Art by Bianca Green
I started reading Dmitry Glukhovsky's METRO 2033 and the very first line jarred me. "Who's there? Artyom—go have a look!" There is nothing wrong with it. In fact, it sucks you right in the story. What bothered me was the tone of the translation. I couldn't pinpoint what it was at first. The words seemed all right. But something about them was not quite Russian. Yes, that's how one would say it in English but not how one would say it in Russian. I was certain that the suss was lost in translation, the sense of a superior commandeering a soldier.
I dismissed the feeling and read on (the annoying habit of distrusting myself since childhood). Sure enough, two paragraphs later another chunk of dialogue tripped me up. "You idiot! You were clearly told. If they don't respond, then shoot immediately! How do you know who that was? Maybe the dark ones are getting closer!"
I couldn't continue reading and went and dug up the book in Russian to compare. I had a feeling that the translation has generalized the saucy speak, erased the Russianness from it. I was right.
The first line in Russian reads: "Кто это там? Эй, Артем! Глянь‑ка!" Bingo.
I got spoiled by Jamey Gambrell's rich translation of THE SLYNX by Tatyana Tolstaya, the way she preserved the peculiar to Russian language turns of phrases. If I were to translate the line above, it would be something like: "Who's there? Artyom, go look!" The little suffix "-ка" in Russian suggests a familiarity that is lost in "go have a look." "Have" adds formality to it. These two men know each other. The tone is important.