Sunday, March 14, 2010

Canada Reads (In English)

My hate-on for Jian Ghomeshi and this year's CBC Canada Reads panel has abated in the last few months. I didn't listen to the round-table debates this year, for the first time since I became a pretentious, CBC-listening literati so many years ago. So I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Nikolski had taken the tournament's top honors this weekend.

I discovered this by reading an electronic billboard in the Chapters at Granville and Robson. When I got over my initial reaction ("Oohhhh pretty colours!") I was doubly pleased to notice that the winner was indeed the only book in contention that wasn't a typical piece of Can-Lit canon fodder.

"Excellent!" I thought to myself. "So the competition wasn't a complete waste of time this year, and may even have met its supposed goal to bring the average Canadian's attention to a novel that would otherwise disappear into obscurity!"

Unfortunately, once I managed to find a copy of Nikolski in the store, I saw it had been marked down to ten dollars (a bargain-bin price if there ever was one in the world of Indigo-Chapters). Worse yet, the Canada Reads sticker was squarely covering the translator's information on the novel's cover.

The Canada Reads website, thankfully, has translator Lazer Lederhendler's name all over it. I don't mean to undermine the work of the novel's original French author, Nicolas Dickner, but rather to point out that the Can-Lit Powers That Be have a bad habit of down-playing the role of quality translation in the final production of an English language novel. As anyone who has ever had to struggle through the early translations of Pierre "Class Classifies the Classifier" Bordieu's works on communication theory knows, no matter how good the original work is, a shoddy translation can render it virtually unreadable. There exist a wealth of examples of well-publicized botched translations of non-fiction (Simone de Beauvior, anyone?), but when it comes to fiction the role of the translator is often treated as though it is a lesser occupation than the original author's, or somehow less creative.

While I still disagree with the majority of the selections in this year's head-to-head, the trumpeting of Lazer Lederhendler's creative role in the creation of the English version of Nikolski is one of the things Canada Reads 2010 has done right.

I may have allowed my ire to get the best of me when the competition debuted a dew months back, but the championing of Nikolski provides a small glimmer of hope that Canada Reads can regain its relevance with the cultural debate on what Canada should be reading, instead of just re-hashing what it already has stacked on the back of the toilet.

Until then, we can all thank god for the Tournament of Books. What it lacks in Canadian content, it makes up for in, oh I don't know, relevance? Intrigue? Innovation?

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