In Praise of Lucy Van Pelt, or …

… The Crabby Translator

It’s no secret that Lucy Van Pelt, the crabby and cynical Peanuts character, is one of my heroes. Born just six years before I was, Lucy, known as “the world’s greatest fussbudget,” is a role model for all those who believe that complaint can be elevated to the level of an art form.

I don’t know if Lucy is still fussing, but, if she is, it’s probably because she grew up to be a translator.

Recently, I contacted the Italian publisher, Baldini Castoldi Dalai, to complain about the fact that the translator’s name was missing from a website dedicated to their latest English-language release, I Kill, Giorgio Faletti’s serial-killer potboiler. (See Giorgio Faletti: There’s A Higher Purpose in All This.)

It’s a common problem—the translator frequently disappears not just from book reviews and websites but from the book itself, something that’s happened to me on at least two occasions. (The excuse: “It was accidentally left out in production.”) In another instance, the author complained to the publisher that my name was “too big,” and so the font size was significantly reduced so there would be no mistake about who was the big cheese and who was just a crumb.

It’s because of experiences like these that the invisible translator always strikes me as something worth complaining about—for consciousness-raising, as much as for anything else.

The name of Faletti’s translator, by the way, is also missing from the site. (I know from personal experience that the publisher supplies the information that goes into Amazon’s database; if the name is missing, Baldini didn’t supply it.)

If you care, though, you can find it on Barnes & Noble. I think. Indeed, in the front matter of the English-language version of I Kill, the translator is never named as such; rather, a four-person “editorial team” is listed. Curioser and curioser, but it means I’m still not sure who actually translated the book.

In any case, having read Io uccido in Italian, and the first chapter of I Kill in English, I did wonder whether the translator had asked to have his name taken off. I mean, translating prose like Faletti’s (purple doesn’t begin to cover it) isn’t the kind of thing that normally leaves one filled with pride.

There was also the small matter, on the I Kill site, of a laughable malapropism in the plot summary (which, I should hasten to say, was apparently not written by the translator/editorial team who translated I Kill): a detective is said to be assisted by an “acustic child” rather than by an “autistic one.” (On the other hand, if “acoustic children” means, on the analogy of “acoustic tiles,” children with built-in noise-reduction, I’d probably be all in favor of it.)

Much to my surprise, the Foreign Rights Editor at Baldini wasn’t glad to hear from me. Indeed, he didn’t understand why I was so worked up over the issue of the translator’s name, and he invited me to find better ways to pass my time. After all, he signed off, the world is full of “all kinds of worse horrors.”

Well, duh. And if Baldini Castoldi Dalai were responsible for, I dunno, U.S. foreign policy or coliform bacteria in my Whopper®, I’d complain to them about that. But they aren’t. (At least, not as far as I know.) They’re responsible for their attitude toward translators and translation.

I mean, I’m all, like, Hello-o-o?

But it wasn’t entirely bad. The lively exchange of opinions with someone empowered not to give a crap was kind of inspirational. For some time, I’ve been wanting to say a few things about translation, and I’m finally getting them down on virtual paper. You can see the first of these efforts at, where I wax all fussbudgety over such things as Engliano, Traducese, Inglisc, and related plagues of our modern era.

Please sign my petition, Professional Standards for Written Translations in English


Posted on 25 August 2008, in Crimes Against Translation, English Scorned, Betrayed, and Abused, Italy, Italian, Italians (in that order) and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. the italian publisher has no control over the marketing of the american/british translation and is not the protector of the translator. you have to complain to the american publishers, they are the ones updating the info on amazon and nielsen and releasing the info to all bookshops and retailers. No wonder the italian dude didn’t know what to say. 99% of american or british translations do not mention the translator. This is done for marketing purposes. They think that a book that looks like written in English as original language has more chances to sell. there is a lot of debate around this issue but is true that most americans and british do not read translated literature. actually, only 3-4% of all books published in English are translations.

    • Thanks so much, “Sarah,” for posting with a fake email address which doesn’t allow me to write to you in private. That means I get to post the following publicly, which is exactly what you fucking deserve.

      First, you don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about. In part, that’s because you’re a congenital idiot, but it’s also because you commit the dangerous error of thinking you’re much smarter than you actually fucking are.

      In this case, the same publisher – the Italian one – brought out both the Italian and the English edition. Thus, shit for brains, the American publishers ARE the Italian publishers, and the ITALIAN publishers fluffed the book in bad English and uploaded idiot information onto amazon and other databases. I would accept your apology, but I really don’t give a shit.

      “The publisher … is not the protector of the translator,” you say? You witless fucktard, it is precisely the publisher who has to protect the rights of the translator because the translator has essentially no other ability to do so. Along those same lines, it is publishers who, typically, most egregiously abuse the rights of translators because they know translators have approximately zero contractual power or leverage. I’d suggest at this point that you shut up, but “shut the fuck up, moron” is so much closer to what I really want to say.

      As for your statistics: So what? So fucking what? It’s wrong. That’s the point. And it doesn’t logically follow that Americans “don’t read translated” literature because they don’t want to or don’t like it, but because almost none is offered to them. So of course they don’t read it. (The British and Canadian situation is different, so I’m not going to lump those publishers together with American ones, as you did, because it matters to me not to sound like a twit.) Chicken or the egg, right? Wrong, because it’s craven, bovine editors with their knickers seriously bundled who suck the asses of the accounting department and make these decisions on behalf of the reading public, not the public itself.

      On second thought, forget I mentioned any of this. Just bugger the fuck off.


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