Instead of inquiring like a ghost of Walter Benjamin into the task of the translator I propose to review three of the stranger tasks that this translator has had to undertake: taking responsibility for deciding what kind of a person Inspector Maigret really is; understanding why Les Misérables has never been translated into English; and making an Albanian novel more Russian than it is in French. Behind these specific challenges lie larger issues about the field of translation, irrespective of the literary merit of the works in hand.
David Bellos is Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Princeton, where he also directs the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication. He is the author of biographies of Georges Perec, Jacques Tati and Romain Gary, and of an irreverent study of translation in general, Is That A Fish in Your Ear?, which is now also available in French, Spanish and German. His study of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is due out next year.