Book Review: The Art of Empathy: Celebrating Literature in Translation

Book Review: The Art of Empathy: Celebrating Literature in Translation edited by Don Ball

This thick pamphlet is a collection of essays by literary translators on the art of translation.  It’s a product of the National Endowment for the Arts, and is available from them as a free download (or in paper form at NEA exhibits.)

The Art of Empathy

There are 19 essays by 20 translators (one is by a husband/wife team), and each also recommends three translated works that readers may enjoy.  That married couple concentrates on collaborative translation.  Also of particular interest to me was Philip Boehm’s comparison of his work as a theatrical director to translation; both involve moving words on a page to a new form .

Chad W. Post writes about “The Myth of the Three Percent Problem, ” the idea that too small a percentage of books published in the United States each year are works in translation.  He points out that even that tiny percentage are more books than any reasonable person could read in a lifetime; the real issue is getting the worthy translations to the people who could enjoy them.

In addition to the initial recommendations by the essayists, there’s a list of other recommended reading for those who are serious about learning more.

I’d recommend this pamphlet to those interested in just what it is a literary translator does and how they approach the job.  Everyone, though, can benefit from reading translated works.  There’s an entire world of books out there just waiting to expand your horizons.

And it doesn’t have to be world classics or serious poetry if you aren’t interested in that.  There’s Norwegian crime thrillers (one coming soon), Japanese comic books, French lowbrow comedy, Chinese kung fu epics, Brazilian romance novels…something for every taste!

Tell me in the comments about a translated book you enjoyed, or that you’re planning to read because you’ve heard good things about it.

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Art of Empathy: Celebrating Literature in Translation”

  1. Hi Scott,

    One of the reasons I love learning Spanish is because it opens up my world to entirely different cultures. There is so much that does not come across if you don’t speak the language! Thanks for posting this.

  2. I was first intrigued by the title of empathy and then even more so when it was describing the importance of reading translated work. This is interesting since the pamphlet gives some sort of guidance. I have a huge To Be Read list of books to read all ready in English however I do understand how beneficial this would be. Awesome!

    1. For a lot of reading challenges, it’s best to ramp up slowly; say, putting one book in translation in your list to be read in some point. This month, I’m putting a little effort into reading books by women.

  3. The True Deceiver by Finnish author Tove Jansson is on my reading list for 2016. I’ve heard really good things about this darkish tale in a snowbound village.

    1. In between when this entry was published and now, I added “The Land of Dreams”, which is a Norwegian thriller.

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