Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Translated novels

So here's a bit of a sister blog post to the one about the deer novel.

I want to know what foreign novels you've read that have been translated into English and what you think of the translations? From my personal reading experience, unless they've been translated extremely well, the English translation comes across as clunky. Which in turn, tends to affect the entire reading experience for me.

Here's a couple of examples to start us off (I'm not including foreign classics, but feel free to name those too and the particular translator, if you'd like):

Well-translated novels:
  • SOPHIE'S WORLD by Jostein Gaarder
  • Anything by Cornelia Funke (they're all translated from German)

Novels that are translated ok, but a bit hard to read:
  • NAOKO by Keigo Higashino

Clunky translations that I couldn't bring myself to read:
  • ??? (Name me some!)


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Well, it's not the same, but Joann Sfar, my favorite French graphic novelist, is translated into English. I think it works great.

btw, Jenny, you should be reading Sfar. Drop me and e-mail and I'll send you titles.

annathepiper said...

I've recently read a few Japanese novels that were translated into English, and I liked them quite a bit. Koji Suzuki's Ring series, or at least the two books of it that I've read so far, flowed well for me as a reading experience. I also very much liked Strangers by Taichi Yamada.

lucy said...

I loved the translation of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind. It was done by Lucia Graves who is the daughter of Robert Graves.

Anonymous said...

I read few foreign writers (my bad) but two do come to mind as great books, wonderfully translated: OUT by Natsuo Kirino and BLINDNESS by Jose Saramago.

Kiersten said...

Blindness and Funke both came to mind quickly.

I also think All Quiet on the Western Front by Remarque is amazing.

Another of my favorite books is The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. Please don't dismiss it based on the movie--there's a reason Ende requested his name not be attached. That reason is his book is brilliant and beautiful. The movie, though wonderfully cheesy, doesn't compare.

Edward W. Robertson said...

Antoni Libera's Madame is a really beautiful translation. Witold Gombrowicz's Cosmos must have been a chore and a half to translate--guy's got a very peculiar style--but it turned out great, really weird and hilarious, and the language is a big part of that.

No idea how I got on a Poland kick, but it was worth it.

Nancy D'Inzillo said...

I haven't read any translated novels that I can recall, but it surprises me to hear that you think many of them come off as sounding "clunky," because I've read quite a bit of translated poetry (even when I could understand some of the original language it worked well enough). In general, I'd agree that translation makes it difficult to get the same affect that the native tongue allows. I remember reading American novels translated into Italian when I was in Italy and thinking how ridiculous the translation ended up seeming, but then again, I'm glad the option is open to us. I'd hate to have had to read The Plague (oh look, one novel I did read translated!) by Camus with my only semi-literate grasp of French.

Rachel said...

Italo Calvino's works are wonderful! Not sure what they're like in the Italian, but I sure enjoy the English and I don't think of them as clunky at all. I think Umberto Ecco's works are also translated. I have a harder time wading through him, but I don't think that's the translator's fault. I think he just has more stuff to wade through.

Now, one of my really, really, really, really big pet peeves is that publishers will "fix" books from the UK so "Amurkins" can understand them better. So, the second Helen Fielding novel, the entire bit about Princess Di dying was cut out of the American version. They didn't think we'd "get it". And then all the little nuanced names like apartments v. flats, mum v. mom. They don't need to be changed! We don't need to see colour changed to color. Really.

Hey, we'll figure it out. We wouldn't pick up a Brit book by Fielding or Rowling if we weren't willing to figure it out in the first place. Okay - end rant.

Kaz Augustin said...

Heinrich Boll is one of my favourite writers and his stuff seems to translate very well from German to English. As does Stanislaw Lem, from Polish to English. The one that really ruined everything, though, was The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Translated in a clunky and childish fashion and it shows. What a pity. I'm on passive search for other translations of this one.

nymeria87 said...

Absolutely agree with Lucy on The Shadow of the Wind - awesome book, even in translation :D

Cornelia Funke is well done in English (even though I prefer to read them in German - for the sake of the original and because my mom loves to rant at me about my deteriorating German :p)

I personally had more problems with novels being translated from English into German when I still lived there (and my brother's English really isn't all that great so I had a good way to compare). Translations that struck me as particularly bad were Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books, Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora and Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. Maybe it's just because German and English are really different languages, but it almost felt as if I was reading two different books...

I recently picked up the English translation of Demian by Hermann Hesse and it was okay, even though it was odd to read a writer who I've only read in the original before in translation. Like I said, maybe that's just me.