Metaglossia: The Translation World
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Metaglossia: The Translation World
News about translation, interpreting, intercultural communication, terminology and lexicography - as it happens
Curated by Charles Tiayon
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His Father’s Best Translator

Dmitri Nabokov, the only child of the novelist Vladimir Nabokov, died in Switzerland in the first hours of Thursday, Feb. 23. Like his father, Dmitri went — in the words of one of his attendants — “light as a butterfly.” Like his father 35 years ago, and at 77, almost the same age (they were both buried at 78), he succumbed to a pulmonary infection. He had been a professional opera singer, and a racer of fast boats and faster cars. But according to his own father, whom he often referred to as “Nabokov,” he had also been — perhaps above all else in the end — his “best translator,” devoting the last two decades of his life to translating his father’s earlier work from Russian to English and Italian.
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Courtesy of the Estate of Vladimir Nabokov
Vladimir and Dmitri Nabokov.

Times Topic: Vladimir Nabokov
Our friendship had begun 10 years earlier, when I interviewed him for a literary review. I was stunned, the first time he opened the door to his home at the Résidence Rossillon in Montreux, by the resemblance between father and son. This was the only time I ever saw Dmitri standing. Several months later, he could no longer leave his wheelchair, and though, with an optimism to match his father’s, he insisted he might walk again, he never did.!
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From the Archives: Vladimir Nabokov on the Art of Translation

Thirty-five years ago today, Vladimir Nabokov died in Montreaux, Switzerland. The acclaimed entomologist and prose master had a habit of believing in fortuitous coincidences—he famously took pride in sharing a birthday with Shakespeare and being born a century after Pushkin. Nabokov’s interest in these concurrences was more than petty fascination; it was inseparable from his love of fondling details. In this essay, which appeared in the August 4, 1941 issue of the magazine, Nabokov articulates his philosophy of translation as a balancing act between the fidelity of the scholar and the artfulness of the poet—themes he would further develop in his translation of Eugene Onegin and the novel Pale Fire. To translate a work of literature, he argues, is to confront and assimilate the voice of the author, a game with “perfect rules” but no promise of perfection.!
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