Does foreign language have a place in translating literature?

It sounds a mad question, but “Does foreign language have a place in translating literature?” Put differently, when translating literature, how many words should be left in the original language? Should “foreign” words in English-language texts convey a sense of a culture, or be used as a last resort for the “untranslatable”?

These questions are interesting in their right, but are also far from academic considering the recent success of some novels translated into English. After all, Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy are predicted by some to become the three top-selling novels of all time in Britain, overtaking Dan Brown’s paperback, The Da Vinci Code, which sold 4.5 million.

A recent well-writen article on the “Arabic Literature (in English)” tackles these questions:

I don’t, as a rule, object to “foreign” words in English-language texts. Would Beckman call Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart an ethnic glossary? And yet it’s full of untranslated terms, and not just the Big Three: flora/fauna, food, and dress. Many of the italicized terms, in Things Fall Apart, force the reader to try to see Igbo culture on its own terms instead of “in translation”.

On the other hand, italicized foreign terms are often unnecessary, exoticizing, and perhaps even misleading. Ahdaf Souief, in a talk at last year’s Emirates Lit Festival, said she was very careful when using Arabic words, and that “there must be a reason for it”.

Excellent points, I think. You can read further carefully considered pros and cons of “foreign language” words in translation in the full article, “It’s a Shame When a Novel Aspires to be a Glossary”.