There’s more than one way to interpret a piece of music without betraying a composer’s original intent. The same can be said for the art behind translating literature. When a writer takes pen to paper those words encompass culture, meaning and tone.

The translator, in turn, has to protect the integrity of the original work while exposing readers to the rich history and experiences of other countries and time periods.

Award-winning literary translator Madeline G. Levine, has made the study of Polish literature and the Jewish experience in Poland and Russia her life’s work.

She will present “A Distorting Mirror: English Translations and the Face of Polish Literature,” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, in G21 Ming Hsieh Hall on the West Virginia University downtown campus. This event, which is co-sponsored by the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences and the Slavic and East European Studies Program, is free and open to the public.

Levine’s talk will explore how available English translations— and the choices made by translators and publishers—have shaped Americans’ perceptions of Polish literature.

“A translated work also has the ability to transport us to another world, just as we can be transported back in time by reading an English novel from the 18th or 19th centuries,” she said.

“It’s like traveling to another country and, sometimes, being thrown off kilter for a while so that you return to your own comfort zone with new eyes, new sensibilities.”

Levine, who is professor emerita of Slavic languages at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will discuss the copyright and political challenges she faced during her work on a new translation of “This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen,” by Tadeusz Borowski.

Originally published in Poland after World War II, Borowski recounts his personal experiences surviving the harsh and inhumane conditions of the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps in a collection of short stories.

“The last thing the reader of a translated work should worry about is whether you’re missing something by not having access to the original,” Levine said. “After all, without the translation you would be missing everything.”

Levine has taught courses on modern Russian and Polish literature, comparative East European literature and literary translation. Her interest in the Jewish experience in Poland and Russia, especially as it has been represented in fiction and poetry by Jewish and non-Jewish authors writing, is reflected in both her teaching and her publications.

For more information, contact Lisa Di Bartolomeo, at 304-293-8309 or



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