A few weeks ago there was some big news in the Dutch literary scene. Dutch Booker Prize winner Marieke Lucas Rijneveld was chosen to translate Amanda Gorman’s inauguration poem in Dutch. As Rijneveld is white, there was quite some backlash on this decision, as many people thought the job should have gone to a black person. In the end, Rijneveld declined to make the translation and at the moment of writing, I haven’t heard who’s gonna replace them yet.
Personally I’m sympathetic towards the idea that Gorman might best be translated by a black person, but there is one argument against Rijneveld that is even more important to me: Rijneveld is not a translator. They even said their English is pretty bad. Why would the job go to someone who is so badly qualified? Rijneveld is a big name in the current Dutch literary scene, but I hardly believe Gorman would need their help to sell: her performance at the inauguration has made quite an impression on the Dutch public as well.
Today, a friend told me it has also been announced who is going to translate Louise Glück’s latest book into Dutch: Radna Fabias. From what I could find, Fabias does not have any translation experience as well. What is this trend where we keep giving these jobs to unqualified people?
Translation is a skill. It requires thorough knowledge of both languages and a lot of practise. Many Dutch translators have had a university education in the language they’re translating and/or they have done professional courses in translating. Especially literary translations can’t just be done by anybody. But when it comes to translations from English, publishers seem to think that just being able to understand English is enough for a writer to make a decent translation.
To me it seems incredibly disrespectful to the great Dutch translators that we have and who hardly get enough credit as it is. I’m just hoping this is not gonna spread to other languages as well.