10 January 2010

19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, by Eliot Weinberger

The idea behind this book is interesting - it's a collection of different translations of one haiku, with commentary on each. It begins with the original, discussing the way the letters look on the page, then provides a trot (what they call a word-for-word rendering, in the translation biz, heh heh), and then 17 different translations.

Now, it is of course (well, to me) fascinating to read so many different versions of one thing. Furthermore, to people such as myself who are unfamiliar with Mandarin, the trot itself is kind of intriguing, just as a perspective on how difficult the translation process is - particularly in the case of poetry.

However, Weinberger's commentary is more annoying than anything else. Yes, he has some interesting observations, but he's so grating that they almost get lost in the mix. As one goodreads reviewer put it - he's just LOUD, especially alongside the tranquil, placid nature of the poem.

I still recommend the book, because hey, it's barely 50 pages - basically the poems, and then a page or so of commentary for each - just be prepared for Weinberger to annoy you, and try to appreciate the good bits.

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