Novels in Translation



hi everyone its Ashley and I'm here today to recommend some novels that have been translated into English many of these novels I've read over the years without a thought of translation either I didn't realize they were translated from another language or it just didn't matter that much to me at the time only over the last several years have I really started thinking about translation and considering it when I'm reading a book and many of the books I'm going to recommend brought it to my mind my first thoughts were am I missing something does translation interfere with the author reader relationship but then I read so many beautifully translated novels that my attention really shifted to the work that translators do and how they make it possible for me to read these stories that would otherwise be inaccessible to me there are different philosophies of translation and many questions that translators have to answer for themselves I'll discuss some of these issues as I go through my recommendations first up is the vegetarian by Han King it was first published in 2007 in South Korea but the English translation by Deborah Smith was just published in the United States in 2016 also in 2016 the vegetarian won the Man Booker International Prize which brought new attention to it a new audience to it and also to this translation of it the vegetarian is about a woman living in Seoul South Korea who decides to stop eating meat the story is told not from her perspective but three people in her life her husband her brother-in-law and her sister the story is largely about the way that people react to her decision and it explores themes of guilt and shame and appetites I found an interview with the author where she talks about what it's like to have published this book ten years ago and yet it's just reaching this new audience through translation she says that she normally finishes a novel and then expels it out into the world but because the vegetarian has slowly been translated into more and more languages over the last several years she's been living with it all this time she also talks about the process of working with her translator Deborah Smith who would send her a file of her translation with notes and questions and she would respond in a collaborative process that she describes as feeling like an endless chat next up his notes from underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky I read the 1993 translation by Richard PVA and Larissa wolinski but that of course was not the first when I read notes from underground in 2013 it was one of the first books that really got me to think seriously about translation at least unprompted by somebody else I had read Walden around the same time and found that it had aged not nearly as well so I started thinking not just about the translation from Russian to English but how age must affect translation I couldn't repeat some of that different to just the different styles and content of the two books but I knew that there must be a role that translation was playing as well because that's from underground reads almost like a modern novel even though it was published more than 150 years ago notes from underground is a philosophical novella that's told in two parts the first part is a diary of this man from st. Petersburg whose critical of Western philosophy and a second he serves as an unreliable narrator of his own life in this edition of notes from underground there's a translators note at the beginning where Richard PBR talks about some of the challenges of translating notes from underground and because it has a long history of translation he also talks about the traditions of mistranslating notes from underground one of the first challenges is tone I'm sure that's always true with translation but notes from underground has such a specific tone that's so important to this story that it has to be right there's also been a tradition of varying Dostoevsky the language so that this book is not so repetitive to that the translator writes the editorial precept of avoiding repetitions of gracefully varying one's vocabulary cannot be applied to this writer I appreciated that keeps it open that that might be the right decision for other works and other authors he also talks about the loss of nuance and translating Russian to English or really any language to another he makes this point with the very first line of notes from underground where translators have often substituted the psychological for the moral or described a spiritual condition as a kind of behavior so while others have translated the line I am a spiteful man the translation in this new edition is I am a wicked man next up is the stranger by Albert Camus it was first translated from French to English in 1946 and basically until the 80s that was the inflation in the 80s we got a new British translation and also the first American translation I'm mostly gonna be talking about that first American translation by Matthew Ward which was published in 1989 the stranger is a short novel about a man who gets involved in a murder I've always liked the cameo summary of the stranger which is in our society any man who does not weep at his mother's funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death it's a novel that explores philosophical themes of the absurd and the existential although he did not like that word English translation differences of this book have been obvious from the beginning because it was originally published in the UK as the outsider and the United States as the stranger people have read a lot into this difference over the years because there wasn't an obvious explanation for it for a long time but the stranger is actually the original title that the first British translator stuart gilbert gave this book and it was changed by the publisher because they thought the outsider would be a more striking title and there was already a recently translated book that was published under the name the stranger but this decision to change the title came very late and in new york they had already typeset the book as the stranger and it was too late to change it so to this day it continues to be called the stranger in the United States and the outsider in the UK there's a translator so at the beginning of my edition of the stranger where Matthew Ward talks about some of the decisions that he made probably the most controversial is that this is considered to be a more American translation of the stranger and he aren't these for the importance of that because camu said that he was so influenced by American authors and he wrote especially the first part of this book in the quote American method while he specifies what the American method might be shorter sentences characters that don't seem to have much consciousness he doesn't necessarily say what that means for the translation but of the original English translation of the stranger he says as all translators to Gilbert gave the novel a consistency and voice all his own he said to another translator Richard Howe and saying the time reveals all translation to be paraphrase all translations date certain works do not makes the case of course for retranslation he makes the distinction in this translation between what Kem has said and how he said it versus what he meant that is not just trying to capture meaning but also trying to capture the language and style that he used he argues it is by pursuing what is unconventional and camis writing that one approaches a degree of it's still startling originality next up is the reader by bernard sling the reader was originally published in German in 1995 and then it was translated into English by Carol brown Jan away and published in the United States in 1997 I first read this book when I was in high school probably because Oprah selected it for her book club I still remember coming across it and I used a bookstore in Juneau Alaska even though it takes place in Germany and I was studying German at the time I don't remember paying a lot attention to the fact that it was translated the reader is narrated by a character named Michael Berg and it tells a story if three distinct times in his life the first was when he was 15 and met an older woman named Hana who he had his first sexual relationship with the second most when he was in law school and needs attending a war crimes trial where he is surprised to see that Hana is being tried and the third is later when he's an adult and he's still trying to make sense of all of this this is one of those books that I read so long ago and I've never reread it and yet the story itself is so clear in my mind I couldn't really find any notes on the translation itself but Carroll brand Jenna Wade did translate a lot of works from Hungarian Dutch and German into English and the reader is one of her most well known translations next up is the Unbearable Lightness of being Bible on Kundera this book has an interesting translation history because it was transcended into French and published and then not published in the original Czech until 1985 the Edition that I have was translated from Czech to English by Michael Henry Haim and published in 1984 the Unbearable Lightness of being takes place in Prague in the late 60s and early 70s we follow characters from Prague spring up through the invasion that's Czechoslovakia though it has this much larger context and that certainly is part of the story what was most engaging to me was the specific characters that we follow and really there ever lives in the 1980s villain Kundera revised the french translations of his works which gives them a level of authority that other translations might not have and actually it looks back from the copy of life is elsewhere that I read when I was in college though it was published before the Unbearable Lightness of being my edition was actually translated from the French to English rather than from the original check in the 90s Kundera actually started writing in French next up is chronicles of a death foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez it was first published in Spanish in 1981 and then translated into English by Gregory basa who translated a lot of his works including One Hundred Years of Solitude chronicle of a Death Foretold is a fictional chronicle of a murder it has this journalistic style reconstructing what happened when I found so interesting about it is that the killers announce that this is going to happen and nobody takes them seriously there's just something so painful about such easily prevented tragedy Gabriel Garcia Marquez was actually asked about translation by the Paris Review and this is what he said translating is a very difficult job not at all rewarding and very badly paid a good translation is always a recreation in another language that's why I have such great admiration for Gregory Raza I think that my work has been completely recreated in English the impression one gets is that the translator read the book and then rewrote it from his recollections that's why I have such great admiration for translators they are intuitive rather than intellectual finally cockta on the shore by Haruki Murakami as with all of his novels that was originally written in Japanese and this one was translated by Philip Gabriel it was published as two volumes in Japan in 2002 and then the translation was published in United States as a single volume in 2005 Kafka on the shore actually tells two separate stories that are intertwined one is about a young man running away from home and the other is about an older man who searches for lost cats there's music books and a magical realism side note both of the translators of Gabriel Garcia Marquez agree that they hate the term magical realism although they did not say why though I've read a number of books by Haruki Murakami I didn't really know anything about the translation of them on the American edition it's not clear at all just looking at the cover that they were translated after revisiting all these books I realized that's not uncommon at all to have to go at least to the title page to see the translators name Murakami has actually commented a lot on the translation of his books to other languages and he's also been involved in translating english-language books into Japanese in an essay he wrote about his experience translating to Great Gatsby he writes translation is a matter of linguistic technique which naturally ages as a particulars of a language change while there are undying works on principle there can be no undying translations it is therefore imperative that new versions appear periodically in the same way that computer programs are updated at the very least this provides a broader spectrum of choices which can only benefit readers an essay by the way it was translated by Ted Goodson I really appreciate this idea that also came up with notes from underground and the stranger though there might be works that are timeless translations are never timeless they should be updated or the very least as Murakami says more than one should be available to readers interestingly although it does seem that he answers questions from people translating his work your commie says that he never reads the translations of his work for fear that he'd be disappointed he says that their original language is Japanese and that's how they exist for him because that's how he wrote them so those are seven recommendations for translated novels each one I think has a potential to open up a whole new world to me these are some of the most famous translated muffles and yet there's so many that I don't know about yet if you've enjoyed this video please consider subscribing you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram and climate stacks and you can go to Klein's Dexcom for more information and recommendations if you want to support the work I do here on Climate stacks click the link to go to my patreon or you can get access to weekly exclusive videos happy reading as always I'll see you again soon bye

34 thoughts on “Novels in Translation

  1. i thought the vegetarian sucked. it read like pretentious drivel to me

  2. Julio Cortazar translated the tales of Edgard Allan Poe to spanish and some say they are better than the originals.. 🙂

  3. Hi.
    I've been following your channel for a while and I think is very good. It is kind of hard to find valuable content on booktubers, but you are one of those channels full of value.
    I'm a translator and this video was for me so good. I also have a channel in Spanish, I hope you can have a look on it.
    Cheers and Buena lectura 🙂

  4. My experience with translation in film is that meanings get distorted routinely. I don't remember rereading anything in another language though (I should definitely try this). If the only benefit of learning English was being able to read books in their original language I would still have learnt it. I really want to be able to read in French one day!

  5. Italo Calvino said that the best reader is the translator, because he/she has to understand the book at the deepest level. By the way, have you read any translation of this Italian author? I'm really curious about how they treated his books! 🙂

  6. When reading Crime and Punishment, did you have a problem with the character's names? Apparently in Russia, everyone had a name that consisted of his given name, a christian name, a family name and then a nickname. Crime and Punishment is very much like a Dicken's novel in that it has many characters and many coincidences. Hard to follow. However, everything I"ve read by Issac Batsheva Singer (from Yiddish) has always been absorbing and the tone gets you involved within a page.

  7. There's a really good Moroccan translated novel called "This Blinding Absence of Light" by Tahar Ben Jelloun. I'd love to see your thoughts on that one.

  8. My partner studied Mulan Kundera for a while. She says that the French to English translations are the definitive versions, as Kundera worked with the French to English translator and actively tried to get rid of the Czech translations.

  9. I've always agreed that it makes sense to have multiple translations of a single book where possible because of the change in language (both original and translated) and the style of the translator. But now I find myself in a quandary! For example, I'm wanting to read the Master and Margarita by Bulgakov but can't decide on a translation. I literally sat in the store with two versions open and read the first few pages of each. I would like how one version handled a specific paragraph, and then prefer the style of the other translator on the next page. As you and the other commenters here mentioned, there's always that fear of missing out on specific tone, phrasings, word choices, etc.

  10. Very nice video. I love the way you approach topics like these and make things easy to understand. I was wondering if you've read any Borges? Borges was also a translator and wrote a lot about translation as well.

    I was also wondering if you'd be interested in having any of your videos captioned (in English) or translated (into German). Captioning videos is a bit of a pet project of mine. If that's something you're interested in you'd just need to turn on community contributions in the Creator Studio and approve the captions for publishing. 🙂

  11. I sometimes wonder too if I'm missing something by reading the translated text, but you're right– we're lucky that we do have translators that work hard to give us the best replication of the text as they can.

  12. I'm German so many books I've read when growing up, and still learning English, were translations from English (& other languages) into German. Back then I didn't think about it too much, but when I started studying British and American literature, I was suddenly aware of how different some books were in their originals as opposed to their German translations. I've had a few (very few) translation lessons in my Master's so got to understand how difficult it is to decide between being true to the language, meaning, and tone of a text. A famous, if not infamous, example in the German speaking world are the two different translations of Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings'. An earlier translation by Margaret Carroux is often described as being 'close to Tolkien's text' by managing to replicate the same tone and pace. A newer translation by Wolfgang Krege became somewhat controvercial among fans because it 'modernised' Tolkien's LOTR and sometimes mis-translated certain words. I've only read Krege's translation once and re-read LOTR in English ever since so at some point I'd love to get my hands on the Carroux translations and compare all three versions.
    There is another interesting dimension to this conversation I'd like to add. When it comes to reading certain German scholars, such as Freud or Nietzsche, I prefer reading them in their English translations. Freud, Nietzsche, and co are easier to read and comprehend in English because the sentence length & structure in academic English texts tend to be less complex and shorter. I've noticed that whereas, for example Freud, would write one long sentence, the English translation would break it down into several shorter ones.

  13. Hi Ashley, may I ask you which translation would you recommend for War and Peace? Do you have any idea if Penguin's Classics one is to rely on? Nice video, btw!

  14. This was such a great video topic, I'd love for you to talk more on this, possibly in how text is translated to new mediums? My first thoughts are books to movies, or manga to anime.

  15. We need more #womenintranslation. Join the #WiTmonth in August 🙂

  16. Great video and recommendations!I'm Greek, so most of my early reading was translated from English and other languages. Translation is very interesting but seems like very very hard work. I've read some bad translations from English, so most of the time, I try to read the original. It's worth mentioning that after reading a greek translation of 'After the Quake' by Haruki Murakami, I realised that it was a greek translation of the english translation and not a translation directly from japanese! Fortunately, another publisher got the rights to the author, so the most recent Murakami novels are directly translated from Japanese. Also, I've gotten myself both a french and a greek copy of 'The Stranger', so that I read it in french and be able to look up any unknown passages in the greek edition (It's been years since I took french!). I think I'll be able to examine the quality of the translation that way, too.

  17. Hi Ashley, I am an older fan (65 years young) and while I really appreciate your vlogs I sometimes struggle to follow what you are saying because you speak so fast. Taking some time to breath between sentences and slowing down the word count per minute would make you sound less pressured in your delivery and also help me to keep up. Also when you give out your info for finding more of your material it is said so fast it is pretty much not usable for me. Loved the "room of one's own piece" you did, as an aspiring writer recently retired from my former day job it really got me thinking. Good luck.

  18. I love The Stranger by Camus. 😊 I’m reading my second Murakami book, half way through. My first was the Tesuki Colorful recentish one, and this is Wind-Up Bird. Gotta admit, I dislike Murakami greatly. Very stilted language. Nothing witty or corny or quippy or Salinger-esque in the dialogue. Not Pulp Fiction (movie) cool, not funny like David Wallace, just…nothing. HM is nothing. I thought it might be the translation, but no, it’s the way he writes. Show don’t tell doesn’t work for H. M., who loves to “info dump” for pages upon pages with nothing happening except a character reviewing their entire life, family, etc. It’s hard reading due to abject boredom, but I bought W-Up BC, so I’m trying to slog through it, although it’s brutally pedestrian. At least DF Wallace is interesting prose; even though confusing as f#ck, it sticks with me. Salinger is astonishing. But HM, don’t believe the hype. lol What do you think, Ashley? Thank you.

  19. I really enjoyed this discussion 🙂 I work in translation, and I think that's oddly made me more wary of reading translated works; they simply cannot be the same story as the original. I have huge respect for literary translators- loving someone else's novel that much is a feat in itself! My one experience of literary translation was in surreal poetry and was a very eye-opening experience! 😀 Maybe I'll make a video about it sometime. Glad translated works have opened up your cultural horizons so much and I very much enjoyed your recommendations 🙂 Notes From Underground sounds really intriguing. Great video! 🙂 — Laura

  20. What about religious texts in translation? Or mistranslation?

  21. Translation is always an interpretation by the translator. While reading I try to ignore tgat but reflecting on a book I feel more like having seen a play on stage: it gives me the possibility to explore a work but at the same time it influences my experience (same worjs for audiobooks as well)
    And then there are specific aspects to each language. For example your recommendation of Schlink's The Reader- the german title is more specific as the noun means someone reading aloud to someone else… which is precisely what brings the two main characters in the book together.
    My most fascinating experience with translation was a dramatic reading of Dantes Divine Comedy where different actors read from 6 alternating translations spanning around 150 years of publishing in prose and verse, rhyming and not, trying to keep Dantes style or modernising it. Like this it was neither translator nor reader but a mixed perspective on the classic

  22. Read peer-e-kamil in translation by Umera ahmad. You'll like it's about romance heartbreak and spirituality

  23. I’m Brazilian (Portuguese). I always thought that we lose something in translations, so I learned English. Now I’m learning French. In the future I want to learn Italian and Spanish as well. Russian I’ll definitely continue to read in Portuguese 😂, but I only read books with good translations.

  24. This is fascinating! One of my favorite books was translated to English from Italian and I often wonder how close it is to the original.

  25. I have to admit that I never thought about who translated the novels I read. You always hope it's pretty accurate. Gives me a lot to think about.

  26. Interesting discussion!

    I've shifted my opinions on translations over time. For example, I used to say that Dương Thu Hương was one of my favourite writers. And while I do still think that Novel Without a Name is a masterwork, because I can't read the original I don't actually know if the things I loved came from her writing or from the translator's writing.

    For a while I thought of that as something that was only an issue for languages that are very structurally different, but now I think it's actually true for all of them. I flipped through War and Turpentine (the English translation of Stefan Hertmans' Oorlog en Terpentijn) last year after having read it in the original Dutch. The very first line, which literally translates to "My first memory of my grandfather…" is instead translated to "My most distant memory of my grandfather…" Since that's such a weird way to translate the line I found the whole translation suspect. It might still be a great book, but it can't be the same book because even if it's the same story it's clearly not being told the same way.

    I still read a decent number of translated works, but I just don't trust them (or think of them as actually representing a single author) anymore. Of course there's the the obvious exceptions of authors like Elif Şafak or Nancy Huston who translate their own work but they have that level of authority that you mentioned for the French translations of Milan Kundera's writing.

  27. Almost all of the books I read are translations from English or French. It's such a natural part of my reading that I never really gave it a second thought. So it's interesting to see you discussing it like this.

  28. Your videos are really informative and quite uncommon (in booktube). Thank you!
    I never cared for the translated books losing something, until I've read Murakami's Wind/Pinball (recent version) and found myself making any sense of it. Upon researching I found old versions (by Kodansha) and those are more engaging and clear. So, Murakami's personal comments now confuses me (add to the fact that he doesn't read the translated versions).

  29. Excellent discussion of translation!! A topic that could be discussed for a semester, as in a course I once took. This was very thought provoking, so here are some thoughts (read all but 2 of these): (1) Pevear is excellent at promoting & persuading re: his own work. On-line, in reputable publications, you'll find experts taking alternate views. I can't judge for sure, but I recently read Anna Karenina in 3 translations (including P&V) — none was appreciably better than the others; (2) I've been looking for an alternative translation of the Stranger. My problem is that Ward didn;t translate the word "maman," which I think is central to the novel. Is it mum, mom, mother, mummy, mama, mommy … what? We need to know which word is used to understand the book & his relationship to his mother; (3) Other than Spanish which I can read (slowly), I judge a translation by how often I say, while reading, "that doesn't sound right," "We don't say that in English," "what does that even mean?" (4) Just a question for fun, should a book written in 1850 (say Russian, say Tolstoy, who was a Dickens fan) be translated into something like Dickens or into modern 2018 English, which then disregards the time in which it was written? Great video — sorry to run on so long.

  30. So glad you're making videos again! I love to hear your perspective on books.

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