Cost to translate the last two Red Wheel books
November 5, 2010 2:24 PM   Subscribe

What would be a ballpark cost to translate Solzhenitsyn's remaining two "Red Wheel" books into English?

I read an interesting article discussing in part the current translation status of the four Red Wheel books. It appears that two of the books (March 1917 and April 1917) have never been translated into English and there are no plans to do so. A Solzhenitsyn scholar is quoted in the article as saying:

“That [the translation of the last two books into English] would take a rich benefactor,” he says. “It’s never going to make a profit. I don’t even think the sales would pay the cost of the translation."

This got me wondering just how rich someone would have to be to basically write a grant for this work. What would be a ballpark cost for translating something like that?
posted by TheManChild2000 to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yes, it's an unfortunate situation that was frustrating to me a few years ago when I read the first two "knots." I read Russian pretty well, and the Russian texts are online here, so I was able to dip into them and read some crucial bits, but to read the whole thing in Russian would have taken so long (his vocabulary is famously difficult, and the books are fat) that I doubt if I'll ever get around to it—the payoff isn't as great as with, say, War and Peace. I find it hard to believe there's so little interest in major works by a Nobel laureate who lived in the U.S. for years and is well known here, but that appears to be the case, and it will take a well-heeled Solzh fan. I'll be interested to see if someone has an idea of a ballpark figure.
posted by languagehat at 2:42 PM on November 5, 2010

Best answer: Russian speakers can download the while thing for free from the official Solzhenitsyn website which is run by his widow, Natalia.

Russian>English translation of a wide variety of political, military, business, technical and scientific literature; USD90-120 per 1000 words, or hourly rate USD30-36 (1 page = 1500 characters in target language, with spaces)

November 1916 is 1,040 pages, according to the listing. Keep things easy, and we'll round down to 1,000 pages. That's some 1,500,000 words, and dense stuff at that. So we'll use the above-linked Mr. Porter's sum of USD 120 per 1,000 words, and that's a mere $180,000 for March 1917, assuming the same 1,000 pages for a two-volume work. Maybe half that for April 1917, if it was only one volume, so it's around $270,000 for the remaining two volumes. Double that for good measure, and that could be over half a million USD just to translate the last two "knots," no mention of any editing efforts.

Of course, those are all very low ballpark figures. Finding someone on the first page of a quick Google search probably isn't the translator you're looking for (not to knock Mr. Porter), and if the writing is really dense, there's translation of the words, and the meanings behind the words.

One could hope for an epic effort by dedicated fans of the author. Unlikely, but not impossible. I'll geek out and refer to Legend of Galactic Heroes, the 110 episode series that ran under 46 hours, with 25 minutes per episode - never officially translated to English, the dialogue-dense space opera, full of obscure terminology was subtitled by fans over the course of some years, starting back when small dimension RealMedia files were used to share anime on the internet, and VHS was king. Given that the last two books are online, for free, it seems a combined effort could be set up and get through the works with cross-checking and verification by various parties.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:06 PM on November 5, 2010

Response by poster: Awesome.

The only thing I might question is translating "1 page = 1500 characters" from the link to mean 1500 words per page. Seems like he really might mean characters. I had always used a ballpark of 250 wpp. It means the difference between $180k and $30k per 1000 page book.
posted by TheManChild2000 at 3:31 PM on November 5, 2010

Um, filthy's "low ballpark" of $500k is a bit ridiculous. Russian translators don't fly first class and have personal chefs. So he's charging $100 for 1000 words. That's about $40,000 for both books. Also, you can't necessarily scale up a rate for small jobs to big jobs -- big jobs provide steady income and you can expect them to be discounted accordingly. And why did you double your estimate?

Let's say the translation takes a year and a half to write and edit. Literary translators make, what, say $100k per annum, at the upper end of the scale? That's about $150k.
posted by dontjumplarry at 4:02 PM on November 5, 2010

Hi. I translate novels for a (not even remotely lucrative) living.

Between ten and twenty cents a word is a good ballpark rate. For 1.5 million words, that means somewhere in the 150,000k+ range.
posted by pts at 5:10 PM on November 5, 2010

For only $150k, it seems worth the time to set up a Kickstarter page.
posted by Oktober at 8:58 PM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Part of the reason I asked this question is that I've recently gotten more of an understanding of how much money and how many volunteer hours are potentially out there for the right cause. This is a good cause and maybe once my other fundraising duties wrap up at the end of Q1 '11, I'll have me a new hobby...
posted by TheManChild2000 at 9:42 AM on November 6, 2010

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