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Nina Sankovitch

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Thanking the Translators

Posted: 03/26/2012 1:29 pm

What do readers owe to the translators of books? You know who I mean, the people who take books written in languages we cannot understand and give us back those same books, now available in words we can understand.

We owe thanks to the literary translators. Huge thanks. Through meticulous and exacting work, carried out in obscurity and often in utter anonymity, these magicians of language open the door to whole new book stacks of wonder; they gift us with new ways of experiencing an expanded world, and new avenues of sharing the human experience. Literary translators dismantle barriers of ignorance and allow us to enter at will into environments that are new in setting, landscape, and atmosphere, and yet familiar in the explored experiences of love, loyalty, duty, humor, deceit, betrayal, fear, despair, and resilience.

Can you imagine being tasked with translating James Joyce's Ulysses into, say German or Mandarin? Or translating the fantastical situations of Gabriel Garcia Marquez from Spanish to Malayam? Garcia Marquez is one of the most popular writers in Kerala -- because of the translators who have brought his works there, making them comprehensible and keeping them beautiful.

Translators are the ultimate globalizers: through reading translated works I come to know new corners and spaces of the occupied planet, and out of my growing knowledge comes greater empathy, appreciation, and resonance. My world becomes both larger, through expansion of my experiences, and smaller, through understanding my common and shared humanity. With borders broken down and empathy ignited, the potential for global unity grows. Readers are indebted to translators for breaking down borders and creating these possibilities of global unity.

And what do writers owe their translators? Gratitude, respect, and thanks. My book, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is now available in a number of languages. I am grateful to all the translators who worked on my book for bringing it to a larger and larger audience; I am full of respect for my wonderful translators, for taking the time to recreate my prose in a way that honors my purpose of understanding grief and sorrow and joy through books; and I offer my heartfelt thanks to all the translators, including Susan Ridder (Dutch translator), Paulo Polzonoff (Portuguese); Anke Caroline Burger and Susanne Hobel (German), Kim Byung-Hwa (Korean), and Eleonora Cadelli (Italian), for creating the multiple bridges that connect one writer to many readers, allowing for a global conversation about an universal experience.

I have heard from people from all corners of the world in the past months, and I am blown away by their praise. And I know I must share that praise with the translators who made the reading of my book possible. Dank u! Obrigado! Vielen Dank! 감사합니다! Molte Grazie!

And by the way, I love my name in Korean: Nina Sangkobichi.

 
 
 

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