I started reading Émile Zola’s Germinal at the beginning of last week – somewhat coincidentally to the timing of these posts – which I am thoroughly enjoying, although if reading about the tough struggles of a mining village in 1860’s France can indeed be called enjoyable, is perhaps a debate left for another post. I originally picked Germinal up in the local library which these days is the closest thing we have resembling a Tower of Babel, although I doubt there were no screaming kids on that building site ruining my reading whilst parents indulgently look on…but I have digressed already despite my intentions so apologies in advance for the muddled mass of musing hereon in.
With the advent of printing presses then translations due to public thirst, through to the joys of bookshops adorning all decent streets, the book market has grown to massive proportions. The huge plethora of tomes these days makes amassing a huge personal library something really easy and cheap to do as well as a source of pride and a hobby all itself. Back in the day 20 books would have been regarded as a library but as universities taught reading and the power of the church waned, everybody could get involved and create as they wished, I wonder how many of you authors out there have considered getting your work translated? Just a thought…
Technology keeps becoming ever more impressive and has helped us no end with opening beer bottles easier and negotiating those tricky TV channels but can it be programmed to know the nuances of language and to understand colloquial interpretations? These things are pretty impenetrable for us reasoning beings quite a lot of the time but for a mere computer…at least we have the consolation of knowing that when the machines take over all our jobs and probably the world, we will still have that and plenty of strange customs steeped in the deepest tradition, that defy belief yet must be elucidated upon for us to understand them in our own social terms.
It’s always a problem to keep the unique touch of the original whilst giving it a good pace in another language, it’s a true talent to be a translator with big decision who must sometimes disregard a word or a feeling in the tone of the book in order to make the story flow, or to be understood from a cultural perspective in the translation. It leads me to thinking of what I would try to preserve in an English book were I to translate it but that would involve perceiving in full another culture, is it just me or does this sound like an ideal job with plenty of trips abroad and snacks.
A quick internet search on which books have influenced top authors shows that there is usually an eclectic mix of styles and nationalities in there, take Haruki Murakami, he cites Dostoyevsky, Kafka and Raymond Chandler as inspirations. Whilst Hemingway lists Stendahl, Tolstoy, Virgil and Thoreau amongst his. It’s a heady mix and its one we probably all have in our collections but now just don’t make the distinction between transliterated books because that barrier of the mysterious land far off and the strange styles of writing has been removed and are so prevalent in society that it has almost become one homogenous pot where everybody seemingly speaks or is adapted to our own language.
As I’ve said in posts before, each reader’s unique journey through books is something immense, it’s not just the books we read but that they are order read in, the dizzying combinations of ways to travel through the literary world is one we should always treasure and not look with envy at somebody at anybody else’s journey. Imagine what it would be like without all those translated books in your collection and then think about how rich you are for having them and to all those hardy souls who have taken the time to decipher a language and customs and make them innate to our own sensibilities.
A round of applause then to all the interpreters methinks, without them we would be reduced to a world of mime artists when going abroad and that is a thought to truly make me shudder.