Who needs translators?

Who needs translators?

Frederic Grellier at Silverfish Books
Date: Wednesday, 8 February, 2017
Time: 8.00pm (Please note the time, it will be an after-dinner talk.)
Subject: Who needs translators?

It is not uncommon to hear some customers at Silverfish Books say that they do not read translations because of what is lost, which to us sounds like a “glass half empty” outlook on life. How about looking at what is gained? How many people have read Aenid in the original language? Or the Ramayana, for that matter? Or the thousands of other important works that have changed our lives?

Perhaps, the importance of these books lies in that they were not merely translations of stories, but of ideas, of cultures. The word “translator” is a misnomer, which attempts to diminish the work they do. Truth is, translators are writers in their own right, if not authors. A translator reads a book in a foreign language, then reimagines it in his/her own, reinterpreting the original cultural nuances in the work. And the more literary the work, the more difficult it gets.

I read Christopher MacLehose's work when he was in Harvill (now Harvill Secker of Random House), when he gave the Anglophone world dozens of "foreign" authors like Jose Saramago, Haruki Murakami, WG Sebald, Claudio Magris and Javier Marías, and, not to mention, Stieg Larsson.

Maclehose said in a Guardian interview in 2012, "I do think that almost every translation of a certain literary density has to be treated like an original text ...” But he is a rarity. The Europeans are far more open to ‘foreign’ ideas than the Anglo/Americans. The French in particular, I have discovered.

A summary of the talk (as written by Frederic Grellier)

In this day and age, who needs translators? The planet seems more than happy expressing itself in globish and entrusting Google Translate with the task of deciphering any lingering foreign idioms.

And yet, ever since Babel, most humans who have wanted to delve into stories as they are told around the world have done so in translation. Polyglots aside, most readers  experience Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Murakami and Stephen King not in their original voice but in the words crafted by another.

I has been a translator for twenty years, translating mostly English language crime fiction, authors such as Lawrence Block, Ian Rankin, Sara Paretsky, Stan Jones, David Fulmer, Erin Hart, Laura Lipmann and Jonathan Kellerman.

On Wednesday February 8, I will try to provide listeners with an insight into one translator's mind, his take on words and writing. With the additional twist that I also happen to be blind.

About the speaker

Frederic Grellier has been a professional literary translator for twenty years, having rendered into French some fifty novels, mainly American and British. When I watched his video on TedxTalks, I learned that he lost his sight very gradually and also late. (I couldn't help thinking of Borges, whose loss of sight coincided with his appointment as the head of the Argentine National Library.) Frederic was trying to translate his fourth book when he realised that his sight was failing. He says, "At first, I did not even want to hear about accessible technology. I considered changing careers, but after two years, probably because I had come to terms with losing my sight, I resumed my career as a translator with great happiness."

Admission is free, and open to all.

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