Apropos of today’s Bulgakov discussion contrasting the opening paragraphs of the Ginsburg and Glenny translations of Master and the Margarita, a reader writes:
BTW, the Russian original is, literally, “chewed,” not “crumpled.” Ginsburg, being a native Russian, is obviously concerned here about translating too literally, not being sure whether “chewed” works in English.
Also, I wonder where they both got “sneakers” from. The Russian word is “slippers” (something one wears only at home), which adds to the picture of slovenliness.
The “cowboy” v. “tartan” is interesting: the Russian word is “kovboyka,” which, literally means cowboy shirt. But in the Russian of that time this was a common word for a large category of what we would now call polo shirts, not worn by those with sartorial taste. A literal translation doesn’t work. Tartan is better. But neither fully conveys the picture.
It’s always interesting to see how translators go about their work. Having read and compared many originals and translations, I would say that on the whole, nine times out of ten the superior translation will be the one done by the translator who is translating into his native language, as opposed to from his native language.
I find this sort of thing fascinating. So many thorny issues in a single paragraph — let alone a chapter, a novel.