Page 58 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 31

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
52
“the profanities of Scandinavian life were an absolute mystery
to me." So much translation from the Yiddish has fallen down
on this hurdle of the Yiddish profanities, the curses, the impreca-
tions, which are a way of easing a heavy heart. “All my bad, dis-
astrous dreams fall down on the heads of my enemies!” says
Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye.
As for translating via another translation, like the Undset book
from Norwegian to Polish via German, we have had a number
of translations from Yiddish into English via the German trans-
lation. It used to be the common way in which Russian literature
came to us in English via the French translation. Sometimes, with
the lesser known literatures it is the only way. PEN organized
another Translators Conference in 1961 in Rome, and the Danish
representative, Clara Hammerich, said there that three times
that year she had to translate books “from a different language,
not the one they were written in; and every time it was the pub-
lishers’ fault. I have now to translate a Latvian book; I don’t
know Latvian, and I will have to do it from the German.”
ON THE QUA L IT Y OF T RAN S L A T ION
The question was taken up in 1966 at the International PEN
Congress in New York, where I represented Yiddish PEN. An
American writer, Donald Keene, said straight out: “A poor trans-
lation is not necessarily better than no translation at all.” He
went on to say, speaking as a member of the jury recently award-
ing the American PEN Translators Prize, that “they had read
fifty works by American and British translators from many lan-
guages. The quality of translation had been deplorably low. The
jury had difficulty in finding a translation worthy of the award.”
I t makes me wonder if my own translations would have been so
derogated. I, foolishly perhaps, have never submitted my work
for an award. Yet recognized authorities have spoken well of it,
in public print, and my heart still warms to something that
severe critic Bechhofer Roberts said: “I read this book to the end
without realizing it was a translation, till I turned back to the
beginning to find out more about the author. Bravo, Mr. Left-
wich.”
I was a raw apprentice in literature when I and a group of my