Anthea Bell is one of UK's most renowned translators, best known for her translation of WG Sebald's German-language novel Austerlitz and the French Asterix comics. She received the Order of the British Empire for services to literature in 2010.
"(...) About the least welcome of all phrases to a translator’s ears is 'lost in translation', because it assumes that something always is lost. Equally unpopular with those of us practising the craft is Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s comment: 'Translation is like a woman. If it is beautiful, it is not faithful. If it is faithful, it is most certainly not beautiful.'
Not only is this assessment trite (and obnoxious on more grounds than one), it is also demonstrably untrue. As I write, we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the great King James Bible, based largely on the Tyndale translation, a towering monument of English literature ranking beside Shakespeare. Yes, it has some inaccuracies, but they are a minor matter. You do not have to be religious to love its magnificent language; it swept me away as a child, and has been a life-long companion.
To be true to the spirit of a book may, in fact, require a free translation. I have translated works by authors ranging from Sigmund Freud, Franz Kafka and E.T.A. Hoffmann, a great deal of German and French modern fiction and books for children and young adults, and the Asterix the Gaul strip cartoon series.
Of them all, the Asterix albums, involving the translation of puns and wordplay, have called for maximum freedom with the letter of the original, often amounting to reinvention, in order to preserve its spirit. But every book, every author will call for a new approach - it’s the sheer variety of a translator’s life that I love. I’ve been very lucky in my accidental profession."
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