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Translated literature is on the rise, which is wonderful, but we need to make sure we honor the translators who work on each book. Too often translators are seen as “invisible” contributors to the book, hidden on title pages or even in copyright sections. I flipped through a book, trying to find its translator in its title page, its back cover, everything, just to have to give up and find it online.
There are a few prominent translators who have managed to gain more recognition, but these are largely exceptions. Most of the exceptions are classical literature, largely because there are several different translations of these. For example, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky appear on the covers of their relatively recent translations of Anna karenina and War and peace. But modern novels are left behind.
Ann Goldstein, translator of Elena Ferrante Neapolitan novels, has some notoriety due to her role as a translator of the successful international quartet, but she is not listed on the covers of the books. Do you know the names of Haruki Murakami’s translators? Jay Rubin translated The Chronicle of the bird to be reassembled. Murakami’s first translator was Alfred Birnbaum, his most recent is Philip Gabriel. These are just three of the people responsible for delivering his famous novels to English readers, and their names do not appear on the covers of his books.
Recently translators lobbied for better representation on book covers, and as a reader and reviewer, I agree. Translators must appear on the cover of the book, with the author. Anything less is dishonest and unfair.
Like became evident to many when the English dubbed version of Squid game released on Netflix in the United States, translation is not an easy task. It takes a lot of time and effort from an individual or, often, a group of people working together, giving each other feedback, sharing notes. The nuances of translation can be very complex. Translators have to make creative choices, from tone to syntax to how to handle slang.
The smallest word or choice of wording can have a big impact on the emotion that is conveyed. In some cases, you even need to cash expression to match a cultural perception of emotion. Think about the difference between “I had no choice” and “I had no choice”, between “I have a crush” and “I love someone. In some cases, they mean the same thing, but the implications are different.
In other words, every English translated book that we receive in the United States has been rewritten for us. A single person or team of people took a text in a language we did not understand, and translated every word, every sentence, every paragraph, into English. A straight-literal translation is inherently never satisfactory, so each translation has been carefully researched and made readable to take into account cultural context, slang, emotional resonance, and connotations.
It’s a miraculous feat! Anyone who has had to translate a single sentence in a language course should know how impossible it seems. Every translator has put their whole heart and soul into the book they have translated, and they should be credited alongside the author.
Think of it this way: there are actually two books. There are – for example – Män som hatar kvinnor by Stieg Larsson, and There are The girl with the dragon tattoo by Stieg Laarsson, translated by Reg Keeland. They are different books. They can have different word counts. They have literally different titles, as the Swedish title literally translates to “Men Who Hate Women”. Each time a book is translated, there are then two texts in the world: the original by the author alone, and the translation by the author. and the translator.
I should note that my copy of The girl with the dragon tattoo, this incredible international bestseller does not mention its translator, Reg Keeland, on its cover. And that highlights the problem. Keeland was a crucial author of the English manuscript, but his name is nowhere in our sights. American readers might pick up this book without knowing it has been translated.
And maybe publishing house marketing teams think it’s better. They might think that more books will sell, as Americans and Brits will be less inclined to buy translated works. After all, we are extremely English speaking countries. And people tend to assume, for whatever reason, that the translated work is automatically more literary, or rigid.
But how are we supposed to break these perceptions if books like Dragon Tattoos don’t their translators appear on the cover? When I was a child I read Ink heart by Cornelia Funke – did you know this was a translation from German by Anthea Bell? I wasn’t. It wasn’t on the cover. Teams of translators must also be recognized. For example, the award-winning book Breasts and eggs by Mieko Kawakami, a 2020 Time Best novel of the year and New York Times Notable Book of 2020, has been translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd. But you wouldn’t know from looking at the cover.
All of this goes beyond the realm of simple fairness. There are Too few books available in English translation from all over the world. There is a wealth of international literature that English readers cannot access because there is not enough funding for translations or support for translators.
Recognition can support translators and strengthen their place in the literary world: they cannot be buried in a footnote if their name is inscribed on the cover of their book. If the book wins an award and the trophy, cover, and listing all include the translator’s name, that recognition is extended.
Through many other channels, we have seen that recognition and awareness can support concrete changes, and I firmly believe that general awareness of the importance and importance of translators is not just symbolic. There was a lot of publicity around the bad translations of Squid game, corn Netflix actually only spent $ 6,305 on the show’s translation, even though the show grossed nearly $ 1 billion.. Translators deserve better than this. Verry much better.
By placing their names next to those of the authors, the editors would also be forced to recognize their crucial role in giving us a text. This increase in respect could support the field in its fight for better wages, royalties and more in the future. The more we celebrate translation, the more books we can get translated, because publishers will see that they sell and that they matter.
So what can you do to help? First of all, read books in translation, and when you share your love for them, include the name of the translator. Call editors who haven’t included translators on their covers, using the hashtag #TranslatorsOnTheCover. Do you have any favorite books that have been translated and you remember the author but not the translator? Fix this problem: Find it, then follow the translator on social media or find what else he’s been working on.
And tell them you love their job! For example: I like the work of translators Megan McDowell (Things We Lost in the Fire, Fever dream) and Tina A. Kover (Disoriental, A beast in paradise). Shout it from the rooftops! Share your love of their work alongside the work of the authors. Don’t let the names of translators be buried anymore.