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Review of  Literary Translation

Reviewer: Julie Huynh
Book Title: Literary Translation
Book Author: Clifford E. Landers
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Translation
Issue Number: 13.1821

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Date: Thu, 20 Jun 2002 07:09:02 -0700
From: Julie C. Huynh
Subject: Landers; Literary Translation

Landers, Clifford E. (2001) Literary Translation: A Practical Guide. Multilingual
Matters Ltd., paperback ISBN 1-85359-519-5, x+214 pp. Topics in Translation

Julie Huynh, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

Translation is a broad field, ranging from work with legal documents to brand
name slogans to lyric poetry. In this informative, insightful, and highly
readable book, Clifford E. Landers looks specifically at literary translation,
distinguishing it from its technical and commercial counterparts. Serving
as a kind of guide, this book takes the reader from an initial interest in
literary translation to becoming a published professional. As such, it aims
for a wide audience -- for the beginning as well as the experienced translator,
for the translator of any language, and for the translator of various literary

The book is divided into three main parts: 'The Fundamentals,' 'The Techniques
of Translation,' and 'The Working Translator.' Each part contains multiple
subsections that, in their brevity, manage to hit upon an array of related
topics such as register and tone, cultural cues, and financial matters.

In 'The Fundamentals,' Landers introduces readers to the rewards of literary
translation. By way of illustrating this, he opens the book with his own
translation of a short piece by Brazilian writer Rubem Fonseca. Without translation,
Landers points out, it would be difficult for English-speakers to enjoy the
wealth of literature available in the many other languages of the world.

From the translator's point of view, literary translation can be rewarding
because of its challenge. The translator seeks to convey thoughts and ideas
with the same effect that they have in the original language. Thus, "how
one says something can be as important, sometimes more important, than what
one says" (7). Literary translation is unique in that it deals not only with
the precision of language, but also with the aesthetic aspect of writing.
Translators who engage in this creative process often find the work to be
intellectually stimulating.

Also included in this first part is a discussion on how to get started in
translation work. This covers considerations in choosing what language and
how many languages to work with, how to find works to translate, submitting
translated pieces for publication, and initial stages in the translation

The second part, 'Techniques in Translation,' constitutes the greater part
of the book. Here, Landers explores many of the issues that literary translators
often face. He mentions two basic approaches to translation: the target language
oriented and the source language oriented. He also addresses 'resistance,'
the concept that a translation ought to read like a translation, upon which
Landers concludes, "In short, I resist resistance" (54). Other topics touched
on include tone, register, style, puns and wordplay, recreating subtexts,
and finding an effective title. There is even a section devoted to other
domains of literary translation such as non-fiction, theater, poetry, and
children's literature.

In addition to addressing these problems, Landers also shares knowledge gained
from his own experience. One especially noteworthy section is that on the
translator's relationship with the author. By cultivating a relationship
with the author, the translator opens up opportunities to gain the author's
trust, to invite the author's help in the translation process, and to understand
the author as a means to understanding his/her writing.

Landers's expertise is also evident in the advice that he offers on revision,
proofreading, and finding a publisher. He gives examples of how he personally
handles the revision process, going into details as specific as the colors
and the markings he uses to categorize the corrections that are needed.

'The Working Translator' is the last and the shortest part of the book. This
is where Landers lists reference materials that he finds essential to any
translator. His citation of specific titles is helpful, particularly those
that are lesser known, such as the "Oxford-Duden Pictorial Dictionaries."
Next, he offers advice on setting up a workspace and developing a regular
work routine. And finally, Landers goes into the details of financial matters
as they pertain to the translator. This includes handling taxes, setting
a price, other sources of income, and negotiating contracts. Landers closes
this final part by giving readers another taste of Brazilian literature,
this time a short piece by Moacyr Scliar.

Landers's "Literary Translation" is subtitled "A Practical Guide," and that
is essentially what this book is. Landers includes a lot of information on
the logistics of being a translator (getting translated works published,
obtaining copyright permission, how to file taxes). Several useful lists
are given throughout the book outlining steps and strategies during various
points of the translation process. Landers is also careful to provide a sufficient
number of examples to illustrate each of the points that he makes. Many of
these are from Portuguese, but he does include other examples from French,
Spanish, German, and even varieties of English.

One of the strengths of this book is its readability, due in large part to
the author's sense of humor and engaging tone of voice. Not only does the
book cite reference works, it also contains a diagram of the right and left
hemispheres of the literary translator's brain, as well as a list of the
twelve commandments of literary translation. A slight drawback to this is
that, at times, some of the personal anecdotes are quite lengthy and sometimes
distracting (there are 7 pages on a day in the life of a literary translator
and 5 pages on how the author was tracking down an elusive Portuguese word
that turned out to be a typo, while many of the other sections are only about
2 to 3 pages long). On the whole, however, Landers's personal insertions
and witty remarks make the book not only informative but also friendly, accessible,
and enjoyable.

What I find most valuable in this book is Landers's insight and knowledge
gained from his years of experience as a prolific literary translator. He
shares in detail the methods and approaches to translation work that he has
developed over time, even including a sample of the kind of tally sheet he
keeps of translations done and acceptance and rejection letters received.
He offers advice on such issues as how to decline a request to translate
a work that causes discomfort (for example, a pornographic piece or a piece
containing language that the translator finds confusing). He also speaks
on a very personal level, advising the reader against unrealistic expectations,
offering suggestions on how to handle contracts that aren't honored, how
to cope with bad reviews, and how to remain loyal to the author when asked
for an opinion about his/her work. Landers's experience and expertise, combined
with his honesty and confiding voice, inspire trust in his readers and make
his words valuable to any aspiring or accomplished literary translator.


About the reviewer Julie Huynh is completing her B.A. in Linguistics and English at the University of Arizona. She plans to continue with graduate studies in English.