Is There an Untranslatable Book?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

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Today’s lead story describes the process of translating David Foster Wallace’s supremely complicated novel Infinite Jest into German. The translator, Ulrich Blumenbach, had no input from the author himself, but was nevertheless dealing with a book that involved “a massive text, its pages are riddled with acronyms and American pop-culture references, as well as dialects, characters with idiosyncratic styles of speech, and a vocabulary that ranges from lettered to colloquial to technical to arcane.” Still, he managed to do it, though it took him six years.

Earlier this year on Publishing Perspectives, Vanina Marsot wrote about why her novel Foreign Tongue — a book about a French translator — was itself untranslatable into French because of the way the book played with language.

Are there other books that you think would be impossible to translate? Books with invented language, perhaps — or rather, language that is based on recognizable language but is re-imagined into something new (one example: Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban)?

Let us know what you think in the comments below or via Twitter using hashtag #ppdiscuss.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.