"America First?" is the title of a fairly interesting review article by translator and writer Tim Parks in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books, an often boring publication that, for me, focuses far too much on things like politics in the Mid-East and on people like Christopher Hitchens--does anybody really want to read about this guy?--and, for a "review of books," as it calls itself, far too little on literature.
Parks's article reviews, in addition to two other books, Grossman's Why Translation Matters and A. Hemon's recently published best European fiction collection. I was struck by Parks's suggestion, made in response to an editor's complaint about the terminal condition of translation in the US, that the French, Germans, and Italians don't translate any more than we Americans do if you take away their translations of books from the US. It's true that the French and the Italians--I don't know about the Germans--translate too many American books, many of them very bad. But I still think Parks is wrong: in France, as a visit to any bookstore or library will make abundantly clear, there are more titles translated from languages other than American English than in the US there are translations of books from all languages. And France, of course, is a smaller market than the US.
An odd thing is that American dominance on this score is abetted not so much by American multinationals (many of the largest publishing conglomerates are in fact European) as by a faction of the continental European intelligentsia, a class more usually known for its knee-jerk anti-Americanism. I can conclude only that a kind of inferiority complex is at work.
On a slightly different subject, Parks also writes:
It's nice when a reviewer mentions your work, of course, but I've never been able to share my fellow translators' indignation when reviews of the books they've translated don't mention them. Now and then, I've wondered idly why I don't get upset, but I never really came up a satisfactory reason. Parks, with an elegant and almost obvious observation, has perhaps given me one.Of my own translations, I should say that I was always happy when the author got the praise and I escaped mention; it?s self-evident that only a good translation makes it possible for the reviewer to praise the author.