Saturday on the Couch - Reading a Translation by ...

This year I have particularly enjoyed two books – The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George  and My Grandmother Sends her Regards and Apologises, by Fredrik Backman. The interesting thing is these books are both translations.

How different would our cultural life be without translations?

Like most of our generation, I first became aware of translation with compulsory language studies – mine were French and Latin. French translation had, at least, some relationship to daily life. It seemed to me that in translating Caesar’s Gallic Wars, once you’d mastered ‘miles’ and ‘castra’ you’d got the gist of it.  This was followed by Livy, Virgil and Ovid, and as I never took up a military career, bee-keeping or a series of affairs, their practical purpose was lost.

My childhood had been heavily influenced by translations, unbeknownst to me. My parents were committed Christians and much of our daily life was based on Bible reading – in translation. It was almost a double translation as we read the King James translation while the newer translations into contemporary English were just coming in.

Hans Christian Andersen and Aesop’s Fables were firm favourites of my childhood, inaccessible without translation.

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I have just reached across and pulled from my bookshelf Heidi by Johanna Spyri, a much-loved book. My copy, printed in 1959, has a new translation by M Rosenbaum and a foreword where Margaret Tempest laments that children today have too many books and toys!

My Grandmother Sends her Regards and Apologises from the Swedish first came out in English as My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, a phrase which captures nothing of the books tone. The translation I read is by Henning Koch.

The Little Paris Bookshop is translated from the French by Simon Pare.

What delights me with a translated book, is the translator’s ability to translate humour. Both the books I have mentioned have passages of great humour, some of it situational, but a lot of it verbal.

There are many nuances in vocabulary. Some societies have several words for ‘aunt’ differentiating between the ways in which a woman can be an aunt. Other societies have different words for the natural world depending on their local importance. The Europeans introduced to Australia their four seasons, when the Indigenous people had at least six.

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Literal word for word translation simply doesn’t work. As Rachel Cooke put it in her article in The Guardian, reading something in literal translation is as if she’d “gone to buy a silk party dress and come home with a set of nylon overalls.”

The best translations involve creativity on the part of the translation and often collaboration with the author. Some translators read the whole work first, then translate. Others translate chapter by chapter.

Translation of fiction does not pay well, apparently and unsurprisingly.

We owe a debt to translators who provide us with a great wealth of reading material and expansion of our cultural life.

By clicking on the highlighted links, the three books highlighted in this blog are available from Dymocks.

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Which translated books have you read?

Which translated books have you read?

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