Let’s assume that you are completely and equally fluent in two languages. Someone gives you two books as a gift – one is a book you are genuinely interested in reading, while the second is an excellent translation of the same book in the other language in which you are equally fluent. Which one would you read, and why?

This hypothetical question serves as a good introduction to the rather thorny subject of translation.

A cursory look at translation studies’ books and general debates on the subject demonstrates that, first, the profession of translation has undergone several transformations and, second, these debates are anything but settled.


VegetarianGood translation holds the key to globalizing Korean literature and quality translation comes from translators of diverse backgrounds, according to experts.

Novelist Han Kang winning the Man Booker International Prize last month with “The Vegetarian” highlighted the importance of translation. Experts say that British translator Deborah Smith equally deserves credit for the honor.  

Max lane

2 Feb | 7:00pm – 8:00pm

Select’s latest literary salon features one of Southeast Asia’s most successful and well-known literary translators Max Lane. Translator of some of the most important works of the great Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Max’s work has been critical in putting Southeast Asian writing on the world literary map. How did he get started on his translation journey? What is it like to work with some of the most influential editors and publishers in the world? What are the challenges in “translating” historically and culturally specific content for a global audience? Are there other great writers whose works have yet to be translated? What does he think of the writing scene today? Come armed with questions and engage Max in this informal sit-down! Limited spaces available so registration is required.


Max Lane is a translator, writer, editor, researcher and consultant with 36 years of experience in Indonesia, as well as Singapore, the Philippines and the East Timorese community in Australia. He is also an Honorary Associate in Indonesian Studies, School of Languages and Cultures, University of Sydney.

Max has been translating literary and non-literary materials from Indonesian to English and vice versa since 1978. His first acclaimed published translation was that of W.S. Rendra’s 1975 drama, Kisah Perjuangan Suku Naga (The Struggle of the Naga Tribe). Max also translated the four great novels of Pramoedya Ananta Toer known as the “Buru quartet” or the “Buru tetralogy”. These have been the most successful ever publications of Indonesian literature in English translation with This is Earth of Mankind already having 13 reprints. These books have been published by William Morrow and Hyperion in the U.S. as hard covers as well as by Penguin Australia and Penguin USA as paperbacks.

In what is likely a first in literary translation history, Max even has an electronic/post-dub music outfit named after him. One of Singapore’s most talented musicians Safuan Johari began performing under the pseudonym “Max Lane” after being inspired from Max’s translation of Pramoedya.


To register, please email

Raymond Zhu on the Tagore translation controversy in China

tagoreThere’s a fine line between imprinting creative works with unique personality and screamingfor attention. Feng Tang just crossed it, when he translated Tagore’s tranquil verse into avulgar selfie of hormone saturated innuendo.

Classical literature deserves more than one translation.

Rarely does one language have the exact equivalent for every word, phrase or concept inanother language.

So even the best translators have to choose what is most important or relevant in the originaland attempt to find the expressions in the target language deemed to overlap the most withthe original. The choices can be subjective.