Betraying the Text

There’s an old Italian proverb “Traduttore, traditore” to the effect that all translation betrays the original. I recently showed some of my polished translation to a workshop group on the Writing Excuses cruise, the first story I thought was ready to get serious criticism, and it became obvious I wasn’t betraying the text … enough. So from now on, I will take greater liberties for the sake of readability. An example:

Everyone on the provost’s estate was fat. Only the provost was thin. But the provost spent most of his time in Buda, near the king.

In the first sentence, “a prépost házánál” basically means “near the provost’s house”, and I would have been tempted to use a construction like “in the provost’s household” or “attached to the provost’s house”. But “on the provost’s estate” is accurate enough, and makes the author’s point. And in the last sentence, “jobbára élt” could be translated as “for the most part lived” (or “resided”), but “spent most of his time” is a more natural English turn of phrase, even if it isn’t as precise a rendering of the exact words.

I’m concerned that there’s an imbalanced feedback mechanism: if I take too few liberties, people will note the awkwardnesses, whereas if I take too many, people may not even realize I’m losing some of the author’s voice. But not taking feedback is even worse than not getting feedback. It’s clear a bit more treason is in order.

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