Over at Three Percent, Chad Post is highlighting a book a day from their Best Translated Book of 2008 Fiction Longlist over the next couple of weeks. Today's book: The Taker and Other Stories by Brazilian writer Rubem Fonseca, translated from the Portuguese by Clifford Landers.
At Slate, Adam Kirsch reviews Burton Raffel's new translation of The Canterbury Tales from Middle to Modern English. Kirsch claims the "one big virtue" of this new translation is its utter comprehensibility--taking the "chore" out of muddling out the Middle English on one's own. Kirsch writes:
For those readers who are absolutely unwilling to puzzle out Middle English spelling, or spend time getting acquainted with Chaucer's versification and syntax, Raffel's edition will be a useful substitute. But even Raffel, a poet who has translated everyone from Cervantes to Stendhal, seems a little curious why anyone would bother reading The Canterbury Tales in ranslation. "Native speakers of English, as recently as the first half of the twentieth century, were not particularly uncomfortable with Chaucer's difficulties," he writes in his introduction. Since the English language has not changed much in the last 50 years, he clearly believes that the problem lies with its speakers—that we have gotten lazier and more provincial. No one who embarks on reading The Canterbury Tales, however, can be all that lazy, and any reader who compares the original with Raffel's version will surely agree that the extra effort is worthwhile. For Raffel's translation loses the original's music without finding a music of its own; he is wordy where the original is pithy and bare where the original is lush. Chaucer is in many ways the progenitor of English fiction—he is closer to Dickens than to Keats—but he is also a great master of English poetry; and since poetry is what is lost in translation, why not take the trouble to read the original and avoid the loss? Besides, as the Pardoner says, "lewed peple loven tales olde;/ Swiche thynges kan they wel reporte and holde."