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A collection of mistakes"

Anna Hodosh

(an attempt to compare critically AST translations and English original version)


We are all grateful to "AST Publisher House" for their efforts in presenting Bujold's works to Russian readers.

But it's a shame there are some shortcomings and errors in their translations which don't allow Russian public to appreciate these books in all their glamour and brilliance.

Therefore a group of enthusiasts decided to carry out this translation anew, carefully verifying with the original and consulting with each other. It's a non-commercial project but first of all we care about readers for whom the original version is not available.

The reason for undertaking this task is mentioned below. I'd like to present you a remarkable errors collection made by AST translators. I don't mean stylistics but only numerous factual mistakes such as added, missed or wrong translated.

As to me, the most indicative example of such negligence is a translation of the parade uniform colour. In original text it's invariably Barrayarian Emperor House colour, the "red-and-blue". But evidently it was too monotony for our translators, and there you are:

"Servicemen sported a crimson and sky blue parade uniform. "
"...robeless men who wore the red and blue parade uniform of active Imperial service."
("The Warrior Apprentice")

" Admiral and lieutenant wore the parade red and brown uniform"
"They were both thoroughly scrubbed, shaved, cut, combed, and chromatically blinding in their formal red-and-blue Imperial parade uniforms." .
("Barrayar")

(I feel like crying out "Down with Barrayarian communist party!"). However, even in another translation ("Memory") I saw the third variant - "red and white" parade uniform. Perhaps in Russian translators group at least an anti-Emperor conspiracy was growing because to distort both the House colors and the generic name means to put the insult. Precisely as it is inadmissibly to name a Lord a Count (just this title was appropriated to the colonel Vorredy in "Cetaganda" by the translator). One would regard it as trivialities - but, for example, when we fans had debates about kinds of existing military uniform, such disorder in translations impeded us vastly.

Or the Vordarian House colors are called either " brown and gold" or even "beige and gold" (!) (in original text - "maroon and gold "). "Maroon" is a colour like dark red and brown both, it's claret, purple, dark red wine (I know the same color of lipstick), but it isn't brown. Not without reason Vordarian troops were wearing a red-and-yellow IDs on a sleeve and Vorkosigan people - the brown-and-white ones. Red (neither brown nor beige!) was as close as they could come to maroon. But the translator lost this hint.

Not only the House colours suffered from translation mistakes. When I read "Shards of Honor" in Russian I remembered well a rather "romantic" description of gray-green Serg and Ezar Vorbarra's eyes. To my great surprise in the origin I saw "hazel eyes". "Hazel" means light brown, "nut" colour (if to keep to figurativeness literally). How was it possible to make such a mistake if now this English word is perfectly known even to children who buy chocolate bars with a large inscription "hazelnut" on the wrapper?

However, some more noticeable examples. They are not single word but entire ridiculous blocks due to extremely unlimited translators' imagination.

1. Miles and Ivan ("The Warrior Apprentice") arrive to the Council Session, landing in a parking area of the Vorhartung Castle, and Imperial guards notice them.

" One of sentries put the hand on his holster. "Welcome home" Miles congratulated himself. "

At once it seemed rather strange for me that the Lord-heir and Regent's son for some reason regards the behavior of an armed man who sees him and catches the weapon without any occasion as habitual and "home".

See origin:

"One's fingers twitched into a devil's horns, down by his side; he had a countryman's face. Miles sighed inwardly 'Welcome home'. "

The phrase gets completely other shade of meaning and becomes logical. Now it isn't a parody on "paranoidly armed up to teeth" Barrayar but the echo of old superstitions, which were mentioned in the first lines of this book ("...At least Kostolitz did not make hex signs at him, like a certain decrepit old countrywoman down at Vorkosigan Surleau. ")

2. This is one more strange little trait of Barrayar created exclusively by translators. Count Vordrozda seizes his needler in the Council Chamber but, alas, this act has not resulted in anything good. Miles makes his comments:

" Only on Barrayar you risk to lose support instead of finding it when you threat with the charged weapon."

How interesting it is! "Only on Barrayar", you say? And on what planet you can enlist the followers and win the allies having threatened them with the weapon?

Absurd? Certainly - because in the origin it is said an absolutely other thing:

"Only on Barrayar would pulling a loaded needier start a stampede toward one."

Vor lords' instinctive reaction - to shield Emperor with their own bodies and to punish the infringer - proved to be more strong than the similarly instinctive fear and played a bad trick on Vordrozda.

3. Let's continue. Read "Barrayar" - Cordelia makes herself comfortable and

"... using a Barrayarian-Betan phrase-book she got down to the heavy handbook on newborn care. "

This "phrase-book" at once caused me heaps of questions: 1) Is it comfortable to read a special, awfully thick, book and a "paper" phrase-book at the same time (as far as I know a phrase-book is a little pocketbook for travelers containing phrases such as "How far is it from the airport?")? 2) Do barrayarians and betans really speak different languages? 3) At last, didn't she find any reference edition in the up-to-date form on such a popular subject?

Already having my bitter experience I open the English text and I see the following:

"Cordelia divided her time between a Barrayaran Russian phrase earbug, and an even more intimidating disk on child care. "

I do not know why this course was written in Russian - perhaps, the most known Barrayarian professor of obstetrics was one of our compatriots. But, at least, this text makes clear the purpose of this "micro-translator" by means of which Cordelia understood colloquial Russian speech. This little thing was mentioned in LMB books more than once - for example, they were used during the formal reception in the Barrayarian embassy on Earth ("Brothers in arms"), because Lairubian guests spoke only Arabian.

4. Let's go further - "The Warrior Apprentice" again. Miles, angry with the whole world, imagines an episode from Old Times: he is a terrible villain who stole a maiden and a brawny hero arrives to rescue her:

"... so then, Kostolitz's swords against - say - Miles's dagger. A dagger is the most proper villainous weapon. By means of it you can indeed clear up the space around you. "

I wonder how the translator fancies a duel "sword against knife"? How can you "clear up the space" using dagger unless you get underfoot of your enemy and sting their vulnerable heels? A dagger is a proper weapon of a spy, conspirator, or murderer but by no means a weapon of a "villain".

In the original another weapon was actually mentioned - a morningstar:

" ... A morningstar was a proper villainous weapon. It gave the concept of one's personal space some real authority."

A morningstar is a spiked iron ball on a chain. Twisting it around you head you really create a barrier which a few people dare to overstep. But this thing requires of you a greater physical force than a mere dagger; this is a next gentle hint to the fact that Miles think inside his head he is a superman two meters tall... A hint irreparably lost in Russian.

However, a Russian translators not only add something to the text but every now and then they cut it off at their own discretion.

I cannot find some sensible reasons for this reduction of the text. Who objected to mentioning that Rulf Vorhalas was about 50 years old (in Russian - merely "elderly"), or that Count Vordarian was about forty years old and dark-haired? That was the secret that the betrothed of the Maiden of the Lake was the latterly famous General Count Selig Vorkosigan, or that one of Drou's brothers name was Jos? Why the Russian reader has no right to know that Lord-Regent Vorkosigan cared out the direct Imperial tax on inheritances right away after his confirmation, or that Cordelia had a Consort title as his spouse?

One more example. Choosing in Siegling's shop a swordstick for Koudelka Cordelia names his height with military clearness - "about six-foot-four" (well, a Russian translator could say "one meter eighty tall"). This detail is essential - a sword, as well as a suit, should fit your height perfectly well, - but in the translated text it was inexplicably replaced for the uncertain "above medium height".

By the way, in the same episode one more interesting detail was missing. This is a quotation from the RUSSIAN text:

" - Very well. Send the bill to my husband. Admiral Aral Vorkosigan, Vorkosigan House. While you're about it you can explain why you tried to pass off sleaze on his wife. ""

And here the paragraph ends. And in the original you can see the following:

... to pass off sleaze on his wife -Yeoman." This last was a guess, based on his age and walk, but she could tell from his eyes she'd struck home.

On the one hand, this detail is an obvious and charming cue to the Sherlock Holmes stories (remember, how Holmes and Watson look at the window and guess about professions of passers-by...). On the other hand it allows to find out something else about Cordelia: how efficient she is with manipulating people and how perfected her "army" skills are.

Why is this piece missing in the translation ? Didn't the translator really understand a rather rare word "yeoman" (in the dictionary it has two senses - the "farmer" and the "master sergeant in the navy forces" at the same time)? But, first of all, a bad knowledge of language can't justify such a mistake, and secondly, it is little probable - the same translator dealed with this term without any problems earlier, in " Shards of Honor" (yeoman Nilesa).

Some more interesting examples - again from "The Warrior Apprentice".

On Beta they discuss Baz Jezek's destiny. Miles explains to the Betan what the desertion is for the Barrayarian soldier.

"Desertion in action," said Miles. "If he gets extradited home, he'll be quartered."
"What's it?"
"He'll cut in four pieces.
"

Well, Barrayar is a severe world, but all the same it seemed always strange to me that already under the enlightened Lord-Regent Aral or even later somebody could be punished capitally in that savage, cruel, medieval way. And at last I look in the original:

"Desertion in the heat of battle," said Miles. "If he gets extradited home, the penalty's quartering. Technically."
"That doesn't sound so bad," Hathaway shrugged. "He's been quartered in my recycling center for two months. It could hardly be worse. What's the problem?"
"Quartering," said Miles. "Uh--not domiciled. Cut in four pieces."

Of course, at first glance this pun of the word "to quarter" (it means "to execute", and "to domicile", and "to slice four ways" at the same time) is hardly to reproduce. But it's possible! From my point of view, it was a gross blunder not to mention that quartering was rather nothing but a formality, because it has distorted all the sense of this remark.

One more episode - Miles is fainting when Arde's liquor at last had an effect on him.

"Oh, was that liquor of yours a stimulant?" asked Elena. "I wondered why he didn't fall asleep."
- "Couldn't you tell?" chuckled Mayhew.

A clever, astute Mayhew and an naive Elena?... But looking in the original text we found out that the dialogue doesn't end with these words. Two more remarks change it radically:

- "Not really"...
Mayhew's laughter faded. "My God" he said hollowly. "You mean he's like that all the time?"

At once it becomes clear whose was the final word and what Arde thinks now about his newly-found liege lord. But for some reason our readers are not allowed to know that.

And, at last, the most impressing lacuna in the text (at least, among found till now). Miles accompanied by Sergeant Bothari is returning home after his miserable failure on physical tests. And without any reason he starts a conversation about Elena's dowry - a silly, strange conversation leading Bothari to inappropriate reflections.

The trouble is that the translator missed some paragraphs - almost one page in my pocketbook. We offer this text to your attention:

Miles decided he definitely didn't like the new anti-grav crutches, even though they were worn invisibly inside his clothing. They gave his walk a slithery uncertainty that made him feel spastic. He would have preferred a good old-fashioned stick, or better yet a sword-stick like Captain Koudelka's that one could drive into the ground with a satisfying thunk at each step, as if spearing some suitable enemy-Kostolitz, for example. He paused to gather his balance before tackling the steps to Vorkosigan House.

Minute particles in their worn granite scintillated warmly in the autumn morning light, in spite of the industrial haze that hung over the capital city of Vorbarr Sultana. A racket from farther down the street marked where a similar mansion was being demolished to make way for a modem building. Miles glanced up to the high-rise directly across the street; a figure moved against the roofline. The battlements had changed, but the watchful soldiers still stalked along them.

Bothari, looming silently beside him, bent suddenly retrieve a lost coin from me walkway. He placed it car fully in his left pocket. The dedicated pocket.

One comer of Miles's mouth lifted, and his eyes warmed with amusement. "Still the dowry?" "Of course," said Bothari serenely. His voice was deep bass, monotonous in cadence. One had to know him long time to interpret its expressionlessness. Miles knew every minute variation in its timbre as a man knows his own room in the dark.

No comments.

Sometimes there's no sense in the text although the text doesn't miss a single letter. It happens because phrases translated literally, as though the translator doesn't feel a self-quoting which is rather common in Bujold's books. Here Cordelia meets Admiral Vorrutyer for the first time and identifies herself:

" Captain Cordelia Naismith, Betan Expeditionary. We are a military party. Combatants." The joke made no impression on him.

Tell me, is there really any joke in her words? That's a common short military report. Nothing to be impressed of. "Not funny". But in the original it sounds differently: "This private joke of course passed by him"

And this hint makes everything clear. Cordelia just periphrases the words which she addressed to the first-met Barrayarian, Aral Vorkosigan: "Commander Cordelia Naismith. Betan Astronomical Survey. We are a scientific party," she emphasized accusingly. "Non-combatants." .

And not only self-quoting! The translator doesn't care much about quotation from English classics.

Here for conspiracy reasons Miles pretends to stage a 'certain' ancient play together with Elena:

Now, after the line "Give me this reward" you would say "Whole-heartedly, and how I'm glad to see you repenting"... .

It doesn't look like poetry, does it? Although in the original it is not "a certain play" - it's an extract from "Richard III" by Shakespeare, Act 1 Scene 2. Richard tries to charm Lady Anna:

- 'Grant me this boon.'
- 'With all my heart; and much it joys me too,
to see you are become so penitent.'

Was it too difficult to give a perfect Russian classical translation? Probably not - if they had known that it was by Shakespeare.

We could understand Miles' nature better if we had realized that "Richard III" is one of his favorite plays. The play about a power-obsessed, ugly, smart, charming evildoer hero. Miles knows it by heart and can retell it even in panic.

There are several more quotations from "Richard III" in the Saga and every time the translators pretend not to recognize the archaic Shakespearean English in the modern language and even confuse "Richard III" with "Hamlet" ("Brother in Arms", the fast-penta interrogation).

September 2000