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The Wonder of translation

The translator at work

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Translation gives those of us who are not linguistic polymaths access to the great books being written all over the planet. A good translation doesn’t simply convey the story being told – it pays attention to original voice of the author, picking up on nuance and subtleties.

The judges of the 2010 PEN Translation Prize found just those shades of meaning in Michael Henry Heim’s translation from the Dutch of Hugo Claus’s Wonder (Archipelago Books). They write:

Michael Henry Heim’s outstanding translation has succeeded masterfully in mirroring Hugo Claus’s many voices in this novel that reflects a complex, complicated vision of post-World War II Flanders. It is a world that Claus describes in language that is often deeply poetic, and that alternates between simplicity and hyperbole, clarity and obfuscation, fantasy and reality. To capture all of this in English requires an intensely focused mind as well as an acutely sensitive ear. Michael Henry Heim proves to have both.

Have you read any translations that capture a poetry beyond the page? One of my favorites is Danuta Borchardt’s translation from Polish of Cosmos by Witold Gombrowicz. Gombrowicz’s style is one of intellectual hijinx and delightful convolutions, in both his characters’ interactions and their own thought processes. What do you recommend?

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