I've read books by the dozen during the last year. Fiction largely and peppered with some very interesting essays on wildlife. My experience with fiction this year especially the translated kind has been one of love and hate. The Saiha district library has quite mixed bag to its credit and I have been quite indiscriminate while borrowing books (I'm not investing any thing more than time, and if it turns out to be unbearable I can heave a sigh of relief when I return it!). I think of this phase as binge reading.
Its difficult for me to speak of the translated work as unfortunately English is the only language I can read at ease in and translations are the only means through which i can get a peak at the diverse styles of Indian vernacular prose. During this year while i've read some very lovely translations I've also read some terrible terrible terrible translations. Books I can barely forgive myself for completing and whose deceased authors (original authors) suffer from waves of nausea in their graves each time an unsuspecting reader picks up the translation.
However , the pleasantly translated work has made me think about the process of translation in general. I've wondered about the rules and the freedoms. Infact sometimes I've felt that a translation could possibly be almost like the making a book into a film. Its as though the very medium for conveying the story / idea has changed. The control shifts, the medium i.e the language changes and the person it comes from changes , a different set of rules apply,the translator is a different person with her/his own style trying to tune it to the original work, but will language cooperate? The line must be thin between interpretations and translations. What language does the translator think in? What role do his or her experiences with story telling play in the process? Many such thoughts have wandered unrestrained in mind.
In the midst of all of these reflections, in my last visit to the library I found two books, Published by Four Corners. unfortunately I could not find their web presence to share. I understand they are Orissa based. What was fascinating about these books was that they were a part of Four Corners Multiple Translation Series. Fakir Mohammad Senapati's , Ananta , The Widows Son (originally in Oriya) and Samresh Basu's Adab (originally in Bengali) were each translated by three different people and presented one after the other.
Often I've had a feeling of seeing only part of the picture when i've read some bad patch of translation elsewhere , wishing i could read the original. Here everytime I felt something was amiss , i just took a peek at what the other translators wrote and was able to find peace! I'm sure the book is not intended to classify one translator as better than the other , but to demonstrate different interpretations and handling of the same text. I enjoyed it. Maybe you could try it.
Meanwhile, something to chew on, quoting from the introduction to the series...
Ordinarily, it is expected that translations should read like the original and conceal as far as possible, the fact that they are translations. In other words the translator is called upon to achieve invisibility. Deeply ingrained in the minds of generations of readers, these expectations that contribute to the erasure of the translator from the translations. As a result, one loses sight of the fact that every act of translation is a uniquely creative act of reading taking place in a concrete social and historical milieu and is a product of specific choices made by the translator in response to this milieu.................................................