Thursday, June 16, 2011

First ever direct English translation of Stanisław Lem's “Solaris”

What is it with classic novels and bad translations? (See past posts on bad or faulty translations of Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, The Second Sex reloaded, Levi’s The Periodic Table, and Verne’s Off On a Comet (Hector Servadac).)

Now it turns out that the only available English version of Stanisław Lem’s 1961 Polish science fiction novel Solaris had been relay translated from a poor French version. The Guardian reports that a new direct translation by Bill Johnston has just been published which “remov[es] a raft of unnecessary changes and restor[es] the text much closer to its original state.”
“There are also moments where the meaning has simply become distorted or even inverted,” said Johnston.
When have we seen this before? Every time! The Guardian article also describes some of the reversions to the novel’s original names that will make the effect on the English language reader closer to that of the original on the Polish language reader. As also seen in other accounts of poorly translated classics, the previous translators did not hesitate to cut corners; for instance summarizing dialogue into narrative. The article doesn’t say whether these faults were due to the intermediary French version, or whether they were made in the previous English version.
“All in all, the [original] translation, though it tells the story of Solaris, frequently fails to convey Lem’s style, his humour, his attention to detail. Above all, it is not a careful and accurate translation of the text that he wrote,” said [Johnston]. “The new translation will finally allow English-language readers to experience Lem's extraordinary, prescient, ever-relevant novel in all its fullness.”
The article reports that the novel is first coming out in audio version, and later e-book. If some legal issues can be resolved, the publisher hopes to bring out a print version.

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