Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Reading Challenge Week 20 - A Book Translated From Another Language

A translator of a book has an interesting job. They have to convey not only the story of the original book in another language, but also the spirit of it. Ideally, a translated work will be as close as possible to the original, without letting a direct literal translation of the language get in the way of conveying the sense and feeling of the author's work. It's a difficult balance to achieve, and good translators are worth their weight in gold.

This week's reading challenge was to read a translated book. Did you read one? How did you find the translation?

Brenda Carter read The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas.

I don’t envy Robin Buss, the person who translated The Count of Monte Cristo (840 DUM(P) 2C COU/PEN) from the French by Alexandre Dumas. At 1276 pages, it’s not a quick read but it certainly is an exciting and compelling one. And you can’t tell that the story has been translated, which must mean that Buss has done an excellent job! 

The central theme is revenge. We meet Edmond Dantes on the day of his wedding to the beautiful Mercedes. Although a popular and accomplished seaman, Dantes has enemies who conspire to have him imprisoned in the island fortress of the Chateau d'I on trumped-up charges.  While in prison, he meets a man who tells him about some treasure on the island of Monte Cristo. 

By the time Dantes escapes, he has crafted an intricate plan of revenge on all his enemies and the reader is well and truly on his side. But will Mercedes still be waiting and willing to reunite with her former lover?

You can find Buss's translation in print, or try David Coward's translation as an ebook in the JCU library collections. The original French version, Le comte de Monte-Cristo, is also in our collection.

Sharon Bryan read The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink.

Schlink's The Reader (830 SCHL 2C VOR) was admirably translated by the late Carol Brown Janeway, who captured the spirit of the original in a translation that was articulate and intelligent, but still highly readable. The Reader - or, in the original German, Der Vorleser (830 SCHL 1C VOR) - is a story written in late 20th century Germany and set in mid 20th century West Germany - and it is very much a story of it's time. Both times.

The novel was written at a time when German society was finally coming to grips with their past, and stepping out from old shadows. They were better able to say "Our grandparents were involved in some pretty terrible things, but that's not who we are." That was when this book was written, and it looks back at the earlier period with a frankness that might not have been possible earlier.

It is set in a time when West German society was trying to avoid being "those people who did terrible things in the war" and make a brighter, better present for themselves by doing their best to avoid thinking about their past. The next generation (the children of the people who had been caught up in the events of World War II) didn't really know what their parent's generation had been doing a couple of decades earlier. But then they started to learn, and they were completely shocked.

What would you do if you found out someone you loved and respected had been a prison guard in a detention camp where horrible things happened? What would you do if you learnt they had played a role in those horrible things?

Michael (the narrator of the novel) is a teenage boy who is seduced by Hanna, an older woman. She wants him to read to her, and he's happy to have the attention. The affair is short lived, but leaves a lasting impression on the boy. He later learns that she was involved in something he can't accept, when his law class attends the trial of a war criminal - only to find the war criminal in question is Hanna (one heck of a reunion). At some point, he realises she can't be guilty of all the crimes she is accused of, and he knows why. But she is guilty of at least some of the crimes. So where does that leave him?

1 comment:

Sharon B said...

By the way, the copy of "The Reader" that I own actually has Carol Brown Janeway's name on the cover, right under the title - not quite as big as Schlink's name, but still quite prominent and noticeable. Which is a real indication of her reputation as a translator and the respect she had in the publishing world.