TRANSLATED LIVES: AUTOBIOGRAPHY BETWEEN LANGUAGES AND CULTURES
TRADUIRE LE VECU : L’AUTOBIOGRAPHIE ENTRE LANGUES ET CULTURES (with some web links at the bottom of the page, mainly French but some English).
Alice Kaplan describes the horrific experience of having a novel translated by a translator convinced of his own godhood:
bq. I’ll call my translator, in the interests of privacy, “Mr. X.” Mr. X was hired by a French publisher to translate my book, French Lessons, an autobiographical essay about an American who falls in love with the French language.
It was a problem writing in French about an American’s experience of the French language, but it did not require quite the acrobatics of this man.
bq. Mr. X’s first response to the book was wild enthusiasm. He was excited to be doing his first literary translation. He fantasized an enormous commercial success for my book, and media stardom for me thanks to him complete with an appearance on Bernard Pivot’s literary talk show, with his expert coaching to prepare me. From these ambitious and enthusiastic beginnings, things went quickly downhill. In order for my book to achieve this status, Mr. X was convinced it needed serious adaptation. It would not work as it was for a French public. He therefore set out to rewrite it, according to his idea of the image a French reader would want to have of an American learning French.
This is followed by some examples of cases, including this one, where translators were taken to court. There is also some discussion of Kaplan’s own experiences as a translator.