No matter if English is our only language, we are able to know what the French Emma Bovary and the Russian Anna Karenina thought and said thanks to translators. And although we can easily name the authors who brought those two famous characters to literary life, most of us would be hard-pressed to identify any translators. After all, aren't they mere conduits, turning the authors' foreign words into English ones?
Read David Bellos' fascinating book, Is That a Fish in Your Ear? and you will have a new appreciation for translators and their craft. Subtitled Translation and the Meaning of Everything, it covers an incredible range of topics, from the development of dictionaries to the dragomen interpreters of the Ottoman empire through to the demands of movie subtitling and the intricacies of simultaneous translating. While it's full to the brim with interesting information, it's not at all academic or tedious to read. (The biggest problem is that you will probably be bombarding your nearest and dearest with surprising tidbits you've just read.)
I've lauded it to my fellow book group readers because, obviously, a Foreign Authors Bookgroup has a special interest in translation. Although, as I have mentioned in previous posts, we do not read foreign authors exclusively, but rather, fiction and non-fiction about foreign lands and cultures. This year, three of our selections are translated from another language, which is actually very substantial percentage-wise. A blog on international literature is named Three Percent because, as is stated in the About section “only about 3% of all books published in the United States are works in translation.” Check out all the great resources they offer to acquaint you with those works.