3 January 2013

The Collected Short Stories of Sir Temi Zammit (1995) (trans. Godwin Ellul)

Owing to a chronic allergy I hardly ever read translations – we can never be sure whose words we're reading, how faithful the translation is, and so on. Sometimes it's necessary to read in translation, though, and sometimes you just have to be generous and trust the translator.

So I had a try at this book. There are 31 short stories here, and in spite of feeling that I'd perhaps missed the point of a few of them, and noticing a few obviously off-centre expressions, I pressed on: Zammit's depiction of workers on the land in Malta in the first half of the 20th century, with its swindlers and get-rich-quick scoundrels, felt as though it was going to be interesting.

One sentence in 'Vincenza Goes to the Cinema' pulled me up sharp. It is obviously intended to say that Vincenza and her husband haven't been to the cinema before and will not do so again, but is rendered: 'This is the only time we've been to the cinema and it will not repeat itself.'

From then on I was paying as much attention to the translation as to the stories, but by 'Two Partners and Friends' (less than halfway through) I felt forced to give up: not only are there obvious errors that make comprehension difficult, but the words 'sheep' and 'goats' are used interchangeably.

That's a great pity, as it only serves to feed my translation allergy.

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