Friday, November 07, 2014

"I don't read Albanian, alas"

At the WSJ, Eben Shapiro interviews David Bellos on the art of translation. Here was a bit I hugely enjoyed:
In the new Kadare book that you translate, was there any particular passage or word that was particularly challenging to translate?

“Twilight of the Eastern God” is set in Moscow in the late 1950s. In it, Kadare refers to a mildly avant-garde and therefore politically scandalous hendecasyllabic couplet that had written in Albanian. It’s not a fiction—Kadare’s poetry was published in Albania and translated into Russian while he was still a student in the Soviet Union. I translate Kadare from his French translations, as I don’t read Albanian, alas. However, by inexplicable serendipity the Russian translation of the couplet that Kadare gives in transliterated form in the French edition of the novel allowed me to invent two lines of English verse that are also hendecasyllabic! There was absolutely no point in doing it—English verse isn’t measured in syllables anyway, so readers aren’t going to notice. But if you want an example of the kind of crazy challenges that translators encounter and sometimes meet (more by luck than genius, I must add)—well, that one certainly sticks in my mind.

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