Lost in Translation; whose book are you actually reading?

There’s a good line in a very bad teen movie by Nicholas Sparks (where someone inevitably dies of cancer, characters declare their feelings every other line and everybody cries a lot), when the main character asks the other, what are you reading? She tells him she’s reading Anna Karenina by Tolstoy (we’re supposed to be impressed) and he says that actually she isn’t; she’s reading the translation. It’s an astute point for a teen movie and quite true. For Karenina alone there are 1,123 different editions listed on Goodreads and surely they all must bring something different to the masterpiece.

It’s an interesting point, isn’t it? Sometimes I read a translated book and I wonder if there isn’t a better version. I loved Kafka’s Metamorphosis. I hated Jonas Jonasson’s The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of A Window And Disappeared. Both were translated into English. So whose book was I actually reading? Is it the authors? Or is it the translator’s take on the author’s idea? How does that process work? How far can they stray?

Of course, I could test my theory and read the same book by two different translators. But I have too many books to read and too little time; I have to read one version of Anna Karenina before I can get to the other 1,122…


Like this? I occasionally send out newsletters full of useful writing advice and reading titbits. If you want to receive them, click HERE to subscribe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s