Monday, December 24, 2012

Bad translation of the week

Bad translations can ruin a book. It's a sad fact of life. As someone who has dealt with translations myself, I know how hard it must be to do a book justice - managing to maintain both tone and style, while making sure the writing fits the new language and its many nuances. Translating is tough stuff, but it still stings a little when a good book is poorly translated, and suffers at the hands of its new audience as a result.

Case study no. 5062: The Buddha in the Attic. A lovely, wonderfully written short novel that I really, really looked forward to seeing in Hebrew. Here was an easily accessible, interesting, and well-written book that I could recommend to readers. Today, I finally got the chance to flip through the translation and... well. It stumbles. Seriously stumbles.

Because part of what makes The Buddha in the Attic such an original book is its use of first-person plural. This is not easy to replicate, particularly not in a different language. So it turns out that the clean and powerful style that Julie Otsuka crafted in English turns into a bit of a mess in Hebrew. The "we"s become a little too casual, a little too obvious, a little too abrasive. The long sentences no longer breathe, but shudder. The tone is completely different, and it won't surprise me if readers will outright hate the book as a result. Which is just a shame. It reminds me that no matter how much I'd like to think that I'm aware of how the translation changes the text, there are cases I'll never be able to recognize, and sometimes these translations really do make all the difference in the world...

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry that translation didn't work out. You make a good point though, and it's why so many people shy away from reading translations. I like to think you can sort of tell when it's not working, like when the book just doesn't *work* somehow.

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