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KEV67

Translated books

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I sometimes hear that a book loses something in translation. For instance, that War and Peace, great book that it is, is better in Russian. Mind you, War and Peace contains a lot of French, and I can read most the French. I did suspect The Brothers Karamazov lost something in translation. When a book is written in verse, I cannot see how it can be translated accurately. I think a bigger problem is when you have characters who speak colloquially or with accents, or have mannerisms of speech. In Huckleberry Finn, Jim speaks with southern, black accent. Huck speaks with a back woods accent. Most the characters speak with, what I read was, a Pine County accent. A Brazilian on another book forum said these accents were translated into standard Portuguese.

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There's an art to translation, one which I don't have at all. The translator can either translate literally or try to give a flavour of the original. A few years ago my book group read Phillipe Claudel's Les Ames Grises (Grey Souls) which has two different translators, one English, one American. One stuck very closely to the original which is written in a rather jerky, colloquial style, the other was far more poetic in its phrasing and depending on which version we'd read we had very different reactions.

 

The same book group also read Anna Karenina and I think that among 10 of us there were 7 different translations (mine was awful!) and goodness some were leaden, usually the ones that tried to stick too closely to the original Russian phrasing.

 

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Richard Pevear, who was one of the translators of my copy of War and Peace wrote about he translation in the introduction. He used the example of "Kapli kapali," which he translates as "Drops dripped." Other translations have been "The branches dripped," "The trees were dripping," and "Raindrops dripped." Pevear also said Tolstoy deliberately repeated words, where as English translators have been taught it is bad style so use different words. There was another example in which some children were playing at travelling by coach to Moscow. The translators usually spell out that they are playing, while the original assumes the reader understands that without saying.

 

I read The Count of Monte Cristo a couple of years ago. I could not find the name of the translator in my copy of the book, but it was a superb translation. The best thing about the book is the sparkling dialogue, which I doubt could have been any better in the original French.

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I know that especially when it comes to Russian literature the translation is of utmost importance. I've read Crime & Punishment a few times and the different translations change the feel and reading experience of the novel more than I would have expected.

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Apparently (I think maybe we spoke about this before on here??) the translations of the Arabian Nights can be hugely different. It's the main reason I couldn't decide which one to get! (as well as the fact that not all of the stories are included in various editions!).

 

It must be incredibly difficult to translate the sense of a description and the flow of the prose as well as just the words. You must have to be an exceptionally good writer yourself, I think, to translate well.

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I found this with 'The Good Soldier Svejk' by Jaroslav Hasek. I read the Cecil Parrot translation, as it was the only one available for many years. I loved the book anyway, but in the past few years a new translation has been published.It is allegedly closer to the authors prose, BUT.... I have tried the new one and to be honest, I am more comfortable with the 'original' translation that I first read. The 'new ' version is supposedly more earthy and contains references to bodily functions etc that were glossed over in the Parrot version. Whilst I appreciate that different people will like different translations for a number of reasons, I am content with the 'original' as it were.

Edited by timebug

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