Reading Translations

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Phyllis
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Reading Translations

Post by Phyllis » January 4th, 2010, 11:39 am

Happy New Year, everybody!

Over the holidays, mediabistro linked to this post at a blog about translations. The author compiled a spreadsheet about all the translations of fiction this year. He found 348 titles. Being German, I found this number shockingly low. There are loads of translated books on the German market. I couldn't find an exact comparative number, but I found numbers for the selling of licenses at the website of the Frankfurt bookfair for 2006. While Germany sold 230 licenses to the US, it acquired 3785 licenses from anglophone markets. (Judging from the spreadsheet at Three Percent the number of licenses sold should be higher than the number of actual translations.) All in all, German publishers bought more than 6000 licenses in 2007. (I'm sorry that the data don't compare directly, but I hope this gives you a sense of proportion.

The US being such a large market, I hadn't expected the numbers for translations being that low. (Not only from Germany, from all countries.) So now I'm wondering: Do you read translated books? And what was the last translated book you bought?

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Bryan Russell/Ink
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Re: Reading Translations

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » January 4th, 2010, 1:34 pm

I do read translations, and quite a few. But I do wish there were more to choose from, and I don't feel my interest in foreign writers is particularly common. Personally, though, I appreciate the chance to see literature that comes out of a different storytelling tradition. I think it widens my scope as both a reader and a writer. It's nice to read things where I can't pick out influences and literary progenitors. There's a uniqueness and originality to such writing, to such cross-cultural transference.

And one of my very favourite presses is the Dalkey Archive, who translate and publish a lot of great foreign writers.

As to the last book in translation for me... I just bought Money from Hitler, by the Czech writer Radka Denemarkova. I've just started it, but only read the first two pages. A fine two pages, though!
The Alchemy of Writing at www.alchemyofwriting.blogspot.com

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Bryan Russell/Ink
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Re: Reading Translations

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » January 4th, 2010, 1:34 pm

Should mention that I'm Canadian rather than American, though, so that might skew my perspective a little.
The Alchemy of Writing at www.alchemyofwriting.blogspot.com

askmonkey
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Re: Reading Translations

Post by askmonkey » January 4th, 2010, 2:04 pm

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (by Steig Larsson) has done pretty well here, but I think this is an exception rather than an example of how well translated works do here in the US.

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Re: Reading Translations

Post by Phyllis » January 4th, 2010, 6:12 pm

Ink wrote:I do read translations, and quite a few. But I do wish there were more to choose from, and I don't feel my interest in foreign writers is particularly common. Personally, though, I appreciate the chance to see literature that comes out of a different storytelling tradition. I think it widens my scope as both a reader and a writer. It's nice to read things where I can't pick out influences and literary progenitors. There's a uniqueness and originality to such writing, to such cross-cultural transference.

And one of my very favourite presses is the Dalkey Archive, who translate and publish a lot of great foreign writers.

As to the last book in translation for me... I just bought Money from Hitler, by the Czech writer Radka Denemarkova. I've just started it, but only read the first two pages. A fine two pages, though!
I do so agree with your take on different storytelling traditions. I feel, too, that it changes my view on my own tradition, my sense of how a story could or should be told.

I had a look at the Dalkey Archive's catalog, and they do have a very impressive list. I was particularly charmed to see a new translation of The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke. It's a hidden gem. Rilke is known for his poetry, but I only know two people who read the novel: The one who gave it to me, and the one I gave it to. But for all three of us the book has set a new benchmark for beauty, for prose about sensations and emotions. Well, I'm glad to see it has a chance for a new audience.

I haven't read Denemarkova, yet, but it was very well reviewed over here.

@ ashmonkey
These Swedish crime writers are quite a phenomenon. Since Henning Mankell, they are all over the place.

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HillaryJ
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Re: Reading Translations

Post by HillaryJ » February 18th, 2010, 5:32 pm

Most (if not all) of Haruki Murakami's books have been translated into English, and I've read a good number of them. Some fantastic translation, as well, since his style and stories can be rather difficult for the casual reader. Italo Calvino has been well-translated as well. I don't know of any bookstores that go out of their way to feature or point out translated works...they tend just to show up alongside other authors in the genre. However, 300-400 annually seems terribly low.
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Bryan Russell/Ink
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Re: Reading Translations

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » February 18th, 2010, 5:40 pm

I should have remembered to come back here and mention that the Denemarkova novel was fantastic. Dark, vivid, and utterly gripping. She's certainly unrelenting in the pressure she applies to her characters. No easy way out, certainly...

And I love Calvino and Murakami. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a masterpiece, and I'm in love with Calvino's only realist novel, The Path to the Spiders' Nest. And those Swedes are good, too. I like Mankell, and I just picked up an Ake Edwardson novel (Sun and Shadow), to give it a try.
The Alchemy of Writing at www.alchemyofwriting.blogspot.com

PaulWoodlin
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Re: Reading Translations

Post by PaulWoodlin » February 20th, 2010, 2:08 am

I started reading Latin American novels, just for something different, mostly Mario Vargas Llosa, but the above named authors are also quite good. As a writing exercise, for my students I put a Chinese poem on the board, and then six English translations of that poem, and have my students argue about which translation is the best.

I also remember trying to choose between two different translations of Baudelaire. One translater translated the French words into Germanic root English, and another translater choose French root English words. The differences were interesting. I choose the French-English, because it was more poetic, but some might have choosen the German-English, because it punched a little more. I was too broke to buy both.

I think some cultures are more insular than others. America has so many subcultures that I couldn't keep up with them all even living there. You could explore American culture your entire life, if that suited your fancy, but most people are satisfied just keeping up with their own subculture (sports, music, poetry, D&D). In the same way, Chinese history is too old to master; if you studied Chinese History 101 at the same pace and level of detail we studied American History 101 (a year long course at my college) it would take you roughly 16 years, unless all you took was Chinese history and language lessons, in which case you could cut that down. Then you take Chinese History 201.

Europeans, on the other hand, are close neighbors to other cultures. The French live right next to the Germans, Italians, English, and Spanish, for example. It no longer surprises me that Europeans I meet speak two or three additional languages. They keep rubbing shoulders with each other.

linguista
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Re: Reading Translations

Post by linguista » February 20th, 2010, 10:46 am

The only book I can think of that I've read in translation is The Alchemist.

But I read French books in French, and Spanish books in Spanish, and hopefully I will soon be able to read Japanese books in Japanese.

Also, I am Barbadian, so I don't speak for the US norm.

I think in the US though, it's a few authors who do really well, and are always translated and the others fall by the wayside. Maybe it's purely because of the volume in the market though.

-Claire Dawn

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FK7
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Re: Reading Translations

Post by FK7 » February 21st, 2010, 2:45 pm

I'm French Canadian and was raised entirely in French, except for the English lessons in grade and high school. Then when I was 7 my father moved to Ontario for his work, and since my parents were already bilingual (in fact most TV shows or movies they listened or watched were dubbed in English, since they cringed at translations).

Ever since I was fluent in English around age 12, I began to read my novels in their original language. My first child series was ANIMORPH by K.A.Applegate. I read the first dozen in French then switched to English, and noticed a huge difference in terms of overall quality. I read my first Harry Potter in French then switched to English. At first I wanted to improve, but then, I noticed how bad it could be... people won't notice unless they read both, but they actually changed the names of some characters in the French translation of HP, which I thought was unnecessary. "Snape" became "Rogue", which made no sense to me... same thing as to why they changed the English title of the first book from "Philosopher's Stone" to "Sorcerer's Stone", the genius in marketing hoping it would make a big difference on sales - such a slap int he face.

I'm writing my book in English now, and since I'm also fluent in German and French (mother tongue), if the novel were ever going to be translated, I'd want to pay a close look at it before it's released. Especially troublesome for translators is when to you the correct 2nd person, either plural or singular. Since "you" remains unchanged in English, it might not be easy to discern what the author meant when you translate it. Second person plural can be used in French, as well as German, when addressing a single person, but it becomes a more formal exchange. In the case of two military officers going into danger for example, they would converse using 2nd person plural even if they were alone, but in the face of death, if they were ever close, they might switch to 2nd person singular for just one moment, and that simple change would have a HUGE impact on the dynamics between the two.

Best example I have for sci-fi fans like me would be Col. O'neill and Major/Col. Carter from the series Stargate SG-1. There's this episode where they're about to die (S04E03, "Upgrades". Sadly I know them all by heart... it's almost pathetic.) the two of them alone, and the major says "Leave me here!" and then the colonel says "I'm not leaving you!" or something like that. It was well acted so the dialogue didn't seem cheesy at all, but when I saw that bit in French, they kept using the formal 2nd person plural, when using 2nd person SINGULAR would have had 100x more impact. To me, this was a translation mistake, because the acting made it clear there was no formality in their exchange at that time in the scene.

Seems trivial for some perhaps, but to me, it isn't!

PaulWoodlin
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Re: Reading Translations

Post by PaulWoodlin » February 21st, 2010, 4:38 pm

I read a translation of Nietzsche's "Will to Power" which included an introduction almost entirely dedicated to showing how previous translations completely screwed up his philosophy. It is a little worrisome.

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