I am the translator, and I am in charge here!

I am reading Jhumpa Lahiri's dual-language book, In Other Words, and once again find myself getting angry with the translator. (Ann Goldstein in this case.)

Consider:

* Lahiri's husband finds an ad for an Italian teacher "per strada, nel nostro quartiere a Brooklyn." Goldstein renders this, "in our neighborhood, in Brooklyn." What happened to the "strada" (street) here? Lahiri clearly intends to convey that her husband found the notice on the street in their neighborhood. For whatever reason, Goldstein finds that bit of information gratuitous, and simply cuts it out, as though she were the editor of the book, instead of its translator. (It probably is not coincidental that her full time job is as an editor!)

* Lahiri creates a metaphor for her uncovering new Italian words to learn: "ogni giorno entro in un bosco con un cestino in mano." Goldstein translates this: "every day I go into the woods carrying a basket." But Lahiri had written that she went in with a basket "in hand." That is a perfectly common idiom in English: one can, say, enter a room, "pen in hand." And the alternative phrasing that Goldstein chose in English, "carrying a basket," was available to Lahiri in Italian (portando un cestino). Often, a translator has to make creative choices to render something idiomatic in the destination language. But in this case, the sentence in the source language translates almost directly into idiomatic English; we just need to remove the word "con" (with): "each day I go into the woods, basket in hand."

Perhaps Goldstein finds the way she put this more straightforward or something of the sort. Well, too bad! Again, she is acting here as translator, not editor. Her job is to convey what Lahiri wrote in Italian as closely as possible to readers who wish to read the work in English. Goldstein is not tasked with also spiffing up Lahiri's work so that it better suits her tastes.

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