Translators Are Like Ninjas

August 21, 2012
Nathan Englander and Etgar Keret Nathan Englander and Etgar Keret at the Edinburgh International Book Festival
Nathan Englander and Etgar Keret at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

Israeli author Etgar Keret and American author and translator Nathan Englander spoke in fervor and friendship about the art of translation last Friday at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

In Keret’s best and most amusing description of what makes a good translator he explained, “Translators are like ninjas. If you notice them, they’re no good.”

Englander most recently co-translated Keret's Suddenly A Knock at the Door from Hebrew into English, and the two have formed a close friendship that illustrates—in many ways—that with literary translation you are translating more than just a language, but a person.

Englander said what’s especially challenging about translation is he doesn’t see the writer’s decisions. He just sees the words. The process requires a lot of back-and-forth communication, and is more than just word-for-word translation. The words as well as the essence of the story must come through.

Englander and Keret in their manner of conversation demonstrated this special relationship where translator and writer can communicate and interpret each other. Englander would finish Keret’s sentences, and the two reflected on writing and translation in a harmonic manner. The conversation left the audience with a sense of wonder and delight at what delicate care goes into translating a work of fiction. And as Keret so resolutely remarked, “You can’t be successful without a great translator.”

Keret’s newest book, Suddenly A Knock at the Door, and Englander’s newest book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, were both just recently released this year, and the reviews can both be found on the WLT website.

Jen Rickard
Digital Media Editor

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