Sunday, April 14, 2013

Updike dings Goldblatt's Chinese-to-English

From a long profile in Chicago Reader, "Howard Goldblatt's life in translation" by Aimee Levitt:
One of Goldblatt's most discouraging experiences as a translator came when John Updike reviewed two of his translations in The New Yorker: Mo Yan's Big Breasts and Wide Hips and Su Tong's My Life as Emperor. While Updike acknowledged Goldblatt's dominance in the field of Chinese-to-English translation, he didn't particularly like the books, complaining that "the English cliches seem just plain tired." As an example, he cited a line from My Life as Emperor where a character "licks his wounds." It wasn't the worst example he could have cited, Goldblatt admits, but when he went back to the original, he discovered that Su actually had used the phrase "licks his wounds" in Chinese.
"He must have read it in Chinese and thought it sounded neat," Goldblatt says. "These are the things we deal with. We know we'll get slammed, but sometimes it's our call. We feel it worse than the writer. The writer's reputation isn't on the line with every book. But a translator's reputation can be destroyed by one book. It can call into question his ability to deal with the text."