Why Translation Matters (Why X Matters Series)
Why Translation Matters (Why X Matters Series)
Edith Grossman
Yale University Press, 2010
160 pp., $24.00

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William Griffin

Why Translation Matters

A literary translator's rather narrow view.

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All of which is to say that, if the title means anything, Why Translation Matters is a colossal failure. The author's unrelenting animosity toward the industry in which she works is so corrosive that it scuttled the worth of her own work. Yes, there'll be dancing in Montevideo tonight! Yet if YUP had titled the work Why Literary Translation Matters, or better, Why Literary Fiction Translation Matters, or best, Why My Literary Fiction Translation Matters, I could call the book a colossal success.

In the latter half Grossman's flamboyantly describes her personal observations on and techniques in translating Cervantes and other Spanish authors. Her list of translations is impressive, and her list of favorite translations by others is entertaining. Yes, when she's talking about her own rather sophisticated work, her opinions are golden. Grossman knows how to make a grand entrance and hold center stage. She has a distinctive voice, sounding somewhere between La Divina, Maria Callas (before she lost the weight), and the Divine Miss M, Bette Midler (after she lost the weight).

But would you entrust your foreign-language memoir to this multilingual, multilabial translator? Would you hire her to redesign your sculpture garden, only to quiver moments before the reveal, fearing that she'd painted the statuary red? Not that there's anything wrong with that, but would it be the right shade of red?

William Griffin is a biographer, novelist, playwright, and journalist with a dozen translations to his credit.

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