One novel, two translators/Ein Roman, zwei Übersetzer

Some recent novels have been translated into German by two (or more) translators. Not an established team of two translators who are both responsible for the whole, but two translators by the publisher’s decision, to get the translation on the market faster – presumably while the hype for the usually English-language original is still on.

Thus, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom was translated from the ‘American’ by Bettina Abarbanell and Eike Schönfeldt, and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals had three translators (it apparently has more than one stylistic section, though).

Actually, Katy Derbyshire dealt with this in her blog love german books last August. She says that Dan Brown’s latest novel was translated by six translators in ten days.

But today I heard something funny on the Swiss literature programme Literaturclub, which was a repeat of the pre-Christmas one. I only heard the beginning and end because I was cleaning the stairs in between (kleine Hausordnung) and I didn’t particularly want to hear Gert Scobel. Iris Radisch commented on the two translators of Zone, by Mathias Énard. This was translated from the French by Holger Fock and Sabine Müller. 517 pages but only one sentence, yet two translators! And apparently there is a story within the story, read by the main character in the train, the last paragraph of which is quoted again later, and the two translators translated this paragraph differently.

I find this amazing. Not because the editor should have coordinated the translations better – how much can you coordinate? But because I think if I’d been translating half the book, the second half at least, I would have noticed the problem and pointed it out to the editor.

I don’t think I’ll be reading Ènard, though, partly because the book is apparently patterned on the Iliad, and I’m having a surfeit of Ulysses.

LATER NOTE: apparently the two translators of the Énard novel are a husband-and-wife team and do always work together – see comment.

8 thoughts on “One novel, two translators/Ein Roman, zwei Übersetzer

  1. Margaret, I suppose you know that Holger and Sabine are married and always translate together? That’s why I don’t find this all that amazing. Couples often disagree, don’t they ;-)

    • No, I didn’t know that – thanks for the information. I don’t know much about literary translation into German. But there’s no excuse for it, is there?

  2. Literary translation is a case apart because of many aspects: Authors have been arguing for years and years what the purpose of a let

  3. You are right, but there are in my opinion other reasons why it is difficult to translate ‘legalese’ between the English and German languages: the underlying system of “Rechtsfindung” (finding of justice or judicial sentences [here we go again – a sentence is something else in general English than in legal English]). Anglo-Saxon Case law puzzles most German jurists. When Gustav Radbruch, eminent lawyer in the Weimar Republic (and once Social Democratic Minister of Justice), travelled England on what might today be called a sabbatical, he visited many eminent “King’s Counsels” and justices etc. When he sat down with one King’s counsel he asked him all kinds of things to each of which the lawyer picked up a book or commentary to show Radbruch the verification of his conclusions in previous case law. Then in one instance that “learned friend” just kept his seat and Radbruch, slightly irritated, asked: “and where can I find that?” To which they sage replied “This is because I said so”. I find this more illustrating when discussing the British legal system with continental Europeans than anything else. Throwing dictionaries at each other helps little but obfuscates the underlying problem.

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