Thursday, May 21, 2015

Books in translation!

                I love books.  I love reading and writing and all combinations of it.  This you may know being as you are reading this on my book review blog.  While I do have tons of reviews to write and share with you my fellow readers, today I wanted to do something a little different.  I want to have a discussion with you and I hope you will join in.  This conversation is about translation.  I only speak, read, write in English, and some would say that my English could use some work on occasion.  Most of the books I read come from authors based in the US so not something I’d think much about.

                Then I read the Ruby Red trilogy by Kerstin Gier which was originally put out in German and then translated into English.  I even found they have made the first book into a movie, Rubinrot, which is in German clearly.  I intended to watch it and read the English subtitles.  However, the sequel Saphirblau is even out, but it does not have the English subtitles.  This was very upsetting to me because I won’t be able to enjoy the second movie now, since I don’t speak German.  Thinking about this I started to look and see how long it takes for some of my favorite books to be translated to other languages for others who don’t speak English to enjoy.

                This got me thinking about the value of having books translated to fit different areas and the impact that has on us as a people.  What if books were never translated from their original language and we had to read that language or not read it at all?  That would close us off substantially as a community of readers I feel.  We wouldn’t have the diverse collection of readers enjoying the books and coming together to enjoy something that bridges the gap.  So many stories would never be heard.  The thought is heartbreaking.  I know I met a ton of people from all over, even some from different countries, who attended YALLfest last November and to think I wouldn’t have been able to get to know them had a book I read in English been translated to their language is unimaginable.  Plus with each translation/language we get another awesome cover to admire.

                Thinking about translation as a whole though I also started to wonder about the wonderful people who take the time to make sure it’s done right.  Sometimes when a phrase is translated from one langue to another ‘as is’ you can get a very awkward jumble of words.  Has anyone had a second language class and tried to get help with the assignment from the internet?  Yep, that was me.  Unlike automatic translators, translation software companies that use human translation to ensure that the quality and accuracy of the text is preserved, like Smartling, seem to be a better way to go.  I'd much rather have a real person translating to make sure the feels translate.  The way words are placed in a sentence, the substitution of words that don’t translate with something that conveys the same impact, etc.  The list goes on and on.  When a book is translated such care has to be given to maintain its impact.  Which got me to my next question, what aspects of a book do I think need to be preserved when translated?

                Reading the Ruby Red trilogy I did have some issues with it and thinking of this question I wondered for a moment if it could have been something lost in translation.  The answer for me on this matter is highly unlikely as it’s just that it hit a story pet peeve of mine.  The fact that the book was able to get me so riled up and annoyed about this particular part says a lot. For me the most important thing to come through is the characters.  I am all about the characters.  I want to be attached to them, I want to love them, hate them, root for them or against them.  I want to be invested in their story.  That’s what keeps me reading.  If they are sad I want to feel that, if they are hilarious I want to randomly start laughing while reading, to make me swoon with the romance of it all.  I want all of that.  That is what is most important to any story for me.  What about to you?  If you are reading a book and it is going to be converted to another language what is the most important thing you want to make sure is translated?
Sapphire Blue mention above original & US

                This is me starting a discussion.  I would love to see what everyone has to say on the topic.  Please share below your thoughts in the comments below.  Tell me what your experience has been with translated books?  What is the most important thing that needs to shine through?  Let's talk!



  1. I am so glad you opened this debate. I think that translating books is very important. And I don't mean only new books. There are tons of classics that would have been totally lost to me if they weren't translated. I don't even want to imagine my teenage years without the works of Jane Austen or Dracula by Bram Stoker. These were favorites of mine that got me through many tough times.

    With that being said, I notice that some things don't translate very well. For example, there are many cultural differences that even though the translator has done a good job translating, could come across as insulting or cold. In college I was part of the international student association, and I was lucky enough to meet people from all over the world. It didn't take long before I noticed how different we all were. Some students were very blunt and could be hurtful at times and initially I would assume that they are maybe just not very nice, but then meeting others from the same country I started noticing a pattern. They weren't trying to be mean or rude, but their culture was just blunt. One of my best friends from college seemed like a very cold person when I first met her. As I grew to know her more and more I discovered that in her culture people just aren't as affectionate and open about their feelings as I am. That didn't mean she didn't feel all the things I was, she just had a different cultural way of displaying her feelings. That made me think, what if when we read translated books we misjudge characters. When an author pours their heart and soul into characters, they develop them based on their culture. When translating, some of those characters could be totally misjudged by the reader.

    With that being said, I am so grateful for translated books. It allows people across the world to bond over similar subjects. Without translated book I wouldn't have been able to share my favorite book, The Fault In Our Stars, with my mother. She speaks a little English, but not enough to be able to read a novel. When I went to Romania last year, I was very happy to find the book at home translated in Romanian. Now her and I have a new favorite that we can discuss and bond over.

    1. Thanks for chiming in Bo! You definitly bring up some good points. I'm glad you and your mom can share The Fault in Our Stars. Maybe in the future the books being translated to whatever language they are in could have the expressions and references changed to the equal parts in the language?