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beamish boy
# Дата: 23 Янв 2017 18:20

Translated by Josh Billings
Melville House Publishing, Brooklyn - London, 2015

The following is my email to the above mentioned publishers.

Josh Billings' botched translation of a Russian Sci-fi classic

Dear Sir/Madame:

I request you kindly to forward this email to one of your authors, Mr. Josh Billings. His attempt at translating the classics of Russian Sci-fi, Strugatsky brothers, in form of The Dead Mountaineer's Inn (2015) was a completely botched effort.

I will not even dwell on the unique elegance of style of the famous Russian authors to which Mr. Billings' translation never comes anywhere close; that task so far proved to be insurmountable in all of the attempted English translations of their books. Mr. Billings however failed even in a required task of rendering a coherent story. His errors start right with the epigraph where he is completely unable to convey authors' irony and continue throughout the whole book. Let me give you just one but very characteristic and striking example of utter nonsense that so often resulted from what I can only call negligence.

I refer to a short episode on pp. 55-56 in which the protagonist, Inspector Glebsky, together with Simon Simone try to figure out the gender of "the kid" by laying a verbal trap. I mean Glebsky says that he lays his trap for the kid but this trap is nowhere to be seen. There is some dialog about kid's recent activities in the pantry and that's it. And the reader is left to wonder why Glebsky and Simone were clearly disappointed in the results. After all they apparently didn't do anything to get an answer to their riddle.

That is a result of Mr. Billings completely missing the above mentioned trap in the Russian original. You see, in Russian the verbs in past tense have gender, so when Glebsky asks (in Russian) "What did you do in the pantry?" he expects that any normal answer will betray the gender of the answering person. Like for "I drunk coffee" the "Я пил кофе" would have been an answer by a boy but "Я пила кофе" would have been the one by a girl.

I realize this is not so easy to convey in English and the task of the translator should have lay in the invention of a different word trap for the same purpose, the one that would have worked in his language. Failing that Mr. Billings could have omitted this episode completely. That would be a pity of course but still comparatively significantly better than leaving the reader with the nagging suspicion that the "famous Russian Sci-fi authors" are probably complete idiots who have written the utter nonsense. While of course the honor of doing that really belongs to Mr. Billings.

Sincerely yours,

beamish boy

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