On the translation of “Exodus”

Manolis Glezos on “Exodus”
21 February 2017

By Tony Mozer

The translator’s twisted view does not help when it comes to talking about the author’s work. Twisted, because the translator cannot help ‘missing the forest for the trees’. So I had better confine myself to saying a few words about the ‘trees’. A cynical definition has it that “a good translator is one who translates what the author wished they had written”; call it arrogant or malicious, but this is often the case, and it takes a bold —even impudent— translator to do it and a self-confident, open-minded author to accept it. This is far from being the case here, of course. George Hatzistergiou approaches writing from a refreshing engineer’s perspective, with the scientist’s methodical design, the builder’s love for precision and economy and the craftsman’s attention to detail. Indeed, thanks to George’s own intimate knowledge of English, the British backdrop to much of the book and the unaffected style of his writing, there were entire passages that almost translated themselves. Where the setting is Greek things become a little more difficult for the translator and a little more challenging for non-Greek readers. A literary book is not the place for lengthy footnotes, asterisks and translator’s notes, so unless a reader is willing to look up any unfamiliar points elsewhere, some aspects will have to remain quaintly exotic. To return briefly to the ‘forest’, amidst mounting evidence in world affairs that we may be experiencing the end of the Enlightenment, that the post-WWII affluence and euphoria may prove to be a brief interlude, we can only hope that books like Exodus can help put off the gloom. If the individual terrorist is an asymmetric threat against organised societies, Exodus shows us how the individual ‘crusader’ can become an asymmetric threat against organised terrorism.

PS. I suspect that entrusting your work to someone else to translate is almost like giving up a child for adoption. If that is the case, George was remarkably unperturbed about it as well as untypically generous with deadlines and encouragingly happy with the end result. For all these I thank him.

by Tony Mozer