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 Amazon.com 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 www.ProvenWrite.com, 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 Giorgio Faletti, Io Uccido, Translation. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.