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6 Great Introductions to the Art of Translation

If you’re a fan of international literature but know little about the art of translation, these engrossing reads are for you!

1. “How to Read a Translation” by Lawrence Venuti

Translators love to hate him, but the fact is that if you’re interested in learning more about translation, Venuti may be a good place to start. That way, when you read other translators’ thoughts on the art of translation, you’ll see where they’re coming from or who or what they’re reacting against. It’s a quick read and worth digging into.

2. Why Translation Matters by Edith Grossman

Since its publication in 2010, this slim book by the renowned translator Edith Grossman has become the go-to book for understanding translation. In her own words, Grossman hopes to take on those “thorny, ongoing, apparently never-to-be-resolved problems that surround the question of literary translation, beginning with the old chestnut of whether it is possible at all, and moving on to what it actually does, and what its proper place in the universe of literature should be.” You can read an excerpt from the book to get a taste, but you’ll definitely want to read the whole thing.

3. Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei by Eliot Weinberger

This slim volume was reissued last year by New Directions and is a perfect demonstration of what it is like to translate. Weinberger examines several translations of a single four-line poem written by Wang Wei during the Tang Dynasty. Rather than diving into murky theory, here you will witness the kinds of decisions, discoveries, and debates that emerge from such close reading of a single poem.

4. If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Discontents by Gregory Rabassa

Gregory Rabassa is a legend of literary translation. He is the translator behind Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch, among many other classics of Latin American literature. He passed away not too long ago, but before that he wrote this memoir of how he came to be one of the greatest translators in the English language and reflecting on the art of translation.

5. In Translation, edited by Esther Allen and Susan Bernofsky.

An incredible collection of essays on the art of translation by such acclaimed writers/translators as Haruki Murakami, Peter Cole, Forest Gander, and Maureen Freely. This book lets you in on the thoughts of some of the leading literary translators of our time.

6. Into English: Poems, Translations, Commentaries, edited by Martha Collins and Kevin Prufer.

Forthcoming this November, this anthology brings together twenty-five of today’s leading translators for a special project on what it means to translate. Each contributor chooses a poem, presents three different English translations, and then writes an essay analyzing the different choices within each translation. Contributors include Kareem James Abu-Zeid, Willis Barnstone, Chana Bloch, Karen Emmerich, Cole Swensen, Johannes Göransson, and Sidney Wade.


If you’re looking for even more ways to familiarize yourself with translation, check out the two translation-themed podcast episodes of Radiolab and The Allusionist.