How to Review Translations

Lord knows it isn’t easy to review books – there’s so much to be taken into account, often in cripplingly limited space and on deadline. And when the book is a translation, this circumstance adds an entire new level of complexity to the enterprise. The result: many reviews of translated books acknowledge the translation only in passing, with a minimalistic epithet like “ably translated by [translator’s name here].” And while this is slightly better than ignoring outright the fact that a work of literature is a translation – as, regrettably, still happens all too often – it is woefully inadequate considering the gigantic impact the translator’s skill and aesthetic decisions have on the reader’s experience of a book. Every translation is written twice: first by its author, then by its translator.

Recently I was bemoaning this state of affairs in conversation with my illustrious colleagues Jonathan Cohen and Edith Grossman, and we decided to sit down and write up some guidelines for reviewers. This is our contribution to the project of improving the overall quality of reviews of books in translation. And since Words Without Borders recently started running a new series of essays on reviewing translations, we thought this would be the ideal place to publish our little missive.

You can read our guidelines here. Hope you find them helpful!

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