Sunday, October 11, 2015

My review on Amazon of Dr. Pepino's translation

The link for the book is here

My review:

I have lived for thirty years with English as a second language, my first language being also a Romance one. Translating has been, all these years, a constant activity for me, both in writing and in my mind. I have raised our children in a language I did not speak as a child, so I have had to re-imagine family stories in a new, English way. Furthermore, during my graduate studies I studied translation at the Center for Translation Studies at UTD. This is all to say that I can well value to quality of the translation this book offers.
There is a modest, wonderful phrase towards the end of the Translator's preface: "... at bottom, ...[this translation] seeks to stay out of the way of the intimate bond of friendship ... that develops between the memorialist and his reader." Now, that is wonderful indeed. That is exactly the translator's quest: to bring to the reader the best version of the original, adding necessary explanations and staying "out of the way" of that author-reader relationship. We readers understand that relationship. 
I grew up reading literature that came to me mostly by translation, be it from English, French or Russian... sometimes others such as German or Polish. That is not the case with Americans. I see in my children's high school reading lists: there is virtually no translated works. Except for what our children have read that was proposed by their parents: Verne, Hugo, Tolstoy and the like, their reading assignments stopped short of continental Europe, the British Isles offering plenty of fodder for American readers without the need of a translator. One who grows up reading translated works learns to identify problems faced by translators early on. As a child I could already pinpoint translator's issues by reading the Laura Ingalls books! The translators were not the same from one published volume to the next, and I was fascinated by how differently they chose to describe details and events of the Western pioneer life in America, marred by brutal winters that were utterly foreign to Brazilian readers. 
Back to the Dr. Pepino's translation: I have been but once, and very briefly, to Paris, but was able to have a first hand glimpse of that world. The memoirs' first pages throw us right into that world, and the translator's notes help the curious, knowledgeable reader locate oneself with precision into the Paris map. Just as helpful are the brief notes about people and references that come up again and again. The translator knows well which ones will be foreign to the American reader. His bottom-of-page notes do exactly what the translator promises to do: to place us there in the author's literary landscape, at the same time "staying out of the way". He makes this difficult task seem easy. 
We readers are far removed from that world both in time and space, and Dr. Pepino's notes are so welcome to the reader. I mean, there are hundreds and hundreds of them, on the bottom of each page, making this probably them most annotated translation I have ever seen. Every obscure publication, work of art, musical composition, place, religious house... every reference is carefully placed, explained, geographically located or cross-referenced for the reader. How wonderful to have this wealth of explanatory notes when reading such an intricate story taking place in another continent! 
Add Pepino's beautiful choice of vocabulary and sentence structure, in a careful balance between keeping the French-flavor and making it unencumbered for the American reader. The text is a delight to read: the language flows easily and one is caught into the world the author is telling about. Again, this "disappearing" on the part of the translator is what makes it superior.
I will stay here, saying what a pleasure it is to read an interesting autobiography of a man who lived to see first hand what many would like to have seen. A book translated and annotated so painstakingly and beautifully.

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