In case you missed it, The Telegraph recently reported on how Dan Brown’s latest novel, Inferno, was translated into other languages. The article begins:

“For two months, 11 translators of different nationalities were tucked away in an underground ‘bunker’ near Milan where they worked under the strictest security to translate Brown’s new book into French, German, Italian and other languages for its simultaneous release on May 14.”

This opening hook is full of things we literary translators can — and should — take umbrage at:

* A 580-page novel had to be translated in two months
* They had to work in an underground “bunker
* There was the presumption they would leak the story

The article goes on to say that to prevent any leaks, the translators did not have access to the Internet for research!

Just once, I would like to write an uplifting story about a blockbuster author and the translators dedicated to ensuring that a wildly famous book can be read by audiences all over the world. But it seems that one story prevails, and it is not a particularly happy one.

If you recall, last year I presented a guest post by Jill Timbers about the deplorable conditions JK Rowlings’ translators faced.

What I would like to know is the following…

* Were the copyeditors placed under similar restrictions? What about the typesetters? Printers? Book publicists? If a simple non-disclosure agreement is enough to keep these people “in-line,” why would that not work for translators? Is it because they’re “foreign”?

* And was the book designer forced to do his or her work, say, in two days? Or the copyeditor in a week? I mean, come on, how much time would they need if a translator can pound out 580 pages in two months? That’s 10 pages a day, every day, for 60 days. That’s about 2500 words a day. Of final, publish-ready text.

What are we, monkeys with typewriters?!

What’s worse, the article brings this situation to light as if it were an amusing anecdote rather than a serious comment on how little respect this author or his foreign language publishers have for the literary translator’s work.

There is no mention of what the translators earned in terms of fees and/or royalties, no word on whether they hold copyright or all of the other terms and conditions most professional associations promote. Given what we do know, I wonder whether these translators were treated as professionals and accorded their due.

I’m in the process of trying to find that out and will bring you what information I can.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts about the article and the whole situation. Do leave a comment!



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