December 11, 2007


Losing a literature: The loss of a brilliant English translator puts our access to Iceland's best writers in jeopardy (Sarah Weinman, 12/11/07, The Guardian)

Translators are the neglected stepchildren of literature, considered lucky if they get their names on a book's title page or receive a small share of an award. This state of affairs was never more apparent than earlier this month, when news slowly trickled out about the recent death of Bernard Scudder, the Iceland-based translator of works by award-winning and best-selling crime writers Arnaldur Indridason and Yrsa Sigudardottir. Had Indridason passed, his obituary would have appeared online and in newspapers within a few days of his death. Scudder was not nearly so fortunate. All we know is that Scudder died suddenly on October 15, that he was married, and that Harvill Secker, Indridason's UK publisher, commented in a statement that they held Scudder's work "in high regard and that he was a pleasure to work with."

This generic statement only hints at what a blow Scudder's death is to the crime community. As part of wry humour, gory details and more than a hint of romance.

With Scudder gone, now comes the difficult task of replacing him. At just over 300,000 people, Iceland's entire population is comparable to Newcastle or Cardiff, and the number of Icelandic-to-English translators is so limited that only two agencies - Markmal and Skjal - offer such services. Just because translators can do the job, however, does not mean the job will be a good one, as some European and Asian authors have discovered. Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell once complained at a panel that after reading the translation for one of his early novels he was so put off by what he described as the translator's stilted prose and emphasis on British dialect that he demanded someone else translate the rest of the Inspector Wallander series for American publication. At this same panel, Boris Akunin concurred, saying he refused to allow publication of his Erast Fandorin novels unless he approved the translator personally. The job went to Andrew Bromfield, who has been Akunin's English translator ever since.

Morse, Frost, Resnick, Tennyson, Rebus and now this?

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 11, 2007 4:13 PM

Which is the better of the Icelandic writers?

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at December 11, 2007 9:04 PM

Halldor Laxness Independent People is the best.

Of these two I've read and love Indridason.

Posted by: oj at December 11, 2007 10:41 PM