February 05, 2010

Translators Just Need to be Loved

To: Chad Post, Publisher, Open Letter Books

From: Paul Richardson, Publisher, Russian Life

Dear Mr. Post: This is in response to your blog post about our comparative analysis of the competing translations of Ilf and Petrov's Zolotoy Telyonok which our two companies have released.

Let me begin by saying that we feel your publishing company is doing great work bringing so many important foreign works into English. In just three years you have created a really excellent list, and we can only hope it will continue to grow and flourish, especially with Russian authors.

While some parts of our analysis may have struck the wrong tone, nowhere did we attack you or your edition, and we are surprised that you chose to respond with a tirade rather than with a thoughtful, professional analysis, since that would have been more interesting to readers genuinely interested in translation (versus, say, scandal lampreys who are interested in seeking out controversy for its own sake).

Our goal was to encourage debate about the merits of different translation approaches and results, not to start a brawl or descend to Panikovsky-and-Balaganov-style shoving and “Who do you think you are?” That would certainly not be in keeping with the reputation for quality we have carefully nurtured over the 20 years we have been publishing books, maps and magazines on Russia.

We apologize for any remarks in our comparisons that may have struck you as offensive. That was not our intent. Therefore, we have reviewed these web pages and reworded any comments that might possibly be misread.

We have a great deal of respect for Helen Anderson and Konstantin Gurevich’s work and we feel that both the Open Letter edition and the Russian Life edition are significant improvements over the previous two English translations from 1932 and 1961. Furthermore, we believe that both translations contribute to what is, after all, our shared goal: making the wonderful works of Ilf and Petrov available to an English-speaking audience.

There are a few points from your post that we would like to address.

We reply “well, yes, of course” and “well, no, of course not” to your claims that we are biased and illegal.

We clarify three points: First, "bold typography" refers not to the use of a bold typeface, but to the manner in which we stylized Ilf and Petrov's interstitial signs, telegrams and so forth.

Second, we did not state an intention to make Ostap Bender a household name in the US, but to make known to a US audience a character who is a household name in Russia.

Third, all of our books are widely available, be it directly from us, through Amazon, BN.com, Amazon UK, numerous small online retailers, or through any bricks and mortar bookstore which is supplied by Ingram Books.

Finally, we made a regrettable error in trusting that the Los Angeles Times' passage was a correct reflection of the translated paragraph as it stands in your edition. That has been fixed and I apologize for this and how it misrepresented your company's work.

Let me end by repeating how much we respect Open Letter for doing so much to bring the best of world literature to American readers. We for our part hope to encourage thoughtful comparison of these two editions, because too often the translator’s work remains “invisible” to reviewers of translated works. Such a comparative exercise will hopefully lead to greater appreciation of the art and craft required to render fiction well in translation. More importantly, though, it could lead to a greater appreciation by non-Russian-speakers of the inimitable style and verve that made Ilf and Petrov such beloved writers. I hope we can both agree that this would be the best possible outcome.

With best regards,

Paul Richardson
Russian Life

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Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

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