I am a very satisfied subscriber to Audible.  Their selection is great, the system is easy, and I always have an active audiobook on my iPod.

Tom Segev is a great writer.  His books on modern Israeli history, while controversial, are well-researched, well-written and captivating.

Segev’s latest book, 1967, as I reach chapter 2 of the audiobook, is  really interesting and informative.  It was translated by Jessica Cohen.  It’s got the sign of a good translation: I’m confident I’m getting the whole story, but the narrative sounds like it was written in English, not Hebrew.

The 1967 audiobook was published by Tantor Media, who list 731 titles on Audible.

James Boles, the narrator of 1967, has a good voice and reads well.  However, his pronunciation of the Hebrew or Arabic words in the text (place names, peoples’ names, names of organizations) is atrocious.  It’s almost impossible to listen to him.  Even worse, he’ll pronounce the same word different ways, each time he comes to it.

So, does this poor performance reflect only on Boles, or also on Audible, Tantor Media, Segev, 1967, and Cohen?

It reminds me of my days, just after business school, wholesaling vacations to Las Vegas and Hawaii.  If a United Airlines flight attendant sneered at one of my customers, I had to deal with a complaint letter.  There was also the irate customer who wanted me to return his money because he walked into his Maui hotel room, which he had chosen from my brochure, and the housekeeper was sitting on his toilet.

Customers use Brand Harmony to evaluate us, meaning that every point of interaction influences a customer’s brand impression.  I guess you could say that James Boles and Tantor Media are responsible, but I’ll certainly think twice about my next audiobooks from Audible or Segev.  Wouldn’t you?

Entrusting our products to others is a risky business.  Be cautious of those who influence your brand.


  • Larry Kaufman
    Sep 09, 2008 - 09:43 am

    I’m inclined to exonerate the translator, but all the other people you mention should share the rap for damaging the brand.

    I kind of like your description of what makes a good translation — it lulls you into thinking you’re getting the story accurately, but it sounds natural in the translated language. When I read Sholom Aleichem in the old Botwin translations, I find myself trying to imagine what the Yiddish must have been; Hillel Halkin gives me no such problem. But that doesn’t mean I’m getting it right.

    One way to get at the nuances of the original is to compare translations. This is particularly easy to do with the Bible because of the accessibility of a variety of translations. For example, when Jethro suggests to Moses to delegate responding to the needs of his clientele, one translation says that Moses obeyed his father-in-law, which suggests (erroneously) that Jethro was in authority over him. Another, and I believe more accurate, translation gives it as Moses listened to Jethro. The English “listened to” has some overtones of obeying, but it is a different nuance.

    Rabbi Amy Memis-Foler is fond of reminding her Bible study classes that every translation is a commentary — and there is an alliterative Italian phrase, which unfortunately I can’t pull from memory in Italian, which translates as to translate is to betray.

    Anyway, your blog post hit a nerve.

  • Joe McNeely
    Nov 21, 2008 - 03:14 am

    I am the narrator of this production. It was done under my psuedonym, James Boles, who was my great-great uncle who fought in the Civil War on the Southern side. When I accepted this gig from Tantor Media, working out of my basement studio constructed from re-purposed modular, office cubicle dividers bought from a office liquidator, blankets, and a hand-fashioned door and roof of timber from Home Depot. Located in the basement of my house in Stratford, Connecticut, Arbor Studio, trying to make payments on a mortgage, a second mortgage, while working part-time at a golf course, and substitute teaching in junior high and high school, having spent my original investment of $25,000 and absorbed another $27,000 dollars in credit debt for my own company Audio Evolution. I worked for a pittance and faced the inevitable criticism of a goyem reading a Jewish narrative because I needed the money. I called the Temples in my area, and found a Jewish therapist who lived in my area who coached me in the early afternoons over tea as to how to pronounce certain names, places, and rules in the formal manner of Jewish pronunciation. With no director or engineer, I labored on a four hour to one ratio to complete this project earning perhaps $20 per hour for my efforts knowing full well that I would receive exactly the criticism that you have leveled at me. I gave the best performance that I could under the circumstances. In short, you get what you pay for.

    • Steve Yastrow
      Nov 23, 2008 - 00:14 am

      Joe – I couldn’t tell, at first, if this was a great piece of fiction writing or a true story. I went to your site – your real! Hey, sorry you didn’t get paid a lot. You’ve got a great voice, and you read well (I’d love to have you narrate one of my books) but you missed it on the Hebrew and Arabic pronunciations. Thanks for your comments – I hope you can appreciate the focus of my critique. A great reading was marred by mispronounced words that sounded funny.

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