Found in Translation

Translation is like being a shadow novelist according to Maureen Freely who has translated the works of Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk.

Freely herself a writer was initially concerned that translation would damage her own writing. Instead she found her own works “enriched by the imaginary conversations they’ve had with the poets and novelists whose words they have translated”.

She makes a strong case for translation being so much more than literally aligning words in another language. “When I am shadowing Pamuk, what I want to do most is capture the music of his language as I hear it. Accuracy is important, but a lot of what I need to be accurate about lies deep below the surface.”

But surely in the modern world of auto-translation, the art of re-working a novel into English is almost extinct? Freely provides this Google Translate version of Orhan Pamuk’s opening of Istanbul as an example of just how wrong auto-translation can be:

“A place in the streets of Istanbul, similar to ours in a different house, with everything I like, twin, or even exactly the same, starting from childhood lived another Orhan a corner of my mind I believed for many years.”

Compare this with Freely’s own translation into English:

“From a very young age, I suspected there was more to my world than I could see: somewhere in the streets of Istanbul, in a house resembling ours, there lived another Orhan so much like me that he could pass for my twin, even my double.”

The nuance that a good translator can bring but Freely acknowledges “Other translators will find their own ways to capture what they see and hear in the text.”

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