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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Everything you always wanted to know about translation... in an odd nutshell, December 27, 2011
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This review is from: Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything (Hardcover)
As someone who comes from a family of translators and who has worked in translation himself, I am utterly glad that someone has come up with a book like this, an honest and passionate attempt to unveil the world of translation to the average person and spark the debate among the more knowledgeable ones.

In attempting to write a book that covers, well, pretty much everything about translation, David Bellos has produced a comprehensive and badly needed primer full of insight, yet a not-so coherent and cohesive unity. The book is divided into 32 small sections (yes, 32), each dealing with a different aspect of translation, from the meaning of "meaning", to the alleged "myth" of literal translation, with newswires and the ridiculous sophistication of coffee-shop language somewhere in-between. Some of these sections are delightful and concisely written, others are riddled with analogies and humorous attempts that distract from the main topic, yet others are frankly repetitive or well under-developed. The result is less a piece that seems to flow from chapter to chapter, but rather something that feels at times like a collection of disparate short essays that rumble from bananas to bibles to eskimos and back to translation. While some chapters indeed perform liaisons to previous or following ones, sadly that is not the overall feeling that one gets when tackling the text.

I guess this is the unavoidable result of attempting to put together so many different topics under a single umbrella, while trying to give equal importance to each and every single one. But my other assumption is that the book could have greatly benefited from a better editing job, which in turn would have resulted in a more 'natural' feeling to the final product.

On the other hand, I do not necessarily agree with everything that Mr. Bellos asserts and the way he does it (but that is a whole different story). I believe he gives too much credence to his own opinions and parades them as axioms, without even considering or giving some space to alternative or critical views. The issue of 'literal translation' is a good -but no the only one- example of this. According to the author's Manichean vision, a literal translation is 'not really' a translation and is such a daunting and fictitious task that is almost not worth trying. This whole argument is sustained in a verbal and semantic pirouette, given that he later on acknowledges that it really all depends on what 'literal' and, yes, 'translation' means to you. However, he does not even bother in considering the opinion of someone who believes that a literal translation (or something close to it) is possible. It simply can not happen, period. One wonders whether he is representing the entire translation community or just speaking for himself which, based on reading his text, is quite hard to tell.

Now, on the positive side, the book is full of pearls of wisdom and clever insights into the world of translating. I really hope that this work contributes to spreading the word on the invaluable contribution of translators all over the world, and I hope as well that next time Mr. Bellos will find a better editor.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 24, 2012 2:50:50 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 24, 2012 4:22:23 AM PST
I agree with you about the book (I gave it **); but the editor and designer did a *fine* job in enabling a book on this topic to find an audience (though they do seem to be mainly Vine readers) by making it seem jokey (when it really isn't) to the casual punter and serious (when it really isn't) to the language maven
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Location: Mexico City, Mexico

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