Thumbs up for White House Interpreter: The Art of Interpretation by Harry Obst. Linguistics/Memoir.
The author is German-English interpreter who served the U.S. State Department for nineteen years, working with seven presidents. He does a brilliant job of mixing on-the-job anecdotes – sometimes funny, sometimes embarrassing, always interesting – with non-technical descriptions of what an interpreter does, while throughout making the clear and illuminating point of why it is one of the most important jobs that no one thinks about. For a writing project of my own, I was looking for books that would immerse the reader in the experience of being an interpreter. This is the only one easily available. Luckily, it is excellent. A fascinating quick read that I would recommend to any reader who is interested in recent history, language, or merely learning about a facet of life and world affairs that is both desperately important and thoroughly overlooked (especially by Americans).
The interpreter in the booth needs to notice such things [as the conference chair taking off his headphones to greet a dignitary]. That is why the booth has glass in the front through which speakers, graphics on the wall, and the room can be visually monitored. The conference chair is the most important client of the interpreter. The interpreter, who normally is too busy to write anything down, starts to make some notes, so he can later give the chair a summary of the three or four sentences he is now missing out on. When the chairman has his earphones back on, the interpreter gives him the quick summary. This puts him two and a half sentences behind the speaker. He now has to speed up all his analysis and speaking actions, because his brain cannot keep on memorizing two and a half sentences. He quickly needs to get back within one sentence. Of course, he could just drop two sentences. Remember Rosemary Woods and the missing eighteen seconds? He may never hear the end of it. Nobody ever got punished for criticizing an interpreter.
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