Interpreters' Portrayal in Literature: Fail

Dagmar just read a book about a conference interpreter, the book’s clever title being “The Interpreter”, written by Suzanne Glass. According to her bio in the back of the book, the author is a former conference interpreter who is fluent in seven languages. That seems hard to believe, especially after reading certain German-language passages in the book. Here is an excerpt for the German speakers among us. This is from a letter quoted in the book: Aber nun setze ich mich hin und schriebe [sic] Dir. […] Ist es möglich dass es erst sieben oder acht Monate her ist? Es scheint doch wie ein Leben. There are quite a few mistakes in there. The last sentence doesn’t sound German at all. Suzanne Glass is really doing our profession a disservice here.

Having read about this book in an anthology about the image of interpreters and translators in literature, my curiosity was piqued, even though the back cover praises “a heady mix or romance and intrigue,” which would usually discourage me from reading it. While the author quite accurately describes the work of conference interpreter Dominique Green, this book has an unpleasant aftertaste. Dominique is described as “not having her own voice” – whatever that means – and this fact is attributed to her work. That is, of course, nonsense. I find it disturbing that Dominique eventually finds her own voice only through the miraculous love of a man. At the end of the day, the author probably just wanted to write a (barely interesting and sometimes cheesy) love story and her own profession just provided the logical background.

This book could’ve been a good opportunity for conveying a positive image of our profession. Too bad that was apparently not the author’s intention. For a detailed review of this book in German, please click here.


Guillermo on July 13, 2009 at 3:01 AM said...

Twins, for an actual masterpiece on language and someone's passion for it you might check "Budapest" out, by Brazilian author Chico Buarque. By the way, the feature based on the book is showing on the theaters around here yet (São Paulo). Get ready for a DVD release soon.

I don't know how good is the translation to English, but I'm sure they wouldn't get just anyone at random for such a task.

See ya and have fun.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on July 13, 2009 at 4:20 PM said...

@Guillermo: Thanks so much for telling us about the novel -- it looks fantastic! We checked, and there's an English translation, and our local library even carries it. We will go check it out!

Guillermo on July 14, 2009 at 7:58 AM said...

That's fantastic, girls.

Because the book is barely 200 pages (with a font the size of little elephants), I'd love to see your thoughts about it on a post anytime soon.

Have a good one!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on July 14, 2009 at 11:13 PM said...

@Guillermo: Done, we ordered the book from our local library. Even though our to-read stack is quite high, this one might make it to the top as we want to report back on it. And since the font is the size of small elephants, it should be a quick read!

Michael on July 23, 2009 at 12:37 PM said...

I missed this post the first time around, but I wanted to say a word in defense of the author. I am more familiar with book production than care to be, and in most cases there is very little control the author has over typos. When it comes to German text, typesetters frequently transpose "ei" and "ie" since the associated sounds are meaningless to them. What I find most infuriating is that even when manuscripts are delivered in electronic form, publishers insist on re-typesetting them, which introduces tons of errors. So while the literary merits or the lack thereof can safely be attributed to Ms. Glass, the German typos probably should not.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on July 23, 2009 at 3:06 PM said...

@Michael: interesting point. Thanks for your insight into the publishing process. It really seems like a bad idea to re-typeset documents that are delivered electronically, especially if the outcome is bad. Poor Ms. Glass is probably mortified -- has to be a very uncomfortable feeling to not be able to control the process when it's your own book.

Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

Subscribe by email:


Twitter update

Site Info

The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

Translation Times