A Long Way from Primo Levi

Tim Parks in the New York Review of Books:

ScreenHunter_1672 Feb. 07 19.33Perhaps inevitably when reading translations, from time to time one comes across a strange word: “ankylosed,” for example. “Nor was it easy to understand how he had survived in Auschwitz,” we read in Ann Goldstein’s new translation of Primo Levi’s The Truce, “since he had an ankylosed arm.” If we turn back to Stuart Woolf’s 1965 translation of what was Levi’s second book, we get the same word with a different spelling, “anchylosed.”

This strange word is, of course, the English cognate of Levi’s original: anchilosato. But the two words are hardly equivalent in effect. If we type “an ankylosed arm” into the Google search engine of the entire English language Internet, we get just five hits, three of them from surgical texts published a century ago; the remaining two are The Complete Works of Primo Levi, in which Goldstein’s translation appears, and a long online discussion of King Philip II of Macedonia’s ankylosis, “a stiffness of a joint due to abnormal adhesion and rigidity of the bones of the joint.”

On the other hand, if we ask Google to search “un braccio anchilosato” we get 477 results (and we remember that Italian, being less widely spoken than English, usually has far fewer hits for equivalent phrases—“concentration camp,” 7.5 million, “campo di concentramento,” 581,000). This time the results are mainly from journalism and popular fiction, including one of Emilio Salgari’s famous novels for young adults.

More here.