Cross-posted Russian Reading Challenge 2008
Kate S. brought up a very relevant question on translations. We keep asking it, because there really is no easy answer. While I can't claim to have the perfect answer (I can only speak for my own preference), I thought I could share some of the articles I have found online that address the subject:
In 2005, David Remnick wrote a much-talked-about story for The New Yorker on Russian-language translators. He mentioned Constance Garnett, and of course the much-lauded Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
[Read Remnick's The Translation Wars]
Also, the recent New York Times essay by Richard Pevear himself, on translating War and Peace:
I’ve said “translator,” and in a sense my collaboration with Larissa is so close that the two of us make up one translator who has the luck to be a native speaker of two languages. We work separately at first. Larissa produces a complete draft, following the original almost word by word, with many marginal comments and observations. From that, plus the original Russian, I make my own complete draft. Then we work closely together to arrive at a third draft, on which we make our “final” revisions. That working situation has its advantages. Translators are always in danger of drifting into the sort of language that is commonly referred to as “smooth,” “natural” or, as they now say, “reader friendly,” but is really only a tissue of ready-made phrases. When that happens to me, as it sometimes does, Larissa is there to stop me. Where I have my say is in judging the quality of our English text, that is, in drawing the line between a literal and a faithful rendering, which are not at all the same. If the translation does not finally “work” in English, it doesn’t work at all.
[ Read the rest of Pevear's essay]
And this blog post entitled, Turgenev: The Translation Game, via Steamboats Are Ruining Everything - where we get a meticulous, close-text reading of various Turgenev translators -- Constance Garnett, Bernard Guilbert Guerney and George Reavey.