Ukrainian reader has never been spoiled by abundance of books. Comparing to West-European book stores, counters of which are piled with books, shelves of Ukrainians stores look poor and miserable. As sad as it sounds, modern Ukrainian book market is having hard times, especially the sector of books in translation, and poor quality of translation is its major problem.

"I try to buy books in the original. Fortunately, I can read in ten languages of the world.  I just do not trust translations. Many translators cheat and translate not from the original, but Russian or Polish. My friends say they've seen even machine translation," avid reader Oleksandr Budnyk complains.

Indeed, the trend has been towards translations not from the original, but intermediate language. As a result, the quality of translated texts gets worse, and the translation loses author's message, mood and even the style. 

Why has similar situation been created in Ukraine? What can readers do to avoid poor translated books? ForUm has tried to find out.

Who is right?

Writer Ilya Strongovski names a number of books translated not from the original, but Russian. "I tell you what has been proved. One of the commercial publishers translate all Sweden books, in particular by Stieg Larsson, from Russian. Moreover, collected edition about Sherlock Holms, not full though, is also translated from Russian. Even many books for children are not translated from the original. For example, in Uncle Remus books you can see a reference "translated from Russia", meaning the publisher does not even hide that translation is made not from the original," he says.

Russian is not the only intermediate language. "All Hungarian books are translated from third languages. For example, "Last Viknogiraffa" by Peter Zilagi is translated from German," Strongovski adds.

According to publicist Volodymyr Vyatrovych, the practice to translate from intimidate languages is used for financial reasons to make a book cheaper. "High-quality translation from English is more expensive than from Russian. Sometimes I see, especially in fiction books, if the translation is made from Russian. The text is full of Russisms, which would not be there if the translation was made from the original to Ukrainian," he explains.  

Translator Nadezhda Herbish agrees. "Publishers save time and money. Translation from Russian costs way cheaper than from English, German or French, and takes less time, obviously. It is sad, and do not approve such practice," she says.

Commenting on the situation, writer Oksana Zabuzhko says that "an old trap" set by Moscow can be one of the reasons: in 90s one Moscow agency asked to buy out the foreign language rights for all former USSR countries, and "geographically disoriented" foreigners agreed. "It often happens that when a Ukrainian publisher makes a request about translation of this or that author, foreign colleagues say "rights for Ukraine have been sold, call Moscow". In turn, Moscow raises prices or demands to buy Russian translation," she says.

According to the writer, foreign literature in Ukraine is not considered a part of proper literature process. "Even classics of Ukrainian translation is not published that often. Translation reviews are not present at all. The  thing is that there are many people doing a good job in translation, but the whole "translation sector" in Ukraine comes down to the couple "publisher (client) - translator". We do not have any professional community with experience exchange or control mechanism, any feedback," Zabuzhko sums up.

Writer Mykhailo Brynykh considers the problem of "indirect" translations in the context of man's decency. "It is the matter of human dishonesty of publishers, meaning is the same "trend" as depravity of the human kind."

Director of a well-known Ukrainian publishing house offers his version of the situation. "We lack good translators from such languages as Chinese, Finnish, Norwegian. Thus, we have no choice but to translate these texts from Russian, English, Polish... Quality and style of the book are preserved," the publisher assures.

One thing is clear: all versions are true and complement each other. While modern Ukrainian literature is entering the XXI century, Ukrainian books in translation still cannot leave behind the XX century. The country lack translators, financing and elementary human decency.

Fighting trash

When will readers finally enjoy high-quality books, and what should happen for publishers and translators to stop cheating?

"Readers must play there role. After buying one, two books with poor translation, they will stop buying such literature and will search for better quality. Moreover, we do have examples of decent transition from Russian to Ukrainian," Volodymyr Vyatrovych says.

Oksana Zabuzhko recommends to set up a boycott to those publishing houses, which publish books in translation from third languages.

In turn, Strongovski cites Japan as an example of fight against poor translation. "At first, readers were criticizing poor translation in social networks, but then went on a mass strike, "storming" the publishing house and demanding to give back their money. As a result, the publisher apologized to readers and announced a new, revised version of translation would be published soon, while the old one would be withdrawn from sale and recycled," he tells.

The writer adds that legal actions are also a good method to influence the situation. "In Russia, for example, publishing houses regularly sue each other, claiming billions of income losses and millions of moral damage."

Summing up, ForUm has gathered the recommendations of experts into a list of rules to follow to choose a book with "right" translation:

1. Take into account that the most quality and interesting translations in Ukrainian were made in the end of 80s - beginning of 90s of XX century.

2. A book must mention the name of the translator and original language of translation.

3. Read some information about the translator and his previous works.

4. Pay attention to the name of a publishing house.

5. Take a quick look at the text. If you find grammar, orthographic and stylistic mistakes, the book has not been edited and is not worthwhile. It is better to search for the same book, but published by a different house.

Daryna Schwartzman


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