I love reading stories from around the globe, fiction opens up another persons life and experience to me, so if the character in question is looking out on a landscape I’ve never encountered before – all the better (where the purse can’t take you the book will!). I wish I was a multi lingual being but no, I’m an incredibly lazy English speaker who should try a lot harder with other languages. When going abroad I will always try to learn enough of the basics to get by and be polite, but I am put to shame when others kindly switch to English for me even though I’m the visitor to their home land. A tiny grasp of French and Italian will hardly get me through reading a piece of fiction in either language. My linguistic short comings combined with my never ending thirst for stories means that I am endlessly thankful to the translators out there, they are like the sun burning off the dense fog so I can revel in the landscape.
Translation does pose many questions to the reading community though. Are we getting the real feel of the novel? When we complain of clunky translation are we actually just reading a version of a clunky original? I recently listened to an interview with Philip Gabriel, translator for Haruki Murakami, who made the bold statement that fiction should not be translated, as so much is lost in doing so. Nuance, poetical language and humour can be so deeply entrenched in a particular culture, does he have a point?
The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink (Vintage), is a novel that I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to read. I attended a talk by Schlink, who was posed with the question ‘exactly how much was lost in translation do you think?’ Schlink confidently answered at first ‘nothing – really nothing’, then there was a pause as he sat and considered ‘actually…the title itself, that doesn’t translate at all’, laughing to himself as he realised that he actually couldn’t get beyond the title without finding a problem. In the German language there is a word for being read aloud to, one that is imbued with a sense of warmth and love. There is absolutely no equivalent to this in English, so already a subtle message has been lost when somebody picks the book up.
Cecilia Ekback, author of Wolf Winter (Hodder), is Swedish and also fluent in English. Wolf Winter was written and published in Swedish, then quickly snapped up to be translated and given to the English reading audience. Ekback received the translated version, read it through and decided the translator hadn’t quite hit the mark for her, so she ended up doing the job herself, basically writing her novel twice.
So does translated fiction have a problem that needs to be fixed? Do we put up with possible mixed messages or not bother at all? I for one would not miss out on these stories and voices, but what do you think? Join in the conversation below!
I’ve recently reviewed a book for an amazing website that specialises in looking at translated fiction. The duo behind this site are committed to finding great fiction from every nook and cranny, I’ll pop the link below so take a gander at my review for them and all the other amazing work they are doing. http://therookeryinthebookery.org/2016/03/10/our-fishy-friend-on-the-salmon-who-dared-to-leap-higher-by-ahn-do-hyun/
Until next time, happy reading!