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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Diplomacy of Translation
To judge by its premise, the respected Professor Eco wrote one of the most brilliant books. Many authors before him (George Orwell, e.g.) and including him (Eco, 'On Literature') attempted to answer the question 'how I write', but hardly anyone asked themselves 'How am I being translated into foreign languages, and what do I think about it?'. Admittedly, to ask this...
Published on 2 Aug. 2006 by Julia Shuvalova

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing for the serious student
Those who expect some new insight or a deeper understanding of translation will be disappointed. This book mostly states the obvious - what everyone with some translation experience already knows, for instance that translation is not just about languages, but it takes place between texts and involves cultures and negotiation between them. Among other trivial aspects...
Published on 6 Dec. 2010 by Stefano Cotrozzi


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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Diplomacy of Translation, 2 Aug. 2006
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This review is from: Mouse or Rat?: Translation as Negotiation (Hardcover)
To judge by its premise, the respected Professor Eco wrote one of the most brilliant books. Many authors before him (George Orwell, e.g.) and including him (Eco, 'On Literature') attempted to answer the question 'how I write', but hardly anyone asked themselves 'How am I being translated into foreign languages, and what do I think about it?'. Admittedly, to ask this question one needs to be able to answer it, and without Eco's knowledge of foreign languages it is impossible. If, however, like him, a reader knows at least one more language, apart from his native one, then 'Mouse or Rat?' will be an engaging, at times merely hilarious, reading. Bearing in mind Eco's long-standing research into semiotics of language, literature and philosophy, this monograph of his is at times a curious self-assessment of Eco the linguist, philosopher, writer and, in fact, translator.

This 'personal' aspect must always be remembered. In spite of drawing general conclusions, the book is often an analysis of Eco's own experience in engaging with professionals who translated his works. Eco argues - powerfully and convincingly - that translation is a negotiation between two cultures, and not merely two linguistic systems, which thesis cannot, of course, be regarded as the new word in Translation Studies. Strictly speaking, he does not attempt to formulate any new ideas, and shows great respect to Steiner's `Before the Babel'. His main goal is therefore to illustrate the application of different translation techniques (ekphrasis, rewriting, foreignising and domesticating of the source text, adapting for screen, etc.) to a variety of texts and then to analyse the results from the point of accuracy and equivalence.

As I indicated above, if a reader commands at least one foreign language, then Eco's book will be an interesting reading, not to mention the fact that the reader's awareness of the limitations and opportunities of his first and second languages may become more acute. However, bearing in mind his belonging to the so-called Joycean tradition in literature, one cannot help thinking at times, how much each of Eco's readers benefited from the author's availability for consultation and advice, as it is evident how many gems of the Master's unrivalled erudition could be lost (or, indeed, were lost).

Among the book's most inspirational and engaging passages are the analysis of Joyce's extract from 'Finnegans Wake' and its translation into French and Italian; the analysis of a poem `A Silvia' by Leopardi and its rendering into French; the exploration into the pains of a translator working on Dumas's novels, etc. The only problem the reader may encounter is the layout of the book, mainly the alteration between regular and bold fonts and italics, for purposes of highlighting various instances of translation.

Nevertheless, for an unexperienced reader 'Mouse or Rat?' will possibly be one of the best introductions to Translation and Language Studies, and even to Litetary Criticism. Despite its complexity and the monstrous abundance of examples, its basic idea is terribly simple - besides the knowledge, the key to a successful translation (and, in fact, writing) is one's sensitivity to language. This ability to 'sense' the opportunities and limitations of the source language and of the target language, so as to achieve the best possible equilibrium, makes a translator a true diplomat, a messenger between his own cultural milieu and that of the source text.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing for the serious student, 6 Dec. 2010
By 
Stefano Cotrozzi (Bergheim) - See all my reviews
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Those who expect some new insight or a deeper understanding of translation will be disappointed. This book mostly states the obvious - what everyone with some translation experience already knows, for instance that translation is not just about languages, but it takes place between texts and involves cultures and negotiation between them. Among other trivial aspects discussed are problems posed by ambiguities in the source text and the role of homonymy, world schemata and the importance of the context for the choice of the right word (e.g. "topo" is an adequate translation of "rat" in "Hamlet", act III, scene iv, but not in Camus's "La Peste" where "ratto" would better fit the context). The main value of this book consists in the numerous examples offered, which, however, are only drawn from French, Spanish, English and - much more rarely - German. It would have been quite interesting to examine some Non-Indo-European language associated with a cultural background markedly different from our own, but unfortunately no such example is provided.

The value of some praised solution is at least debatable (e.g. the "translation" of dialect, invented or not) and most exegeses presented by Eco are merely hypotheses, even if plausible ones, which the author however often fails to pursue in more detail, others are simply speculative or outright wrong as the example taken from Rev. 4:6 (pp. 163-165).

Intertextuality plays a major role in Eco's books and poses quite a challenge to the translator. This is the most interesting topic discussed in the book. However, here too the solutions presented are sometimes, to say the least, debatable. What is more, the downside is almost never discussed appropriately, e.g. the rendering of Latin quotations in Church Slavonic in the Russian version of "The name of the Rose". Surely, it has much to commend it, as Latin words would not carry any religious connotation to the Russian audience, but how are Western monks living in Italy in the Middle Ages supposed to be familiar with Church Slavonic? The characters in "The Island of the Day Before" indirectly quote pieces of Italian Baroque poetry while the Spanish translation uses literature of the Siglo de Oro. In defence of this approach Eco affirms that although the references are to Spanish and not Italian poetry "the story takes place in a historical period where Northern Italy was largely under Spanish influence" and that the Spanish material was poorly known. But if so and if the translator "made a collage of different texts, so that it was difficult even for Spanish readers to identify the sources" what's the meaning of this "partial rewriting", as Eco calls it. The American translator's approach who "translated the original verses literally" seems more sensible to me.

The presentation of the material is not organised from a translator's point of view, but rather stems from literary categories, e.g. the problems discussed under the heading hypotyposis are not in any way directly connected to it, but simply refer to the difficulty of finding a translation which adequately brings out details playing an important role in a given context. The flow of the argument is at places difficult to follow because of numerous asides and because the authors jumps from one topic to the next without a seemingly clear connection.

German and Russian words are often misspelled (e.g. Predigter for Prediger or ostrannenija instead of ostrannenije) and the references are not always correct (e.g. the reference to H.C. Conklin, note 9 on page 193, is not Southern Journal of Anthropology ii (1955), pp. 339-42 but Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 11 (1955), pp. 339-44.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eco - the challenge, 10 Nov. 2004
By 
Brigitte Hilgner (Vienna Austria) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Mouse or Rat?: Translation as Negotiation (Hardcover)
I guess that every professional translator has an author whose books he/she would love to translate. I have always felt such a desire regarding the books of Umberto Eco. As far as his novels are concerned, "Mouse or Rat?" managed to kill this desire once and for all.
The book does not only tell us a lot about translating, but about the author, too. It is a great book insofar as it makes it clear that translating is a skill, an artform, and bloody hard work, because you really have to weigh your words. Translating is not only about languages and being able to manage at least two of them, it also requires a profound knowledge of the civilization, culture, and everyday life these languages are inseparably connected with. The book makes it clear that translating is not something which virtually everyone can do (you wouldn't believe how many expat housewives with kids who can't get a job in the country their husbands have been sent to start working as so-called "translators" as soon as they have a smattering of the language of their new home country!), but that it should be left to the experts. This revelation alone should make the book compulsory reading for everyone who wants to use the services of a translator.
I found Eco's comments about his own work, especially his novels, most fascinating. Nobody who reads them can ignore the fact that he pours an awesome lot of knowledge into these books and that he secretly hopes that the reader will not just read and enjoy the story for its own sake but recognise the book as a kind of roman-à-clef. In "The Island of the Day Before" the characters indirectly quote pieces of Italian Baroque poetry ("spot the poem") and every chapter has the title of a 17. century book ("spot the book") - a challenge not only to the reader of the original but also to every translator. (To be fair: Eco seems to offer support to his translators, but even so their task is a daunting one.)
"Sometimes I ask myself if by chance I write novels purely in order to put in hermetic references that are comprehensible only to me. I feel like a painter who, in a landscape, puts among the leaves of the trees - almost invisible - the initials of his beloved. And it does not matter if not even she is able to identify them."
I am not sure how seriously this comment of Eco's should be taken, but it put me off his novels. I do like a challenge, but as a translator I fervently believe in making a text comprehensible to the reader; I am not sure that Eco would want me to do this and I doubt that I would enjoy trying to do it in the case of his books.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Casually interesting titbits, too difficult for the masses, 13 Aug. 2012
Whilst I can't claim to have had massive expectations from this book, the author's reputation, experience, and the subject matter piqued my interest at first glance. This book is a collection of essays roughly sewn together reflecting the author's personal experiences in the field of translation, either via conversations and experiences with translators and translations of his own works, or through translating by his own hand.

As a collection of personal reflections collected together in essay form, there are plenty of interesting and oft amusing anecdotes which Eco ties together to support his thesis of translation as a form of negotiation between cultures. Relying to a large extent on examples taken from the various translations of his own works, he illustrates how the idea of translation must be seen through the capacity of the medium. That is to say that a language provides only a limited resource, and one rooted in its culture, which makes the art of translation a constant battle, a question of compromise, of content and connotation, of rhyme and register, of familiarity and foreignness. Eco's own works provide plenty of toothy work for the translator, which he here amply dissects and compares, and these are at times supplemented by no lesser fry than the likes of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake (Penguin Modern Classics), for example.

Eco's thesis notwithstanding, there are problems with the book which for me detracted from its enjoyment. Firstly, as some other reviewers have pointed out, there are some pretty steep language requirements in order to really be able to fully understand many of Eco's examples. Italian is, naturally, the most often quoted language, along with French and Spanish as a Romanic trio of languages, and German crops up on occasion. In the case of the latter, there were a number of obvious mistakes in the book, which no doubt rest to a large extent on it not being one of Eco's stronger suits. Indeed, although nominally a work exploring translation as a whole, the author's own (albeit impressive) lingual skills narrows it down to an investigation of translation between Romance languages and English, with really very little mention of non-Indo-European languages or cultures, where far more interesting problems doubtless arise.

Another important detractor is that as the book is a compilation of essays based on a lecture series, rather than one contiguous treatise, there were numerous occasions where Eco repeated himself relatively excessively. One example which springs to mind is his quotation of W. V. Quine that a sentence such as "neutrinos lack mass" is for some languages of the world untranslatable, a quotation which crops up three or four times in different essays.

One final criticism, although this is certainly more a matter of taste, is that with all that brain power, Eco tends to write with a lot of hubris. Another commenter quoted an excellent line which I think sums it up nicely: "Sometimes I ask myself if by chance I write novels purely in order to put in hermetic references that are comprehensible only to me. I feel like a painter who, in a landscape, puts among the leaves of the trees - almost invisible - the initials of his beloved. And it does not matter if not even she is able to identify them." For all the fascination that the subject of translation has to offer, discussing the translation of symbols invisible to everyone but the author is certainly the most abstract and esoteric topic the author could have chosen to concentrate on.

Ultimately this book offers a very interesting read, but only for the right, qualified reader. I should say a command of at least one Romance language is a must, as well as a reasonable familiarity with the field of translation. For the uninitiated, a more basic but also more thorough and elaborate investigation of the world of translation can be found in the recent Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A self-reflecting tool, 25 Oct. 2007
By 
R. Buonocore (Shandong Province, China) - See all my reviews
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I am doing MA in Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literature and for my thesis i am carrying out a detailed comparative analysis of a Chinese novel and its English translation. To aid me in my comparative studies i am researching translation theories as a tool for my comparative analysis and as a stepping stone for further development of literary translation theories.

Umberto Eco's "Mouse or Rat?" provides a selection of notes based on Eco's experiences in the translation of literature and poetry which are mainly European oriented. The author questions the "faithfulness" of a translation due to the type and degree of "negotiation" activity lying between translator, reader, author and publisher. There is also great emphasis on the author's semiotic point of view towards the nature and complexity of translation.

This book is a good tool for providing student translators, professional translators and theorists of translation an idea of how we translate, why we translate and for what purposes. The author does not provide solid grounds for translation theories. On the contrary, by observing and discussing translating and translation from a variety of angles, the author questions the very problem that the reader him or herself is searching throughout the book. Whether the reader found the answer to their problem depends entirely on how much they reflected upon the questions raised throughout the book, and of course how much they "desire" to find that answer. For me, i certainly found a few answers which i myself will continue to develop in my thesis research.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A pleasing introduction to the genre of translation, 29 Jan. 2004
This review is from: Mouse or Rat?: Translation as Negotiation (Hardcover)
Being about to embark upon a masters degree in translation, Umberto Eco's book was the first I read on the subject. It was a great place to start. The book is very accessable, and would appeal to academic and those with a casual interest alike. It introduces the main implications in translating, and portrays it as a not as straight forward as one would think topic.
The argument as to whether translation should be source or target based is covered.
Eco refers to a range of sources,which illustrate points well.
However, the one shortfall I can see is probably inevitable yet still reduced my enjoyment of the book. Eco uses examples from a variety of languages - French, Spanish, Italian, German etc. To gain full effect from the examples one would need to understand each language, and as I can only understand one of them besides English, many of the examples were lost on me. I would imagine that I am not the only one to encounter this problem. However, without this range of examples, Eco's arguments would have far less impact, so perhaps one could see this as a viscious circle of the genre.
All in all, however, an excellent read. The book highlights some of the main areas in translation studies and can double up as either a fascinating read for the casual reader or as an extremely good place to start for those wishing to develop the interest further.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Rats! He almost got it., 7 Feb. 2012
I found Eco's Mouse or Rat an enjoyable read, although I took exception to some of his insights.

In discussing Nerval's book (p.50), I wonder why Eco seemingly wants to spoon-feed the modern reader by clarifying the concept of `la poste'. Apart from the fact that in parts of Switzerland - including Italian-speaking Switzerland - `l'autopostale' still fulfills this function, part of the joy of reading an older book is precisely this: finding out details about the past that may challenge the readers at first, but that will certainly enrich them in the long run. Indeed, would you paint a denim jacket over the cotehardie of the female protagonist of Hayez's Il Bacio simply because women don't wear cotehardies any longer?

I also fail to understand why Eco deems that readers would find the expressions 'non gli importava un cavolo' and 'non gli importava un fico secco' (p.94) 'not too Italian', while in fact they are 'italianissime'.

On occasion Eco does also sound a tad prescriptive: 'ratto is used only in technical texts'. I beg to differ. `Topo' and `ratto' conjure up two completely distinct images thus making `ratto' a good fit for Camus' epidemic. This is especially unfortunate since the title of the book is centered on this duo. In fact, most Italians are instinctively repulsed at the very thought of a `ratto' while `topo' may have an endearing quality to it. I personally would not even mention `sorcio', which is limited to a few fixed phrases and is a regional variant at best.

Finally, since this book deals with translation and language at large, I noticed that Eco's impeccable command of written English is surprisingly at odds with his oral fluency. This must necessarily be the case since no mention is made of a translator or editor in the colophon.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, 8 May 2013
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Really interesting book about translation from a great author Umberto Eco. It treats the subject with humour and lightheartedness, giving lots of examples at the same time.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A bad choice, 27 Oct. 2013
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I mistakenly chose this book believing that it would be an intelligent and hopefully humorous discussion on the aspects of translation. I soon realised that a person of immense intellectual prowess is not necessarily a good writer. Compared to that wonderful book 'The Hare with Amber Eyes' this is downright dull.
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Mouse or Rat?: Translation as Negotiation
Mouse or Rat?: Translation as Negotiation by Prof Umberto Eco (Hardcover - 13 Nov. 2003)
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