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A comparative study of 9 reviews on Why Translation Matters

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Why Translation Matters, by Edith Grossman, Yale University Press, 160 pages, $27.95This paper makes an analysis of nine book reviews on Western Medias such as New York Review of Books, Sunday Times, The Smart Set”, Global & Mail, The Telegraph, Open Letter Monthly, National Post, Complete Review and The Australian in March and July 2010. The book in question is Why Translation Matters by Edith Grossman, one of the widely acclaimed Spanish translators in the West, whose translation of Don Quixote is both masterpiece and bestseller. With the help of the data collected, the paper summarizes the similarities and differences of translation review and translation criticism, classifies translation review into three types based on reviewer’s profession. In the end, it also summarizes the basic structure of translation review.

Key words: translation review, translation criticism, reviewer, translator

The book reviewed:

Why Translation Matters, by Edith Grossman, Yale University Press, 160 pages, $27.95


In March, 2010, Yale University Press published a book entitled Why Translation Matters by Edith Grossman, one of the widely acclaimed Spanish translators in the West, whose translation of Don Quixote is both masterpiece and bestseller. The following few months saw a great many reviews on the book in the US, Great Britain, Canada and Australia. In order to explore the nature and feature of book reviews, this paper chose nine book reviews to study on Western Medias such as New York Review of Books, Sunday Times, The Smart Set”, Global & Mail, The Telegraph, Open Letter Monthly, National Post, Complete Review and The Australian. With the help of data collected, the paper summarized the similarities and differences of translation review and translation criticism, classified translation review into three types based on reviewer’s profession. In the end, it also summarized the basic structure of translation review.

Study Background

In the first half of last year, the author happened to read an extract from Why Translation Matters and set up to translate it into Chinese with the urge to share thought provoking articles with more Chinese readers. However, the author gave it up for some reasons. Later, while translating “The premature obituary of the book, Why Literature?” by Mario Vargas Llosa, the 2010 Nobel Prize winner, he was surprised to find Edith Grossman was one of the best English translators of this writer. This prompted him to finish the translation task and read more book reviews about this book. Naturally, he took great delight to make a comparative study of these reviews to find something that might shed light to his research about translation criticism.

Prior understanding and theories

As is known to all, any translation activity inevitably involves translation criticism, literary translation criticism has been a heated topic for authors, translators, critics and translation theorists. In contrast, studies on translation book review are much fewer. We have to understand translation criticism before we talk about translation review, but before we understand translation criticism, we have to differentiate literary criticism from literary translation criticism. In his On the Criticism of Literary Translation, Prof. Wang Hongyin gave the definition of literary translation criticism as follows:

“Literary translation criticism is an activity of translation criticism with the translated text as its major object together with the consideration of translator criticism and culture criticism. In principle, literary translation criticism is based on literature criticism, but has obvious differences from the latter. For literature is based on social life, more concerned with thought and content, literature criticism is always of socio-cultural criticism. On the other hand, translation criticism is more concerned with the corresponding relation between translated text and source text, which makes it hard to be separated from intertextuality, word transformation and expression. Although literary translation criticism also involves socio-cultural elements, the ways and functions of their concerns about such factors on many occasions, are quite different except for their particular attention to the factors of influences on the part of translator and author. ” (Wang Hongyin, 2009: 230, translated into English by the author)

Based on different criteria, translation criticism can be classified as follows:

From the perspective of depth, it can be divided into two categories, that is, technical criticism (whether the technique taken is right or wrong, good or not) and theoretical criticism (the exploration of the theoretical foundation and history of the techniques and the illustrations of universal laws to guide the translation practice and account for various phenomena in translation) (Wang Xiaorong, 2005: 81); from the perspective of method, it can be divided into three types, i.e. impressionist criticism, synthetic criticism (comprehensive analysis and main point analysis) and textual criticism (ibid. pp. 86-93); from the perspective of subject, it can be divided into criticism for theorizationmainly theorists, criticism for creationmainly authorsand criticism for translationmainly translators)(Wang Hongyin, 2006: pp.51-60; from the perspective of object, it can be divided into five types, i.e. criticism of translated texts, criticism of translator, criticism of translation events, criticism of translation theory and criticism of translation process; from the  perspective of definition, translation criticism in a broad sense can be divided into four parts, that is, translation appreciation, translation criticism, translation review and translation quality assessment(Xiao Weiqing, 2010: pp.66-68; from the perspective of writing types, it can be divided into book review, letter, essay, thesis(research paper and dissertation), monograph and critical biographyWang Hongyin, 2006: pp. 202-207

It can be seen clearly from the above classification that the relationship between translation book review and translation criticism is that of part and whole, translation book review is one writing type of translation criticism.

Translation criticism is expected to have the function of reading guidance, of quality evaluation, and of ideological guidance.Wang Hongyin, 2006: pp.60-68The basic methods for translation criticism are close reading, sampling, comparative method, logic approach, quantitative method, interpretation, intertextuality, historical study, modeling, and evaluation(ibid: pp. 93-104The basic operation procedure is as follows: 1) reading of the original (to know the edition and types, theme and genre, language and style, influence and effect) 2) reading of the translation (linguistic analysis, perspective of the means of artistic expression and target tracking) 3) comparative study 4) effect evaluation (ST and TT effect, overall and partial effect, internal and external effect), 5) value judgment (translation errors, translationese, creative treason) and 6) angle of commentary (translation style, enlightening and deepening of translation theory, influence of literary communication, impact of cultural communication. (ibid. pp.107-115

What is translation review? What are their functions? Prof. Wang Hongyin pointed that “book review is a common type of criticism, also applicable in translation criticism. Naturally, a good review is expected to tell the background of the discipline and writing, information about the author and publication, contents and special features of the book, its major contributions and inadequacies, and reviewer’s thought-provoking comments.”(Wang Hongyin, 2006: p. 202) In Prof. Wang’s opinion, translation book reviews can be divided into three types, 1) commercial book reviews, whose purpose is to introduce and promote newly published books, it is usually short, concise, clear and persuasive; 2) appraisal book reviews, whose purpose is to stimulate readers’ interest for appreciation, for knowledge as well as for promotion, apart from a brief introduction, it often contains several examples to show the characteristics and achievements of translation as well as the weak points and suggestions for improvement; 3) research book reviews, whose purpose is neither to introduce a book or a person nor to discuss an event or an argument, but to make use of the subject in question to put over one’s own ideas, it often quotes copiously from a great variety of sources to comment freely on important academic trends, to hold up the ways of translators and academics to ridicule. (ibid)

Here, “research book reviews” is quite similar to Song Meng’s “independent book reviews” or “academic book reviews”. In his article “book reviews and reviewer’s embarrassment”, Song Meng said “the real book review belongs to writing or ‘rewriting’. Independent book review is a ‘rewriting’, it exists not only as attachment of the object under discussion, but also as a being of its own life, on some occasions, such reviews’ value may even surpass the book itself, bringing about enlightenment and comfort to the souls as separate reading material… Academic book review is supposed to be the result of academic research, which differs greatly from book introduction or promotion. Its purpose is to deepen our understanding of academic research and promote its development” (Song Meng, 2009).

The functions of translation book review can be simply summarized like this “to introduce latest achievements of theory, to serve as a guide to new directions of translation theory, to help bring forth new ideas for theoretical research in translation studies and to guard against an overflow of academic trash by means of appreciation and criticism.” (Geng Qiang Liang Zhen Hui, 2008)

The above contrast shows that the function of translation criticism is quite similar to that of book review, especially to that of Prof. Wang’s “research book review” or Mr. Song’s “independent book review” or “academic book review.”

Is translation review identical to translation book review? Xiao Weiqing holds the view that translation criticism in a broad sense can be divided into four parts, that is, translation appreciation, translation criticism, translation review and translation quality assessment.(Xiao Weiqing, 2010: pp.66-68Her explanation of translation review is “similar to that of book review, translation review’s purpose is to attract the readers’ attention to newly published works of translation, the reviewer offers his own ideas on whether the book is worth reading or buying, with some uses as reading orientation and guidance.”(ibid. p.70) This explanation is nearly the same with Prof. Wang’s idea about translation book review, but then Xiao goes on with words like the following “the number of translation reviews in its real sense is quite limited, most of them are merely book reviews dressed up as translation reviews. That is, the reviewers focus on the content of the new book or the new work, though there might be some considerations about forms, the translation issues are casually touched here and there in a few words, sometimes even ignore the translator completely. For such reviewers, translated works are read and consumed as if they were source text, translators are often despised and ignored. For translators, is this happy news or vile curses?”ibid. p. 71It seems that Xiao took them as two different things, with a clear contempt for book reviews. But in the author’s opinion, translation review and translation book review is the same, at least is identical to “research book review” or “independent review” or “academic review”. But is this idea justified?

Is Prof. Wang’s classification of translation criticism as criticism for theorizationmainly theorists, criticism for creationmainly authorsand criticism for translationmainly translatorsapplicable to the classification of book reviews? Is it possible for us to divide book reviews into three types in terms of reviewer’s profession, i.e. reviews for theorists, reviews for authors and reviews for translators?

What are the writing methods and basic operation procedures for translation reviews?

Such are the questions for this paper.

Study Method

This paper mainly uses classification and comparison and contrast. Firstly, the author counts and sorts out the objective statistical data, such as the reviewers’ profession, the countries in which the journals are located, length of the reviews, date of publication, their titles. A table was made to show such data. Then, each review is read with great care to identify its structure, main ideas, the reviewer’s inclinations and attitudes. Based on the basic structure of review---introduction, brief summary, background information, critical evaluation and concluding recommendation, the paper mainly studies the evaluations and recommendations of the nine reviews with the intention of exploring the logical relationships between reviewer’s profession and his evaluation and conclusion as well as the similarities and differences of these reviews. The purpose of this paper is to summarize the basic structure of translation review, to highlight its difference from translation criticism and to provide a potentially valuable lesson for translation review writing in China.

Grounds for Comparison

Obviously, due to the time constraints, the nine reviews selected in this paper are all about the same book Why Translation Matters by Edith Grossman. They were all published Western Medias such as New York Review of Books, Sunday Times, The Smart Set”, Global & Mail, The Telegraph, Open Letter Monthly, National Post, Complete Review and The Australian in March and July 2010. From the perspective of the journals’ location, all the major English speaking countries are included, with four reviews in the USA, two reviews in United Kingdom and Canada each, and a review in Australia. From the perspective of reviewers’ profession, all the major professions are included, with four reviews written by editor, three reviews written by translator and two reviews written by author. From the length point of view, the longest review is of 5010 words, the shortest one is of 164 words, with the rest falling within a scope of 800 and 3000 words. From the perspective of review types, commercial reviews, appraisal reviews and research reviews are all presented. From the prestige of the journals, they are all renowned major newspapers and representative literary journals. From the diversity of evaluations, both positive and negative evaluations are presented, with enthusiastic praises and harsh criticisms. These are the grounds for the comparison in this paper.

Findings of Comparison and Contrast

This section is the central part of the paper, comparisons and contrasts are made on the nine reviews successively in five aspects such as length, titles, reviewer’s profession, evaluation and concluding recommendations.

Table 1: Comparison and Contrast of 9 Book Reviews







1 The Complete Review (USA)


M. A. Orthofer




2 The Australian (Australia)


Julie Rose




3 Globe & Mail (Canada)


Bernard Kelly




4 The New York Review of Books (USA)


Tim Parks




5 The Smart Set (USA)


Jessa Crispin




6 Sunday Times (UK)


Edward King




7 The Telegraph (UK)


Michael Hofmann




8 Open letters Monthly (USA)


Krista Ingebretson




9 National Post (Canada)


Philip Marchand




The above table illustrates the details of the reviews’ source, date, reviewer, length, title and reviewer’s profession.Note: For the convenience’s sake, thereinafter, R1 is used to refer to the first review in the table, R2 to refer to the second review, the rest may be inferred.


From the length point of view, the longest review is of 5010 words, the shortest one is of 164 words, with the rest falling within a scope of 800 and 3000 words. R8 is the longest, with 5101 words. However, it is necessary to point that this review covered two books, apart from the book Why Translation Matters, another book Wherever I Lie is Your Bed was also involved, it was a collection of translated poems and essays. The part on Why Translation Matters is about 2620 words. The second longest review is R4, which is of 4178 words. Apart from Grossman’s book, there were three books commented, that is, Best European Fiction 2010, The Novel: An Alternative History, Beginnings to 1600, and Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. The part on Why Translation Matters is of about 1285 words. The third longest review is R1, which is of 2932 words. According to the parts relevant to the book, R1 is the longest one, exceeding R8 (2620) and R4 (1285). Except for the three reviews of more than 2000 words, the rest reviews can be divided into two groups, one is made of reviews more than 1000 words (1370, 1206 and 1185 respectively) and the other is made of reviews fewer than 1000 words (939, 801, and 164 respectively). It can be concluded that most reviews are 800-3000 words long.


Table 2: Titles of the Reviews









A career glossed in translation



New again



America First?



In English, Please?









Adeste Fideles




From the perspective of review titles, five reviews were found to have titles, while the other four did not have titles, or “Review on Why Translation Matters”. As is known to all, a title occupies a conspicuous position that will attract the readers’ attention and indicate what is to come. Generally speaking, a good title should be succinct, eye-catching and novel. Of the five titles, two are questions, “America First?”(R4) and “In English, please?”(R5) indicating the relations of foreign literature and national literature, foreign language and native language, which are closely related to translation. R2’s title “A career glossed in translation” is a pun, the word “gloss” can be interpreted as “shinning and glittering” or “explanation and interpretation”. On the one hand, it illustrates the major task of translation as interpretation, on the other hand, it ironically indicates the harsh reality of translation industry---despised, badly paid and worrisome future. This title itself is hard to translate. R3’s title “New again” shows the recreation of translation, which gives new life to source text. R8’s title “Adeste Fideles” is in Latin, a popular hymn tune for Christmas. It tells the long history of translation and Christianity. It is up to the reviewer to decide whether a title is necessary.

Reviewer’s professions

From the perspective of reviewers’ profession, all the major professions are included, with four reviews written by editor, three reviews written by translator and two reviews written by author. It is necessary to point out that quite a few reviewers have the three roles to play simultaneously, they are editors, but write and translate in spare time; or they are writers, but translate a lot, for instance, Krista Ingebretson, the reviewer of R8, works in publishing, translates poems and takes care of some columns of magazines. Tim Parks, the reviewer of R4 is a British novelist, essayist and translator of Italian literature, and also a professor of literature and translation in IULM University in Milan. In spite of this, differences in focuses of attention and professional prejudices can be seen from the reviews by editors, translators and editors. Editors and authors are likely to ignore translation or belittle translator, translators often have a sympathetic understanding about the problems in translation and tries hard to defend this enterprise. In the succeeding sections, such differences will be presented and analyzed together with the discussion of critical evaluations in these reviews.

Critical evaluation

Reviewers’ evaluations vary greatly, with both positive and negative comments, with both agreements and disagreements, with both enthusiastic praises and harsh criticisms. For the convenience of narration, evaluations are categorized into two types, one is positive, another is negative. As a matter of fact, many reviews have both positive and negative evaluations, sometimes it is rather hard to tell whether the opinion is positive or negative, for the reviewer “makes use of the subject in question to put over his own ideas, he often quotes copiously from a great variety of sources to comment freely on important academic trends, to hold up the ways of translators and academics to ridicule.”(Wang Hongyin, 2006: p.202

Positive evaluations

The four editors’ reviews concentrate on the author’s ideas about translation and her criticism on reviewers, publishers, editors and academics. They unanimously praised the sections on translation of Don Quixote and poetry translation. They thought that the author elaborates her ideas on translation (a creative act of rewriting with its function often ignored or misunderstood (R6), on fidelity (translator’s fidelity is not to lexical pairings but to context, implications and echoes of the first author’s tone, intention and level of discourse. She is all for translator’s being at liberty to do as they see fit (R1), on translator (a writer and a critic combined (R3), criteria for translation (a decent translation must be a bit of both originalist and activist (R3) and the importance of translation (exposure to outside world, horizons of readers and writers expanded, inter-cultural communication promoted, a better world (R1), her complaints about translation being prejudiced (no respect from reviewers (R3). They praised the author for her enthusiasm and passion for translation, acclaimed her as one of the finest literary translators, her translation of Don Quixote as new standard text. They partially agree with her critique of publishers (cultural insularity (R6), of reviewers (careless, not knowing the original language of the book under review, not understanding the difference between TT and ST (R6), simply pointing out errors and inaccuracies (R3), suffering from ‘intransigent dilettantism’ and ‘tenacious amateurism’ (R5)), of editors (‘chauvinism, unforgivable, willful know-nothingness’ R5), of academics (trying to kill off translation R5). These editors all agree that she is at her best when she focuses on the special blend of skills and experiences required to translate, the last two sections “translating Cervantes and translating poetry” are interesting and careful, making a significant contribution to the philosophy and practice of translation (R5). One editor mentions that the appendix “A Personal list of Immortal Translations” is of special value to readers (R1).

Although reviews written by 3 translators also talk about the author’s ideas on translation and her criticism on reviewers, their major concerns are about the prospect of translation industry. They praise the book to be a chatty and pragmatic guide (R8), the author quotes from a surprising large number of her predecessors in translation field to support the idea that translation is the work of the translator, which contributes to the readers’ awareness about the questions of authorship in all areas of literature (R8), the book provides forceful justifications for literature itself (R8), the author answers the fundamental questions about translation’s contribution to the civilized life of the world poignantly, persuasively and with wit, explores the possibilities for why the importance of translation is in need of being stressed (R2), her most intriguing contribution is her search for the adequate metaphor for what translation is, as both a goal and an experience (R8 “translators are like actors who speak the lines as the author would if the author would speak English”), she appeals to “fidelity” as the guiding term for a translator in negotiating between the two (R8), her criteria of good translation (translator’s grand ambition --- readers of translation will perceive the text, emotionally and artistically, in a manner that parallels and corresponds to the aesthetic experience of its first readers, R2). Her criticism on publishers (translation is a minor mechanical exercise that virtually anyone can do), authors (translators are traitors, or to complain about the vital things “lost in translation” in an ugly attempt to exclude translators from the narrow field of original creators), and reviewers (who think translated text is without intervention of any kind, often without the slightest working knowledge of target language R2) arouse their sympathetic response. R8 tries to explore the origin of reviewers’ prejudice. In his opinion, they have two wrong assumptions: 1) translation is not a work of literature, only original text is; 2) translator is mechanically copying a dictionary’s definitions, not making creative choices of her own. Therefore, “all successes in writing are frequently attributed to the author, all failures to the translator.” R2 thinks highly of the author’s criticism about American parochialism, provincialism and the pitiful facts about published translations in the Anglophone world (the overall percentage of translations published is 2 to 3 percent of all products). While she notes the developments of translation studies as a separate discipline, she laments the gap that seems to be widening between the academic scene and the publishing world. R7 forcefully points out that the author’s best thinking about translation and her best defense of translation will be in her translation; the target readers of the book are not translators (they are familiar with her landscape and figures, her likening (translators as performers), her laments (complacency of English only publishers, barbarous snubs of reviewers), her appeals to tenuous and accident prone history of literary cross-fertilization across languages), not biased publishers and reviewers, not the general public (they never mind its problems and pleasures), but writers.

The reviews by the two writers are more concerned with the author’s explanation about the art of translation and the root of translation depreciation. They notice translation’s relatively low position on the cultural totem pole (R9), “culturally catastrophic American isolationism” and its dangerous implications for world peace (R4), American publishers’ special duty to foreign writers (European countries’ translations account for 50 percent of published fiction, much higher than that of the USA (2 or 3 percent) (R4) They agree with the author’s criteria of translation (“readers of translation will perceive the text, emotionally and artistically, in a manner that parallels and corresponds to the aesthetic experience of its first readers” R9) Although they understand the author’s criticism on reviewers (praising the ‘author’s style without acknowledging that the writing is actually the translator’s’ R4), they cried out against the injustice done to the reviewers, for the author herself has not “devised an intelligent way” to review works in translation (R9). Due to the sensitivity of writers, they pay special attention to the author’s exposition on style, go in for her understanding about the translator’s task, that is, to recreate a text in a way that recovers both semantic content and style, awkwardly literal translation and fluently inaccurate translation are simply different manifestations of inadequacy and inevitably result in an unraveling of that tight relationship between style and content that lies at the heart of all literary achievements (R4) R9 is also impressed by the author’s explanation about the reasons for the prejudice against translation. In his opinion, “a glorification of individualism and individual creativity and an emphatic celebration of a narrowly interpreted uniqueness and originality” during the Romantic period are to blame, this is a sharp contrast to the ideas held by writers in the Renaissance (a great age of international literary cross-fertilization)who were acutely aware of the debt they owed translators.”(R9)

Negative Evaluations

The four editors’ reviews are all harsh and caustic criticism (R6 is very short with only 164 words, no negative comments). One review is quite simple, for instance “Grossman’s approach s not theoretical, as she ranges discursively over the usual concerns raised by chiefly literary translation” (R3), while others point out in detail the various inadequacies and defects.

R1 lists the defects as follows: the author “sticks to relatively easy generalizations, and doesn’t dig deeper”, ignores what is lost in translation, does not distinct two types of writers (writers who themselves are translators and those who merely consume translations). R1 also mentions that the author points out the fact that translation seems to have a hard time, but does not wonder very hard about why things are the way they are, only blames the publishers and reviewers without exploring deep enough the differences between translation (no final version) and the original work (final version); completely ignore the fact that many translations are simply bad, many foreign texts were manipulated by translators. R1 argues that the author’s criticism about reviewers is not fair, for they have limited room for the discussion of the translation aspects (Now that she holds the view that translation is “to be differentiated from the original, shouldn’t readers (and reviewers) simply be concerned with how the text stands now, ignoring what it is based on?”). R1 thinks that the reviewer James Wood whom the author chose to praise is not the best example, because this reviewer’s article is nearly 6000 words, which is many times more than newspaper review, giving him enough space for the discussion about translation issues, furthermore, Wood deals with classic works which have many different versions of translation for comparison. R1 points out a serious problem of the book, that is, the author is very selective in the presentation of her material, ignoring a critical review of her translation of Don Quixote, regarding nit-picking or word-focused criticism worthless. R1 spots the flaw in the author’s argumentation---she admits that translation is translator’s writing, but she is unable to deny that it is also the original author’s work, how to treat the text as a version of an original or independent text remains an insurmountable hurdle for her. In the opinion of R1, if the author’s passion were focused on conveying more of the wonders (and weaknesses) of translation and how demand for it might be stimulated, it might have helped convey the theme of this book better.

R5 thinks that the first half of the book is a shame, that is, sections “Why translation matters” and “Authors, translators and readers today”. Although the author tried to show the important role translation had played in the lives of writers and readers, without the understanding of foreign cultures, there can be no flourishing literature, she fails to explain why translation is so underpaid and under-respected. R5 points out that the author ignores the following facts: Publishers won’t put translator’s name on the book cover, fearing it will scare off readers; Many publications won’t review works in translation; translation is usually women’s work, translation fee is miserably low; if you are academic, your translation is not helpful, but even harmful to your chance of getting tenure; translation is often considered an impossible act and philosophically suspect. On the other hand, R5 also scolds the author for failing to mention the current thriving foreign literature scene at independent publishers, at universities and online. Although translators are not as glamorous as they used to be, there is no one who “is going to purposely mispronounce your name just to remind you how unimportant you are.” “It’s easy to complain about how lifeless everything is if you willfully ignore where the action is.” R5 feels sorry for the author who fails to educate and enlighten her audience on how to engage with works in translation, how to think and write about them as well. R5 takes a metaphor to indicate the author’s wrong tactics, “How long are you going to stand outside in your best party dress and hat, banging on the door, howling because you weren’t invited to the party? Why would you even want to be invited?” While admitting that the author “just wants her hard work to be acknowledged and appreciated, and her industry as a whole to be heralded”, R5 thinks it a great pity that the author, a person with a little bit of power, “could have changed the way we think about translation, instead, she chose to complain about bad reviews she’s received while almost completely ignore her own thesis: why translation matters.” According to R5, translation matters for the same reasons art matters, “It opens doors to new worlds and takes us out of our dreary routines and challenges us to challenge ourselves to add more beauty to our lives and rethink what normal is”.

As is expected, compared to reviews by editors, those by translators show more sympathetic understanding to the author, for instance, R2 doesn’t give any negative evaluations.

R7 thinks that the author’s attention is narrowly restricted to medium-range, a more minute scrutiny or a broader perspective would have been better for the reader. Furthermore, R7 considers the author’s passionate defense of literature ‘stodgy, perplexing and uncalled for’. As a translator himself, the reviewer of R7 could not help signing with deep emotion at the disheartening situation of translation industry, for instance, “translators ask for terribly little – just to be read, just to be included, just to be understood – and don’t get it.” He said that translators “are very much alone with their secret pride and their public humiliation, their mean “labour for hire” contracts and their skimpy never-never royalties, their perpetual useless agitation for pennies and credits.” He also worries about translation’s future, “Informed curiosity about other people as expressed in their literature is almost gone. Foreign language departments in universities are being merged and closed – and where else will translators (a sort of chance by-product) come from, or readers?”

Similar to the evaluations made by above mentioned editors, R8 also thinks the first three chapters are not well written, for instance, a number of repetitions, not very logical and deliberate line of argumentation, for lack of integration and well knit organization etc, but comes to her rescue speaking out that they are based on lectures delivered at Yale. While feeling the author’s description about translation and translator hard to understand, R8 put forward the idea that this is not because her images are not striking, or don’t capture her strong perspective, just that translation is something that can only be conveyed through metaphor. When it comes to the ideal of translation, R8 quotes Schleiermacher’s words “who would not rather beget children who are in their parents’ image rather than bastards?” R8 attempts to explore the deep reasons for the prejudice against translation, saying that reviewer’s tendency to deny the translator’s creativity is due to “a deeper nervousness critics and readers share in the presence of a translation’, because the purity “about the original state of a book” might “be muddied or diluted when touched by extra hands”. “Reading translations obliges you to think much more about the behind-the-scenes process of working with words, and to grant a nuanced notion of authorship.” Although the author doesn’t suggest that translation is of a separate genre, R8 thinks that it is much better to put the translator’s name on the cover, to understand his or her contribution to the book than to pretend that a translated novel is not a novel.

The two reviews written by writers evaluate mainly from the literary perspective, both indicating the author’s criticism about reviewers is not fair, because she doesn’t tell the right way of evaluating translation, merely singing the same old tune about literal and free translation.

R4 takes a skeptical attitude towards the American isolationism or imperialism proposed by the author. R4 thinks that Europeans care about American authors not because they are good but because they are American. R4 disagree with the author’s idea spoken by a Nobel prize judge who claims that Europe is still the center of the literary world. R4 says that this is wishful thinking on the Swede’s part. European writers are all extremely anxious to be published in America for world recognition. “Americans translate little, it is partly because all eyes are turned in their direction.” As for contributions by translator, R9 thinks that reviewers should acknowledge translator’s role in contributing to the liveliness of a translated work, R4 regards it futile to seek to establish how much we should be praising the author and how much the translator: “the author wrote a fine story, which inspired the translator to make a fine translation. Of my own translations, I should say that I was always happy when the author got the praise and I escaped mention; it’s self-evident that only a good translation makes it possible for the reviewer to praise the author”. As for the publication of translation, R9 thinks that the author’s criticism is not fair, nowadays “who has time to read all the alleged masterpieces of Canadian and American literature, let alone foreign works?”


This section is often the restatement of the thesis or the final judgment regarding the book after balancing its strengths and weaknesses. Naturally enough, the conclusions are closely related to their evaluations.

While admitting the value of this book, the four editors’ reviews bluntly express their final ideas. When commenting the author’s idea about the task of translator --- to discover and interpret what lurks behind “mere surface” of the text, to unravel its “esthetic mysteries”, R3 cleverly regard this high calling quixotic (foolishly impractical) which reminds us of her masterpiece Don Quixote. Although this disarming little book has various flaws, it serves as the evidence of the author’s sense of mission and translation function. R1 points out the idea without the slightest hesitation that this book is not in the best sense, it only touches upon some important questions and issues, but “dismisses far too much far too easily, making for a rather frustrating read.” R5 takes exception to the author’s endless complaints, argues that “It’s easy to deal with what-should-be’s, but it’s more important to take a good hard look at what actually is. Only then can we start the hard work of improving our lot.” (Note: Being very short, R6 has no recommendation.)

The conclusions of the three translators’ reviews are closely related to the current situation and prospect of translation industry. R8 thinks that the publication of the book itself is something to be celebrated, saying that the book is a breakthrough in how translation issues are talked about, though there might not be many new ideas to the questions discussed. “It is a passionate introduction for our reading and wrestling with the details of translation to move from mere slivers in an anthology to full-length, broad-platform books, and to move from translators’ notes to the pages (or websites) of book reviews, it will be better for all readers, writers, and lovers of the written word.” R2 is not so optimistic as this, but not very pessimistic either. He says that “the business of translating remains a rather lonely one,” it involves laborious work as well as “the sheer exhilaration”. R7 gives a suggestion that the author should imitate Jonathan Swift to give a Modest Proposal, but not to eat babies as food but to eliminate translation completely. As a translator, the author of the paper can not help feeling bitterness and sad about this black humor.

The conclusion of a writer’s review is a cartoon. “In this cartoon, a bewildered translator says to a disgruntled author, “Do you not be happy with me as the translator of the books of you?” The writer’s complex feelings of both love and hate toward his translator are clearly reflected in this quotation. (Note: R4 has no recommendation)


In order to explore the nature and feature of book reviews, to highlight its difference from translation criticism and to provide a potentially valuable lesson for translation review writing in China, this paper chose nine book reviews on the same book Why Translation Matters in Western Medias to study. After making the preliminary objective statistical data, such as the reviewers’ profession, the countries in which the journals are located, length of the reviews, date of publication, their titles, the paper mainly compares and contrasts the evaluations and recommendations of the nine reviews which are classified into three groups based on the reviewers’ profession. Our findings are as follows:

(1)    Translation review and translation book review is the same, at least is identical to “research book review” or “independent review” or “academic review.”

(2)    Translation review is a bridge to link the writers, translators and editors, contributing to the mutual understanding among them by means of exchanging their interests, problems and worries. Its healthy development is indispensible to these professions but also to the whole literary world including publishers, reviewers, academics and general readers. Based on reviewer’s profession, book reviews can be divided into three types, those for theorists, those for authors and those for translators.

(3) Most reviews are 800-3000 words long, with or without a title of its own. Most reviewers are editors, translators or writers. The basic structure of a review consists of sections such as interesting lead, introduction, background information, content summary evaluations and recommendation. The evaluations made by the reviewers can be roughly divided into positive ones and negative ones, such evaluations and resulting conclusions are inevitably influenced by the reviewers’ professions.

Obviously, due to the time constraints, this paper did not cover the situations of translation book reviews in China, which is the research issue for the author in future. It is hoped that the findings in this paper provides a potentially valuable lesson for translation review writing.


[1]. Crispin, Jessa  In English, Please? [N]. The Smart Set  4/3/2010

[2]. Ebrahimi, Behrouz Translation Evaluation in Educational Setting for Training Purposes: Theories and Application[Z]. https://www.translationdirectory.com/articles/article1331.php

[3]. Hofmann, Michael  Review of Why Translation Matters? [N].The Telegraph 15/5/2010

[4]. Hosseini, Tayebeh Sadat Ways of Testing a Translation & Testing and Evaluation in the Translation Classroom https://www.translationdirectory.com/articles/article1699.php

[5]. Ingebretson, Krista  Adeste Fideles[N]. Open Letters Monthly 18/4/2010

[6]. Kelly, Bernard  New again [N]. Globe and Mail 3/5/2010

[7]. King, Edward  Review of Why Translation Matters? [N].Sunday Times 25/4/2010

[8]. Maier, Carol “Reviewing and criticism” [A]. in Mona Baker (ed.) Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies Shanghai: SFLEP 2004 pp.205-210.

[9]. Marchand, Philip  Review of Why Translation Matters? [N].National Post 24/4/2010

[10]. Montgomery, Charles Bad Translation? http://www.ktlit.com/uncategorized/bad-translation

[11]. Orthofer, M.A. Review of Why Translation Matters? [N]. The Complete Review http://www.complete-review.com/reviews/translate/grossme.htm

[12]. Parks, Tim  America First? [N].The New York Review of Books 15/7/2010

[13]. Peha, Steve What Do Book Critics Do? Accessed on Dec 26, 2010 http://www.ttms.org/say_about_a_book/what_do_critics_do.htm

[14]. Peha, Steve Everybody Wants to Be a Critic Accessed on Dec 26, 2010 http://www.ttms.org/say_about_a_book

[15]. Redmond, Dennis “Negative Dialectics Translation Notes” http://www.efn.org/~dredmond/NDTransnotes.html

[16]. Reiss, Katharina Translation Criticism: The Potentials and Limitations Tr by Erroll F. Rhodes Shanghai: SFLEP 2004

[17]. Rose, Julie  A career glossed in translation [N]. The Australian 24/4/2010

[18]. Translation Criticism and Its Criteria [Z].


[19].耿强 梁真惠 “不该遗忘的角落----论‘翻译书评’的地位、作用与形式”[J].《昌吉学院学报》2008年第6




[23].许钧 《文学翻译批评研究》[M].南京:译林出版社 1992

[24].肖维青 《翻译批评模式研究》[M].上海:上海外语教育出版社2010

[25].杨晓荣 《翻译批评导论》[M].北京:中国对外翻译出版公司 2005

Published - July 2011

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