Crediting Translators

I typically choose to read 20th century works by English speaking authors, as I would presume most readers opt to do (the English speaking authorship portion, at least). Recently, though, I’ve been picking up novels originally written in other languages. Two books that I’ve read recently are Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (Russian) and All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (German). Notably, when I mention the novels, I don’t state who the translators are. In fact, if asked, I wouldn’t be able to name the translator of any major work, other than Seamus Heaney’s rendition of Beowulf.

I thoroughly enjoy taking quotes from books and works that I read. I have a spiral notebook that I write down passages that are particularly memorable, and my books are always dog-eared on pages where I was drawn to a sentence or section. That being said, when quoting something from a translated work, who should get the credit? The author, the translator, or both? The author came up with the original idea, but the translator is the individual that worded that idea to make it most appealing.

books42Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, the translators of Doctor Zhivago, are praised for their ability to “masterfully restore the spirit of Pasternak’s original—his style, rhythms, voicings, and tone.” I would argue that this is the goal of most translations, otherwise the process would be an adaption instead. If the reader hears the original author’s supposed voice in the translation, the contributors successfully accomplished their goal. And yet, when I say I enjoyed a quote from Doctor Zhivago, should I mention “I liked how Pevear and Volokhonsky worded this?”

aqowf-new-coverAll Quiet on the Western Front takes this thought and amplifies it. The title of the novel comes from one of the concluding paragraphs. The original German line translates most directly to “there was nothing new to report on the Western Front” according to Brian Murdoch regarding his translation. So, the English title of the novel comes exclusively from a translation (the German title being Im Westen nichts Neues – Nothing New in the West). The English title comes from the translator A. W. Wheen.

Regardless of whether or not a translator should be attributed with quotes from foreign works, translators definitely deserve more credit in the literary world.


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