Sympathy for the Traitor
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Sympathy for the Traitor

A Translation Manifesto

By Mark Polizzotti

An engaging and unabashedly opinionated examination of what translation is and isn't.

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An engaging and unabashedly opinionated examination of what translation is and isn't.

For some, translation is the poor cousin of literature, a necessary evil if not an outright travesty—summed up by the old Italian play on words, traduttore, traditore (translator, traitor). For others, translation is the royal road to cross-cultural understanding and literary enrichment. In this nuanced and provocative study, Mark Polizzotti attempts to reframe the debate along more fruitful lines. Eschewing both these easy polarities and the increasingly abstract discourse of translation theory, he brings the main questions into clearer focus: What is the ultimate goal of a translation? What does it mean to label a rendering “faithful”? (Faithful to what?) Is something inevitably lost in translation, and can something also be gained? Does translation matter, and if so, why? Unashamedly opinionated, both a manual and a manifesto, his book invites usto sympathize with the translator not as a “traitor” but as the author's creative partner.

Polizzotti, himself a translator of authors from Patrick Modiano to Gustave Flaubert, explores what translation is and what it isn't, and how it does or doesn't work. Translation, he writes, “skirts the boundaries between art and craft, originality and replication, altruism and commerce, genius and hack work.” In Sympathy for the Traitor, he shows us how to read not only translations but also the act of translation itself, treating it not as a problem to be solved but as an achievement to be celebrated—something, as Goethe put it, “impossible, necessary, and important.”


$22.95 T ISBN: 9780262037990 200 pp. | 8 in x 5.375 in


  • Sympathy for the Traitor is a swift, lucid, and engaging tour of what translation is and does. Polizzotti reviews two thousand years of thought on the subject, sweeps away contorted academic theorizing, and makes an unbreakable case for sympathetic readability. And then, acknowledging the many peculiarities of the mind-meld that is translation, he goes on to visit the farther reaches of translingual exploration. This little book deserves to become a standard text.

    Luc Sante

    author of The Other Paris; translator of Félix Fénéon's Novels in Three Lines

  • Translation is the most delicate art, a form of mimetic magic invisible to many, taken for granted by readers who would be lost without it. Mark Polizzotti's book makes the hazards and thorny choices involved in translation vividly evident, but goes much further, into questions of enduring perplexity that arise from the interface of cultures, the homogenization of life in a shrinking world, and the effort to preserve difference while facilitating understanding. A beautifully written, necessary book, and a timely one.

    Gary Indiana

    author of I Can Give You Anything But Love and Do Everything in the Dark