Lines like these! They make you marvel at the ocean of literature, and feel like all you’ve done is merely dipped your feet in a pond of books. The story hasn’t even started yet – this is the editor’s note. Translated books always find me beaming at the immense literature available from around the world. I certainly will never be able to learn every possible language, and am filled with gratitude for translators and the job they do in bringing us books from different cultures and communities around the globe.
An author writes in the language he/she is comfortable with, but a translator needs to not only be proficient in both languages, but also possess good literary skills to present his interpretation of the author’s work. Many marvellous books let down readers in their translated versions – and unless you know someone who has read in the original, you never really realize what you missed.
I recently picked up a new copy of Günter Grass’ “The Tin Drum” (the Vintage publication comes out with beautiful covers of the classics). The introduction to the book mentions how over the years the author received complaints from fans about the quality of translation of his masterpiece – The non-German speaking population was deprived of reading his book in the same vein as it was written. So, fifty years after the book was originally published (in 1959), the author assembled a team of ten translators – to work on his book again in multiple languages.
Literary translation is a huge responsibility – the author bears the brunt if his work is poorly translated, or conversely a mediocre book could bring great fame to a writer is the translator does a fabulous job. Italo Calvino had once said, “Without translation, I would be limited to the borders of my own country. The translator is my important ally; he introduces me to the world.” Coming from one of the greatest writers of Italian literature, leaves one pondering how non-Italian people would ever get to read his wonderful works if not for translators.
Grass ensuring his translated works are improved on, and Calvino highlighting the importance of translators, reaffirms the belief that we can slowly but surely move beyond our little book pond, and venture out towards the sea of tomes waiting for us. When a book starts with such an acknowledgment, you know you’re in for a treat, because the writer believes in the power of the written word – whatever language that might be in.