LINGUIST List 13.1821

Sat Jun 29 2002

Review: Literary Translation, Landers (2001)

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  1. Julie C. Huynh, Landers (2001) Translation: Literary Translation

Message 1: Landers (2001) Translation: Literary Translation

Date: Thu, 27 Jun 2002 18:28:08 +0000
From: Julie C. Huynh <>
Subject: Landers (2001) Translation: Literary Translation

Landers, Clifford E. (2001) Literary Translation: A Practical
Multilingual Matters Ltd., paperback ISBN 1-85359-519-5, x+214pp. 
Topics in Translation 22.

Book Announcement on Linguist: 

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 forms.

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

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 process.

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.

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