Translation is a curious craft. You must capture the voice of an author writing in one language and bear it into another, yet leave faint trace that the transfer ever took place. (The translator extraordinaire Charlotte Mandell calls this transformation “Something Else but Still the Same.”) Though spared the anguish of writer’s block, the translator nonetheless has to confront the white page and fill it. The fear: being so immersed in the source text, adhering so closely to the source language, that the resulting prose is affected and awkward—or worse, unreadable. Yet immersion is inevitable. In fact, it’s required.
Like the ghostwriter, the translator must slip on a second skin. Sometimes this transition is gentle, unobtrusive, without violence. But sometimes the settling in is abrupt, loud, and even disagreeable. For me, “plunge deep” tactics that go beyond the mechanics of translation help: coaxing out references to reconstruct the author’s cultural touchstones (books, film, music); reading passages aloud, first in the original and then in translation, until hoarseness sets in; animating the author’s story through my senses, using my nose, my ears, my eyes, and my fingers; devouring every clue to imprint the range of the author’s voice (humor, anger, grief, detachment) on my translation. Read More