In Translation

She scrolled up farther to the first description of the woman. Would anyone notice that the word still was missing? In the original text the woman was described as “in her late thirties, attractive still.” She had left out the qualifier. Hardly a subversive omission (though she knew from the publicity blurb that the writer had recently left his childhood sweetheart to shack up with a wafer-thin young foreign model), but it gave her a sense of pleasure. The quiet hand of the translator.

From Transgressions by Sarah Dunant

What I’m finding most interesting about this thriller is the narrator, Lizzie, a translator working on a Czech crime novel. There have been a couple of instances where she tweaks a sentence a certain way, or is called on by her Editor to make it as American as possible, which make me wonder about what it must be like to be a book translator.

At one point I had a fancy notion of doing just that but never really pursued it. Although every job I’ve had has been in part because I can do English/Spanish translations. I know when I translate business documents I do think about all the nuances a word carries and which one will work best. But I wonder how much leeway translators of literature have. Do they make things sound better? Would they make a slight change like in the quote above?

Not that I want translators to be out of a job, for if it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have access to so many wonderful works, but wouldn’t it be nice to read books in their original language? Are we missing something? Maybe not at all but I do wonder.