Кадарэ - трудности перевода

If there's a poster-child for twice-removed translations it's Albanian author Ismail Kadare. A large number of his books have been translated into English, by a bewildering number of translators, and while some have been directly from the Albanian most are from the French translations. At least publishers have been fairly upfront about this: many of the translations prominently credit the French translator as well, noting that the book in question was: "Translated from the French of Jusuf Vrioni" (This credit is noteworthy; the in-between translators in many of the other twice-translated texts are often completely ignored.)
Albanian is not widely spoken in the first place, and more than four decades of Stalinist rule after World War II served only to further marginalize the country (as well as hampering much artistic production). Still, Ismail Kadare became internationally acclaimed and most of his work has been published in Western Europe and elsewhere.
The translations into English do include several directly from the Albanian -- though there are questions about several of these as well. For example: neither Kronike ne gur (1971; English: Chronicle in Stone, Meredith Press, 1987) nor Prilli I thyer (1980; English: Broken April, New Amsterdam, 1990) lists any translator anywhere in the book (the translation copyright on the copyright page given as, "© Al Saqi Books, 1987" and "© 1990 New Amsterdam Books and Saqi Books" respectively).
Noteworthy about the translations directly from the Albanian is also how many different translators there are -- suggesting that a lack of qualified translators is not behind the problem of translating directly from the Albanian. (It is, of course, possible that, while fluent in both Albanian and English, these translators were simply not very good and that is why new ones were constantly enlisted.) Among these named translators are: Ali Cungu and Naim Frasheri (The Wedding, 1968), Pavli Qesku (The Castle, 1980), John Hodgson (The Three-Arched Bridge, 1995), and Peter Constantine (Elegy for Kosovo, 2000).

All the second-hand translations appear to have been made from the French translations of Kadare's books. (It's noteworthy that here, too, there was a considerable turnover of translators.) Second-hand translations from the French include:
• Gjenerali i ushtrise se vdekur (1963). "Translated from the French" by Derek Coltman as The General of the Dead Army (1971)
• Kush e solli doruntinen (1980). "Translated from the French of Jusuf Vrioni" by Jon Rothschild, as Doruntine (1988)
• Nenpunesi I pallatit te enderrave (1980). "Translated from the French of Jusuf Vrioni" by Barbara Bray, as The Palace of Dreams (1993)
• Nje dosje per Homerin (1980). "Translated from the French of Jusuf Vrioni" by David Bellos, as The File on H (1998)
• Koncert ne fund te dimrit (1988). "Translated from the French of Jusuf Vrioni" by Barbara Bray, as The Concert (1994)
• Lulet e fltohta te marsit (2000). "Translated from the French of Jusuf Vrioni" by David Bellos, as Spring Flowers, Spring Frost (2002)
Kadare has been particularly acclaimed in France, and he did eventually move there. In addition, there is considerable uniformity in the translations into the French (in the form of the near-ubiquitous Jusuf Vrioni), making the French versions a reasonable choice -- if such a choice need be made -- on which to base translations into third languages. (It should be noted that Kadare's works have also been translated into other languages (not just English) via the French translations instead of the Albanian originals.)

There is relatively little discussion of the fact that some of Kadare's text's are twice-removed from the originals, and many reviews simply fail to mention the fact at all. For example, Bill Marx wrote at length about The Concert (The Nation, 19 December 1994), but failed to mention that it was not a translation directly from the Albanian. Toby Mundy, in his review of a new edition of The General of the Dead Army (New Statesman, 30 October 2000), similarly avoided the issue entirely.
Some of the reviews are simply misleading, for example Marc Slonim's review of The General of the Dead Army (The New York Times Book Review, 8 November 1970):
We know very little about Albania and even less about the literature of this rugged country of some two million inhabitants. This is probably why the translation from the Albanian of The General of the Dead Army, a novel by Ismail Kadare, who resides in Tirana, provoked so much European attention.
Nowhere does he then clarify that, while in some of Europe the translation truly was "from the Albanian", the English language edition was not.
A few reviewers do make mention of the circumstances, though some only in passing. In her review of The Concert (New Statesman, 7 October 1994) Imogen Foster notes:
Style and tone are particularly hard to judge in a text twice removed from its original, but both translations suggest a pervading inertness, a dogged but curiously affectless voice.
Alan Brownjohn's review of the new edition of The General of the Dead Army (Times Literary Supplement, 10 November 2000) inadvertently (and hilariously) shows the level of discussion of the problem of twice-removed translations:
With no literary translator from the Albanian then available, the 1971 English edition was translated from the French of Albin Michel by Derek Coltman, who this time round adds numerous small-scale authorial revisions incorporated in the 1998 French version. It all reads immaculately, suggesting meticulous and inspired effort by the two translators in rendering a spare, astringent and lucid prose style.
It's another curious slip by translator Brownjohn (and the TLS, which really should know better): while there once was a man named Albin Michel he died way back in 1943, and, as far as we can tell, never translated a thing from the Albanian. What he did leave behind was a publishing house -- which in 1970 did publish a French translation of Le General de l'armee morte. Apparently they also claimed the translation copyright (hence, presumably, Brownjohn's confusion) -- though their online catalogue credits none other than Jusuf Vrioni with translating the work. (The 1991 American edition, which is the only one we could find, stated only: "Translated from the French" by Derek Coltman, and provided no French translator's (or copyright holder's) name.)
(One also wonders about Brownjohn's supposition that there was "no literary translator from the Albanian then available"; clearly, mere availability isn't always the criteria in how publishers go about making their often peculiar decisions as to who is charged with translating what.)

Noteworthy about the Kadare translations generally is that there has been no real change in the situation: even his recent works are presented sometimes directly from the Albanian, sometimes via a third language (French) -- an inconsistent approach that would seem to serve neither the author nor his readers well.

(Updated - 7 June 2005): Kadare-translator (from the French) David Bellos offers a good deal more insight into the complicated situation surrounding these translations in The Englishing of Ismail Kadare: Notes of a retranslator. (Highly recommended !)

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