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Translate a horrible autobiography? Your advice please.
Thread poster: Olga Reiff
Olga Reiff  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:30
Russian to German
+ ...
Jan 23, 2007

Dear colleagues,
I could have to translate the autobiography of a man who is in prison in the country I live in. Anyone who has experience with that topic: Please write me.


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Hipyan Nopri  Identity Verified
Indonesia
Local time: 06:30
English to Indonesian
+ ...
No Problem Jan 23, 2007

Hi Olga,

I think it would be an interesting experience. I see nothing wrong with the chance. So far as the client offers you a decent rate, just go on.

Good luck.


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PB Trans

Local time: 00:30
French to English
+ ...
More specific advice? Jan 23, 2007

I'm not sure if the advice you seek is more specific than "should I do it or not?"... but my advice to you is if you have a moral or ethical objection to the subject matter, don't do it.

If you are concerned about having your name published as the translator of this document and the associations people may make to you... then I also suggest you don't do it.

A few years ago, I was asked to translate a "politically-charged" book and I declined because the subject matter made me uncomfortable. It was not a question or whether I agreed with the author or not (I can be objective in my translations) but how it made me feel. To me, it was not worth it.

[Edited at 2007-01-23 15:17]


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Olga Reiff  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:30
Russian to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
it is about the emotional stress Jan 23, 2007

Thanks a lot for your comment, Pina. It is the emotional stress due to the translation I was talking of. I never translated something so personal, and in this case, the author is a jugded murderer who tells about his horrible life (horrible childhood, orphelin institutions). Will I have to "live" with this man in translating his story? And I think it will last several months... This book contains 450 pages! That is what I am afraid of. It is not because I jugde him...

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Arturo Delgado  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:30
English to Spanish
How comfortable do you feel? Jan 23, 2007

Dear Olga,
In our profession, there are always going to be subject matters which we might not agree with. I think it all depends on how comfortable you feel.
I don't have experience with that specific topic, but I can give you two examples: I just finished translating a document from a program that deals with sex offenders. I took the job even though I seriously doubt there is a cure for these people. I felt comfortable keeping my opinion aside. Not too long ago, I saw an offer to translate text for a porno site. I skipped it because I felt the moral obligation not to contribute to this at all.
My advice is: see how unattached from the subject you feel you can be. Read a few pages of the autobiography. If this guy is writing about the horrible details of his crimes, maybe you will say no. If he is writing about how he feels about the judicial system and why he thinks he is innocent, maybe you won't be too reluctant to take the job.
Good luck.


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xxxCMJ_Trans
Local time: 01:30
French to English
+ ...
different sensibilities Jan 23, 2007

To me the book sounds interesting although it may be harsh. If I were translating it, I would want to get under the skin of the author to do his work justice. If you are unsympathetic towards him, better leave the job to someone else.

That said, if you can steel yourself, you might just learn a lot by translating the book: for example about how emotionally deprived children can grow up to become emotionally deprived adults. I could be a good learning experience and open your eyes to the "real" world.

Frankly, as long as you do a good job, nobody will judge your morals or your ethics on the fact of translating this material. The author alone is responsible for the content. Most people don't even notice who the translator is and the "experts" judge on purely professional criteria.

Remember you do not have to agree with or sympathise with everything you translate. Your opinions are not called for. Objectivity is.

I feel that, given the doubts you express, you would probably be as well to say "no". It is unlikely you will feel at ease and the result could well not reflect the original.


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nordiste  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 01:30
Member (2005)
English to French
+ ...
it's a personal matter Jan 23, 2007

A friend of mine, who is a literary translator, just finished to translate a book about a young woman surviving in a town destroyed by the war during WWII.
She tells us how difficult it was on an emotional level, and for a few months she was like "inhabited" by this story. But, on the other hand, she had a strong feeling that she had to go further and allow the voice of this woman to be heard in another country. So in a way she was glad that she was able to give this story a new audience.
She worked somehow part-time on this translation, having kept a few other tasks like teaching.

So I think the main thing is : do you think this book is important ? Do you think that it is worth reading, even when it tells a very dark story ? Would you recommend your friends to read it ?
If you feel too uncomfortable with it, you won't be able to deliver a good translation.


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Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 17:30
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
What is the purpose of the book? Jan 23, 2007

nordiste wrote:

So I think the main thing is : do you think this book is important ? Do you think that it is worth reading, even when it tells a very dark story ? Would you recommend your friends to read it ?
If you feel too uncomfortable with it, you won't be able to deliver a good translation.


I agree. I think the main question is: why is this book being written and published? Is it written out of remorse, as an apology to the victims and their families, or is it written for other people to learn some kind of lesson from it? Will it be of any benefit to any person or group or society in general? In that case you could try to keep that foremost in your mind while you're translating. But if you think it will be too emotionally stressful, then I think you are better off to decline.


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Olga Reiff  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:30
Russian to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Dear all colleagues, Jan 23, 2007

yes, yes and yes to all of you. But the comment that comes the closest to my way of thinking comes from nordiste. I guess this book really tries to make us understand why it all happened. Now, your participation will help me to make my decision and to bear the consequences.
Thank you.


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 01:30
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
Don't put yourself under great emotional stress just for a job Jan 23, 2007

Hi Olga,

If I were you, I would not put yourself under great emotional strain. There will be someone else, perhaps, who can do it and will be less deeply affected by it - just because all people are different from one another. I do not think it is advisable or necessary for someone who is going to be put under great emotional stress by it to do it. Look after yourself a bit!

Best wishes,

Astrid


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Lesley Clayton
France
Local time: 01:30
French to English
+ ...
Have you read the book? Jan 23, 2007

Olga, have you read the book yourself yet? I think the only way you can decide is to read it yourself first, rather than have someone else (author, publisher, agency) tell you what it is about. When you have read it, you will then be able to judge whether you are comfortable or not with the idea of translating it.

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Kevin Fulton
United States
Local time: 19:30
German to English
Make sure you'll get paid Jan 23, 2007

Make sure you'll have some guarantee of payment. It's hard to enforce a claim against someone in prison. He has nothing to lose.

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Cristina Popescu  Identity Verified
Romania
Local time: 02:30
English to Romanian
+ ...
I think Astrid is right Jan 23, 2007

Dear Olga,
I also think that it's really not worth it to go to so much trouble just for work. I also translate books and even though I've never had to deal with such sensitive material, I know how much of your mind it occupies to work on such a big project. Try to keep in mind the fact that you will be doing this every day for a long time.
On the other hand, if you feel this is something you should be a part of, then just go for it. One thing I always try to keep in mind when I choose the books I translate is whether I would enjoy reading them if I didn't necessarily have to.
Good luck.
Cristina.


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Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 01:30
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
It's hopeless... Jan 23, 2007

to ask this kind of a question - do not think there's anybody here with any experience with this kind of situations (so far I have not seen any). In my case, I'm as close as having read "In cold blood" and "The executioner's song". Mind you, having read it ... which is far from translated. And miles away from being in contact with (let me put it this way) the subject of the story.

One thing though I would dare to say: this experience will change you, how much I don't dare to predict.

smo

PS: Somehow in my mind's eye I came across Susan Sarandon in The Green mile ...

[Edited at 2007-01-23 22:13]


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Harry Hermawan  Identity Verified
Indonesia
Local time: 06:30
Member (2005)
English to Indonesian
How would you go about it... Jan 24, 2007

Olga Reiff wrote:

Dear colleagues,
I could have to translate the autobiography of a man who is in prison in the country I live in. Anyone who has experience with that topic: Please write me.


After reading other comments...my point of view is that it's interesting that a translation can be YOUR work of art.

My question would be how would you like it to be? or how would you go about it...would you like others to feel the same way that you did after reading or translating it? Or would despise the fact or fiction in the source text. Or simply would you just translate for the money?

Anyway, whichever it is, it should reflect your profesionalism, your expertise, your way of doing the translation in general i.e. reflecting the most of the original text.

Good luck...


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