Reading In Translation

by Esmat

I have read more works of authors whose works are not originally in English (translated into English) but rather in other languages than the works of authors whose works are originally in English. This was not something that I had planned early on in my reading journey but rather in a way I found those books-in-translation more interesting than other books. I still find myself really interested in authors, who either don’t originally write in English, or who are not a native born English speaker. I relate and I enjoy the fact that someone who is not a native English speaker can become a successful writer and enjoy fame and be master of the language.

One of the books-in-translation that I really enjoyed early on as a kid was a short story book for children, read to me by my sister on a summer road trip across the country. It was a story about apple trees in a Japanese family. I begged my sister to read it to me, I had carried the book all the way through the hundreds of miles of journey, but was not able to read it myself because at that time I was not a fluent English speaker; finally my sister did read it to me and translated every single passage to Dari, and I remember I enjoyed it so much that I asked her to read another translated story book but by that time she was too tired of reading and translating a book. One of the reasons I remember this exact fragment of the road trip is because of how much I enjoyed the story book, and how this was the time when I set my mind to learn enough of English to read those books myself.

Though I have read many story books since then, almost ten years ago, I have now found myself to be a hoarder of foreign literature that is translated into English. Constantly looking up and finding new authors whose works are rarely available in English. In a trip to Delhi, I spent two days in the many dozens of the bookshops of the city to look for the translated works of the famed Uruguayan writer – Galeano. By the end of my search I left many faces perplexed, almost out of order, because almost none of the bookshops had ever heard of Galeano. Some were out of stock because they carried few copies and they didn’t order back much from the publisher because the demand was low. I was disappointed, though still interested to keep looking but the trip was cut short.

There is something about translated books that I find interesting. Just by the very nature of the books being translated I find them interesting. Part of me being interested has to do with the idea that I find other diverse cultures interesting and I want to hear from those who are native and know what they write about. Take for example the avant-garde of modern literature, Milan Kundera, I simply love the narrative and the flow of his words, he knows what he writes about, he knows Czech and knows the different narratives that runs in his home country, but there is something about the translation too that I really like. Most of Kundera’s works are translated by Asher, and these translations have a poetry of their own. I recently reread The Identity and just noticed how much beautiful the translation is, almost as if the work is originally written in English. The prose is sharp, clear and flows subtly, and I don’t get hanged up in the middle of reading.

I like the imperfect translations too, they are beautiful too, they are prose too. These imperfect translations makes me interested and swirls around the idea of learning a complete new language just to read the book in it’s own “cloths”. One such imperfect translation in my mind is the translation of One Hundred Years of Solitude book. I don’t know anything about Gregory Rabassa, the translator of the book, and what was his intention translating the book in the way he did. But I really think there is someone better out there who can do a better job. There are these gaps and broken pieces in his translation. I know I don’t know anything about his intentions, and maybe the author meant it this way too. And maybe the original work is this way too and that makes me interested to read the book in it’s original language.

I still have a lot of translated books to read, and hopefully I will get some read this summer.