Hi there, Bookworms.
I’ve had some thoughts rattling around the old brain cage for a while now, so I’m going to attempt to write them down. Once upon a time I had a blog commenter give me a hard time for flippantly dismissing the work of Hakuri Murakami. I tried and failed to keep myself conscious through all of 1Q84 and gave up. I was offended and angered by the comment. I remember thinking to myself, “Oh yeah?! Well, talk to me when you’ve read his work in the original Japanese, Ms. Fancy Pants.” Really, it’s just that my ego had suffered a blow. The truth is I probably SHOULD give Murakami’s work another shot, because I’m sure he’s completely brilliant. It’s just kind of been soured for me by a random stranger on the internet. But it got me thinking. A lot of world renowned literature isn’t written in English.
I speak for myself in saying that I (shamefully) only think, speak, read, and dream in English. I’m all kinds of monolingual. And while I’m sure there are plenty of avid readers out there who speak more than one language, they certainly don’t speak ALL the languages (even in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, the babel fish only worked for auditory things. And who can trust a fish in their ear anyway?!) The odds that you’ll find someone who can read Kafka in German, Hugo in French, Murakami in Japanese, Cervantes in Spanish, and Tolstoy in Russian are pretty slim.
I don’t think translators get enough credit, dagnabit. Seriously. You buy a copy of Les Miserables and you see VICTOR HUGO in big fat letters. Then in teeny tiny print you see “translation by…” Usually not even on the cover. Sure, the translator didn’t birth that puppy, but can you imagine how tough translating a great work would be? Not only is there incredible pressure to get it all right, but you’re not dealing with “see Spot run” sentence structure. It’s complex stuff! It’s flowery and full of adjectives (and parenthetical asides!)
Can we all just take a few moments to shower some appreciation on the polyglots of the world? Can I get a slow clap going for literary translators? I’d miss out on so much if it weren’t for them. I’d like to present the literary translators of the world with this CERTIFICATE OF AWESOMENESS for being awesome and bringing me ALL THE WORDS. In English. Because I’m too ignorant to learn other languages.