Translator Lisa C. Hayden Discusses the Challenges of Translation, the Role of Intuition, and Why She Never Recommends Specific Editions of Classic Works
Reading aloud. There is a kind of translation there, too. A translation of sense that also reveals. I try to read my own writing aloud, because the ears do tell. Such a wonderful conversation in this post. Thank you both!
Fascinating and wonderful! I was so happy to read Lisa's response to your hand grenade question - you simply cannot take the human heart and thought out of translation. I am actually reading Laurus right now and was struck how the translation seemed to catch the Russian language echo perfectly; now I have additional insight into what made the novel so deeply rich in expression.
I once translated several chapters of a German novel and had the experience of plucking perfect expressions and molding grammar to keep in line with the authors voice. As Lisa noted, it is a "literary art" and not a simplistic word for word translation. I hope that AI will be kept out of this process, and that translators like Lisa will continue to pour their heart, emotions, and depth of human understanding into their work. Thanks for this excellent post Joel!
Knowing that what God did with languages at Babel was so thorough, I agree that translation is nearly impossible as a 'carrying across.' It has to be a creative process. Thanks, Lisa.
“The very fact that a translation exists is a gain.” Thanks for this delightful look into the life of a book translator. Lisa sounds like a gem! I loved her comments on listening for flow and rhythm, both to sound good in English and to match the author’s style. I am sure many readers are deeply grateful for her work.
Best answer ever to your standard question of picking three people to have dinner with (or with whom to have dinner): go to a book event and have lunch with the three people in line behind you.
I enjoyed this interview quite a lot!
As a little bit of a language geek myself, I completely understand how translation isn't just plugging in one word for the other. I've studied some Russian, but I'm pretty fluent in German, and I see how a lot of "quick" translations end up being very clunky. (And don't get me started on the "Google translate" stuff! Sure, it does an okay job if someone needs a rough idea, but it doesn't understand things like one can't "hang up" a toilet.)
In any case, I find it a little surprising that Ms. Hayden is American; Americans have a terrible reputation for not learning other languages well. I'd just be interested to know if she thinks it makes for better translations to translate back into one's mother tongue (assuming she didn't have Russian as her first language) or the other way around. I notice with a lot of German translations - done by Germans - that there is often an inherent clunkiness because they don't have the same feel for English that a native English speaker would have. Related to that, though, is that with anyone under about 50, some English competency is expected, and from what little I've heard from living in Germany (once upon a time) Germans translating English don't get paid very well.
This is a great interview, Joel - if you ever thought to do these interviews as a podcast I'd love for you to do another interview with Lisa. Also, so much of this interview is very helpful for thinking about Bible translations, a topic that is often understood very woodenly (or so it seems to me).
I've been meaning to look in on the comments to this post for two weeks and finally made it! Thank you, Joel, for your thoughtful questions and thank you to all the readers of "Miller's Book Review" for reading! I enjoyed reading your comments and would love to think that the day will come when I'll end up having lunch with one of you at a book fair or conference.
Thanks for this interview. I loved Vodolazkin's "Laurus," but I agree with you on my personal favorite -- "The Aviator."
Thank you so much for writing about this! I've been taking Italian classes with the goal of someday going into literary translation and possibly philology. It's a really mysterious field that's hard to find a lot of clear/useful information about, so reading this was seriously a joy. Thank you!!!
A diversity of language and culture should always be encouraged. It is one of the things I love most about the International Baccalaureate curriculum, which is so diverse in comparison to UK curricula. There is a real celebration of World Literature which I believe opens students’ eyes beyond the here and the now. I am lucky to be able to access literature in English, Arabic, Farsi and French; I am grateful to those who allow me to read texts originally written in Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and Russian.
There is a magic to these texts, but I also feel that I'm missing out by not reading them in their native tongue. I know that when I write translations in the marginalia, they differ slightly to what is written in the original language; but I also feel blessed to experience that poetical magic whilst reading in their intended form.
I really enjoyed reading this. I had forgotten about the endless reading aloud.
There's an interesting -- albeit likely very annoying-to-the-real-pros -- story about my career as a freelance translator in my post about my relationship with the French language.