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  • Translating Canada: Charting the Institutions and Influences of Cultural Transfer; Canadian Writing in Germany
  • Suzanne Becker (bio)
Louise von Flotow and Reingard M. Nischik, editors. Translating Canada: Charting the Institutions and Influences of Cultural Transfer; Canadian Writing in Germany. University of Ottawa Press. x, 340. $40.00

In Germany, there has long been a fascination with Canadian literature and culture. This new book offers a timely and highly illuminating outline of the processes involved in translating Canadian texts into German. Professor Reingard M. Nischik, a pioneer of CanLit in Germany, has helped to shape the current scholarship on Canadian-German cultural dialogue as a literary critic and analyst: she co-edits Translating Canada with Louise von Flotow, a professor of translation at the University of Ottawa. They present fourteen essays by academics, teachers, and translators, mostly from Germany, that analyze the translation of language, particularly English or French into German. But more importantly, Translating Canada tells a story of mediating a national culture abroad.

In their introduction, the editors define translation as being the 'vital connector' in bringing narratives of Canadian life to an interested German audience, 'underlying and predating most other forms of cultural transfer, such as rewriting, adapting, anthologizing, staging.' Here, as well as in von Flotow's opening chapter, it becomes clear that translation processes are complex and often as political as they are aesthetic. Indeed, the questions to be asked in this study draw attention to the choices involved in the selection of texts for translation and in the forms that translations take within the shaping influence of the target culture. Thus, how is Canada's 'story' told in German/y as an instrument of diplomacy in gaining 'soft power'?

The collection's scope begins with the rise of Canadian national self-esteem in the mid-sixties and ends around the year 2000. In Germany, earlier bestselling German travel and history writing on Canada gave way to the increasingly available voices of Canadian writers: as the book shows, Germany soon started to outrank any other country with its vital interest in translated Canadian writing. At the same time, academic Canadian studies grew alongside the strong cultural journalism on Canada. Professor Walter Pache postulated in the Süddeutsche Zeitung that indeed '[t]here is a Canadian Literature' (1976), Margaret Atwood's Surfacing appeared in German (1979), and Astrid Holzamer at the Canadian Embassy in Berlin has recorded the explosion in translations ever since. Thereby West- and East-German versions of Canadian fiction, often produced by the same translator, reveal much about interests and ideology of the two Germanys, as the original readings by Barbara Korte and Stefan Ferguson show.

Klaus Peter Muller probes six reasons for the powerful presence of Canadian texts in Germany. Brita Oeding and Luise von Flotow explore [End Page 487] differences in 'Women's Lit,' Eva Gruber deals with the Germans' 'Indianthusiasm,' Fabienne Quennet reveals unrealized forces in Jewish writing, Albert Reiner Glaap and Andreas Jandl direct our attention to the theatre stage, and Georgina Banita uncovers the importance of timely translations in critical theory. Complex translation-processes are shown by Birta Oeding and Klaus Ertler - and the importance of children's writing by Nikola von Merveldt for the French-Canadian tradition and by Martina Seifert for the English-Canadian one. In the latter, Lucy M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables is shown to be the source of most German girls' best literary friend, Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking.

These readings - which sometimes overlap in their textual interests - not only contribute to the studies of translation studies and cultural mediation between the two nations, but also highlight the strong German contributions to Canadian culture: Volker Schlöndorff directed the movie adaptation of Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Reingard Nischik edited the major international critical collection on Atwood in 2000, a German jury awarded Michael Ondaatje the Nelly Sachs Prize in 1995, and innumerable publications by the Germanic Association of Canada Studies reverberate back in Canadian writing and criticism. One question must remain unanswered: why is this 'exchange' so one-sided, with very few German texts translated in Canada?

This fascinating book also reminds us that what has become essential...


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pp. 487-488
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