Critical Essays A Note on Translation


Because the Stella Rodway translation of Wiesel's original text transfers thought from French to English, it loses the cadence, line length, rhyme, and lingual stress of the original language, particularly alliteration and onomatopoeia. For example, an extended parallel structure expresses Elie's disillusion in Section 3, a dramatic outpouring which is cited below in French with an interlinear translation:

Jamais je n'oublierai ces instants qui assassinèrent mon Dieu et

Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and

mon âme, et mes rêves qui prirent le visage du désert.

my soul and turned my dreams to dust.

Jamais je n'oublierai cela, même si j'éstis condamné à vivre aussi

Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as

longtemps que Dieu lui-même. Jamais.

long as God Himself. Never.

When translators such as Rodway move from one modern language to another, they recover no more than eighty percent of the connotative, or implied, meaning of the text — particularly one that utilizes German titles as well as bits of Hebrew. An even greater challenge is translation of an ancient text, such as the Bible or the cabbala, into a modern language. The resultant version must leap over centuries of social customs, idioms, and human progress to produce an inkling of the motivation and verbal mastery of the primary author. Thus, translators regularly apply their special skills to ancient texts to maintain a close contact with the intent and meaning of the original writer.