So I found the 2013 Best European Fiction, edited by Aleksandar Hemon (ISBN: 978-1-56478-792-7) at the library. I thought it would be a good read. I planned to start at the beginning, but flipping through the pages, I saw, “Of One Mind”, by Mike McCormack. The mention of a young son is what caught my attention. But then I got to the end. And my first thought was, “Coitus Interruptus”. I searched for possible missing pages, but there were none.
I read on. “Before the Breakup”, from Slovakia, by Balla. About something that appears behind the tv. I think.
“Memory Cultivation Salon”, by Zehra Çirak, translated from the German, written in Turkey. About blowing smaller smoke rings thru a larger one and a woman whose best kiss was (I think) her first.
And so on.
As I read, I became confused. Surly this wasn’t the Best of anything, much less European Fiction. There are millions and millions of writers in Europe! Search some blogs and I’m sure one can find a much better sampling.
I was reminded of those embarrassing Americans who feel that if they simply scream English at a non-English speaker, the person will nod in understanding, “Ah, da, sí, yes, I did not understand the English when you were speaking like a normal, sane human. But now that you are screaming in my face, well, maybe it’s the droplets of your spittle dripping down my cheek, but I understand you completely!”
So maybe these stories were good, even great, in their native language. Maybe the publisher accidentally left off the endings. Having translated some of my poetry from English to Spanish, I know how hard it can be: you can’t translate literally for poetry (or fiction, I guess); using idiomatic phrases can change not just the meaning, but the overall feeling of the piece. What is a translator to do?
First of all, start with a good piece of writing. A great one, even, since it will lose something in the translation.
Next, find someone who is truly bilingual (or multilingual): someone who can read, write, speak, and think in both languages with equal ease. Out of your group of bilinguals (or multilinguals), choose the most creative — the writers. (I am in no way saying that writing is the most creative of the arts. But if one is looking for a translator for writing…)
Next, have the translator meet with the writer to discuss the piece to be translated. The translator will get a feeling for what the writer was going for. And, finally, have the translator discuss the translation with the writer.
I realize that with certain writers — Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling, George R. R. Martin — one simply needs to translate and publish. But with “The Best European Fiction “, I think the writers can spare a few hours to make sure the translation is done well.
Unfortunately, that was not the case with this collection.
Skim it. Or skip it.