \"I\", \"love\", \"you\" are valid sentences, each with its own special meaning. How about that.



Is the book fiction?


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Alexandru Pojoga
Romania
Local time: 08:50
Japanese to English
+ ...
Care to share a "bummer" with us? Sep 7, 2002

It would be interesting to look at a morsel from the original book!



I remember reading for the 1000th time through Bulgakov (I\'m a big fan) and imagining how this and that would translate into English -- not an easy task, but more often than not, it seemed possible to convey the entire \"juice\".



Best of luck in your work!


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:50
English to Spanish
+ ...
Talk to Him Sep 7, 2002

If you talk to him you may get somewhere or nowhere at all. My languange is Spanish, not Russian, but I can appreciate your dilemma, since Spanish can also be a flowery language, and I try to get a license to edit that when necessary.



In some situations that is good, and in others not good. In many types of writing, English language readers, and especially Americans, go for short, concise, to the point language. Some writers even go to extremes in producing writing that is so abbreviated or colloquial that it can hardly be understood. But flowery language is seldom favored.



If you can get the author to understand the above by perhaps translating a few passages in a style you would be comfortable with presenting in English and run it past a few people who are knowledgeable in the matter and can give you a favorable opinion, then you can make some headway.



If he does not like it and is destined for rejection, then the project would be hopeless anyway.


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Ken Cox  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:50
German to English
+ ...
one suggestion Sep 7, 2002

First find an editor or publisher who is (or can be persuaded to be) interested in the book and ask his advice -- if the author is reasonably well known in Russia, he should be known to an editor aware of current Russian literature -- at least in Europe; the US might be a different story.



For the rest, maybe someone who translates literature can offer more concrete suggestions (personally I regard translating literature (which I don\'t do) as the most difficult kind of translation...).


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Oleg Rudavin  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 08:50
Member (2003)
English to Ukrainian
+ ...
Have had the same problem! Sep 8, 2002

In book business, publishers have to consider both the commercial side and the \'value\' of the book. No matter how good the book may be (in the original), it WILL be rejected unless a publisher decides it stands a chance of being successful commercially. And numerous changes will be needed, here you are right; it has to do with the writing/reading traditions, the entire cultural background, etc. Compare the two \'Lolitas\' by Nabokov - the English and Russian versions, both the author\'s. These are virtually different books!

As a general recommendation for a new author who wants to get over to the overseas book market, s/he has to keep in mind that a simple translation would not in most cases be sufficient. Rather, the book localization will be necessary to make it more catchy and readable for the targeted audience.

Another recommendation is to consider a potential book from the viewpoint of a potential publisher/reader. Often very good books are quite unsuitable for a foreign audience.

BTW, I\'m in about the same boat - trying to sell the FSU books in the USA. I\'d be happy to share my experience and learn yours, too.

Good luck with the book!

Oleg


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xxxxeni
English to Russian
+ ...
Other Russian authors were successfully translated and published... Sep 8, 2002

It all depends on what kind of writer he is. If the only thing he cares about is to have his book published in the U.S., he deserves all changes - style, language, whatever. Maybe his book will even become better after all these changes. But you know, of course, that a lot of Russian authors were translated into English and their books are still in demand. I can\'t imagine that the language of this author is more flowery that that of Bulgakov - and you can find Bulgakov\'s books in every big book store in the U.S. I think that the task of the translator is to translate and not to change the style of the author... but, as I see, there may be different approaches.

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Alexandru Pojoga
Romania
Local time: 08:50
Japanese to English
+ ...
slightly off-topic Sep 8, 2002

Take a look at this translation of \"Dog\'s Heart\" at: http://www.russianfirst.com/Russia/Literature/Bulg_dogs_heart.htm



Just one eye-catching instance:



\"Это дело на любителя - все равно, что калошу лизать\"



translated as \"All right for connoisseurs, I suppose... about as tasty as licking a pair of galoshes\"



Clearly Russian literature should be at least \"pre-translated\" by a Russian native...


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Vladimir Dubisskiy  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:50
English to Russian
+ ...
make a better translation... Sep 9, 2002

[quote]

On 2002-09-07 12:09, fresie wrote:

Hello everyone! I\'ve got a big problem.



I\'m currently working on a Russian book that the author wants to submit under his own steam in the US. The book was published in Russia some time ago.



No sweat -- I translate the book, the gentleman submits it and... gets rejected everywhere. The problem is, there\'re quite a few differences in style between English and Russian. His book is packed with adjectives, adverbs, passive voice, said-bookisms, etc, etc. It reads nicely in Russian (which is a flowery language overall) but I doubt this style will get him very far with an English editor.



It\'s one thing when a publisher himself picks a foreign book he finds promising and has it translated. It\'s different when a writer, published in his country, wants to break into the English market.

no offense meant, sorry

But it is a common problem - there are good and not good translations of good writers. It is not a style problem - it is far more complex:

some (only some details) -

1. translator is to know the background ( extralinquistic context) ie be able to localize the manuscript in time and \'space\'.

2. translator (together with author) are to think about the audience ie whether the audience is ready to \'absorb\' the piece \'in full\'; readers have to have some knowledge about the period/social/political situation (esp. with Russian/East.Eur./Soviet authors).

Probably the Introduction is needed; or Notes..

Some more stuff..

Well, and the problem is to keep the authenticity/style/colors (\"juices\") intact.. Nobody is saying it\'s easy, that\'s why there is not so many good translations (comparing to the original).



More constructive advice - no problem - provide more details and, well, consider, taking me as a teamster.

Very best,

Vladimir


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Elaine Freeland
Local time: 07:50
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks to all! Sep 9, 2002

I really appreciate your advice.



To Alexandru and Vladimir: unfortunately, the guy isn\'t Bulgakov (few are ). I believe, a translator -- unless he, as Henry wisely suggested, talks it over with the author first -- can\'t act as an editor in cases like \"[Direct speech],\" the stunningly beautiful peacemaker ejaculated indignantly.\" (This is a made-up example) That\'s not a big prose in Russian, either, but stylistically it\'s acceptable (I\'m not entering a discussion on the decline of the Russian literary skills here). But if an English publisher sees a phrase like the above, the manuscript will go flying out of the window! And what can a translator do to prevent it from happening?



The guy believes in me -- he believes that my translation will get his book published. It really boils down to market requirements, not footnotes. So I fully agree with Oleg -- I\'ll have to brace myself and discuss it with the author and I\'ll use the Nabokov\'s example, if you don\'t mind.



To Kenneth: thanks for the suggestion! The fact that the book has already been published somewhere should definitely help to market it.



So thanks a million for all the suggestions, they definitely made me feel better.



Have a nice day,



Elaine


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Elaine Freeland
Local time: 07:50
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
And to Ksenia... Sep 10, 2002

... sorry, Ksenia, I answered before I saw your post -- maybe you send it just a tick before me.



I agree with you. I think you speak about the cases when the publisher himself chooses a Russian book to translate, according to his taste and knowledge of market. That\'s how most translated works of fiction make it to the bookshops.



But this case is different because the author wants to make it himself, with no positive backup (apart from the fact that his book is alredy published) to support his writing. And with \"ejaculating peacemakers\" he\'ll hardly ever make it there on his own, believe me.



Talking about Bulgakov -- how about Babel? Êîìó ñëàáî?



Thanks a lot,



Elaine


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