Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

Favourite works in translation

This is a slightly difficult question to answer. Looking through my LibraryThing catalogue (yet again) I find I have given five stars to the following books originally published in languages other than English:

Albanian: The File on H
Anglo-Saxon: Beowulf
Chinese: Wild Swans
Dutch: The Diary of Anne Frank
French: Persepolis I, Persepolis II, Candide, Madame Bovary, Proust I, Proust III, Proust VI, The Little Prince
German: Ali and Nino (as mentioned previously)
Greek: Oedipus Rex, The Iliad
Icelandic: Njal's Saga
Italian: Survival in Auschwitz, The Divine Comedy
Latin: Ovid's Erotic Poems, Ovid's Metamorphoses, The Twelve Cæsars
Portuguese: Blindness
Russian: The Master and Margarita
Serbian: Impossible Stories

I guess the most impressive translation of those above is Heaney's Beowulf, because it is such a different worldview that he is trying to convey and yet remain faithful to the spirit of the original. But in a sense it is a mere detail that the books are translated. We're always approaching literature on the basis of our own experiences, rather than the author's, so every reading is a translation across human experience.

I do have two other approaches to literature in translation. One is to simply buy a book that I already know well in a language that I want to learn; I can't say I have done this often but there are a couple of translated Zelazny and Tolkien volumes in French and Dutch on the shelves (and a Serbian Autostoperski vodič kroz galaksiju by 'Daglas Adams', which I haven't read).

The other is the Bible, where there are so many translations available that I can try several different versions and see if I feel I can get closer to the original text despite my minimal Greek and non-existent Hebrew. I've written before on, for instance, the subtle distinction between ἐκθαμβέω in Mark 16.6 and φοβέω in Mark 16.8. Here's another one: One of the most evocative single verses of the Old Testament for me is Ecclesiastes 11.1, which in the King James version is translated 'Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.' I have no idea how close this is to the Hebrew 'שלח לחמך על פני המים כי ברב הימים תמצאנו׃' and I note with interest that while the original המים seems to just mean 'water', the Greek version has "on the surface of the water" (ἐπὶ πρόσωπον τοῦ ὕδατος) and the Latin "on the running waters" (super transeuntes aquas), and various translators have chosen to go with the Latin or Greek development of the original (rather than, as King James's team did, sticking to the original in this case). But we will never quite capture the meaning of the precious water, and the risky act of casting valuable foodstuffs onto it, to the parched agriculturalists of the 4th century before our era. Edited to add: nor will any translation ever catch the resonance between "המים" (waters) and "הימים" (days).

(And the unspeakable Good News Bible has 'Invest your money in foreign trade, and one of these days you will make a profit.' I kid you not.)

My day job is full of translations of which I am unaware - I am fortunate to operate in a multinational, multicultural environment where the main operating language is my native one. So it is easy to forget how fortunate I am, and answering this question has helped remind me.

Day 01 - Your favourite series of books (with more than 3 in the series)
Day 02 - A book that you wish more people had read
Day 03 - Your favorite recent book
Day 04 - Your favorite book ever
Day 05 - A book you hate
Day 06 - Your favourite writer
Day 07 - A writer you don't like
Day 08 - Your favourite work in translation
Day 09 - Best scene ever
Day 10 - A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Day 11 - A book that disappointed you
Day 12 - An book you’ve read more than twice
Day 13 - Favorite childhood book
Day 14 - Favorite male character
Day 15 - Favorite female character
Day 16 - Your guilty pleasure book
Day 17 - Favorite trilogy or tetralogy
Day 18 - Favorite book cover
Day 19 - Best ensemble of characters in a book
Day 20 - Favorite kiss or love scene
Day 21 - Favorite fictional romantic relationship
Day 22 - Favorite ending/climax
Day 23 - Most annoying character
Day 24 - Best quote
Day 25 - A book you plan on reading
Day 26 - OMG WTF? plot
Day 27 - Favourite non-mainstream writer
Day 28 - First book obsession
Day 29 - Current book obsession
Day 30 - Saddest character death

Tags: booklovers meme

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