Translators as River Guides
by Rebekah Choat
A week ago, a friend and I went driving around Houston. She wanted to share with me the majestic trees she passes on her way to work every morning; she knows how I love trees, and also how unlikely it is that I would ever see these particular trees that grow not far from my house, but in a neighborhood unfamiliar to me, without a guide.
This is, in a way, what the translators of Night on the Great River by Meng Hao-jan do: they bring me to a scene I would not have discovered on my own. My ignorance of the language in which it was originally written would have prevented my encountering it, even more surely than my fear of getting lost in the city keeps me from solo exploration.
As we drove and looked at trees, I was struck by the differences in our observations of the details around us. My friend commented on the architectural style of a house. I noticed unusual flowers in a front yard. Sharing what stood out to each of us made our joint experience richer.
The translators do this, too. They are looking at the same original, but each observing it from his own perspective, shaded by the nuances of his own personality. Reading their interpretations together gives us a multifaceted view of the island and the river and the moon, enhancing and enriching our vision.