Speaker reveals the art of translation

The Daily Pennsylvanian
October 3, 2011

It took over half a century for H.G. Adler's Panorama to get published in English.

Adler, a survivor of several concentration camps during the Holocaust, including Auschwitz, wrote this piece of historical fiction in 1968. The novel chronicles protagonist Josef Kramer's life, documenting everything from his childhood experiences to his duration in various concentration camps and features several parallels reflecting Adler's own life experiences.

Monday night the Kelly Writers House featured award-winning translator Peter Filkins as part of the Wexler Family Series, who shared his interpretation of Panorama and his experience translating the novel from its original German to English.

"I was impressed," College sophomore Naomi Shavin said of his presentation. "He had a lot of really interesting things to say about Adler's history. It's noble for someone who writes his own work to bring to light someone else's."

In particular, Filkins noted the challenges of translating one language to another, especially the task of maintaining the nuances essential to the novel's original literary style.

"I came to marvel at the very long sentences in the translated version, which averages one paragraph per page. Each paragraph is a single sentence in German," Filkins said.

In addition to the syntactic differences between the translated and original versions, Filkins shared his admiration for Adler's literary finesse. "I appreciate the aesthetic philosophical distance that Adler took apart from his own experience and how much it meant to him to write well," he said.

When Adler finished writing the novel, he found it difficult to get it published due to the fact that it was a fictional account of the Holocaust. Nonetheless, the novel has received praise for its uniqueness and attention to detail.

"He is a breath of fresh air. Adler approaches the problem of making fiction out of genocide with such complexity that one can't help but think freshly about this topic," Faculty Director of the Kelly Writers House Al Filreis said.

Toward the end of the event, many students who hadn't yet read the novel were motivated to do so.

"I want to read Panorama to see more in detail how Adler is able to portray the Holocaust from what I've read so far," College sophomore Sarah Schwab said.

By the end of the event, people appreciated the power and beauty of translation. "Translation is an art of compromise," Filkins said.