I don’t read translated books a lot. Most of the time I read books written by English-speaking writers. Some of them are native speakers, and some are fluent in their second language, but that is the norm. This is my comfort zone.
I start to get antsy when a book that was written in an entirely different language has been translated to English. Translators have a tricky task ahead of them—Ana Castillo said it like this: “as a writer as well as a translator I do believe that translated words are not different names for the same thing. They're different names for different things” (source). Essentially, a language represents the people it is talking about and the person who is talking, and you have to try to capture that with an entirely different set of words.
Some stuff translates better than others. Also, some stuff doesn’t. Let me tell you about my strongest memories of translated books:
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke | The only Funke book I ever finished was Dragon Rider. Thief Lord and Inkheart were too boring, even though the latter is especially popular. I WANTED TO LIKE IT. I did. But I got bored all the times I tried to read Inkheart. Few people understood why I didn’t enjoy the book, so most of the time I just told them, “I think it probably sounds better in German.”
Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder | This was not a bad book—it’s intellectual, challenging, and has a decent story. But the language of the book was a little difficult for me, and some of the plot points… Not to spoil anything, but Sophie has a birthday party. I think she turns thirteen or fourteen. Anyway, it’s a kids-and-parents party, and two of the kids go and have sex in the bushes and maybe get pregnant and literally no one cares. Part of that is like, the point of such a philosophical book, but part of me believes that scene made more sense to Gaarder when he wrote the book.
Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? by Katrine Marçal | Full disclosure: this is my current read. I’m only partway through so far, but it’s easy to notice a few stylistic writing differences. A good part appears in the form of fragmented sentences. It’s common for the writer to say something important. And then add on a sentence like this, when she really probably should have used a comma or started a new complete sentence. Also, the logic system they use is different. It’s hard to describe, but I feel like the system involves saying a lot of things and then looping back and elaborating on the details as many times as is necessary. I… am getting used to it. Ish.
I’m not sure if I have a definitive opinion on translations. On the one hand, they’re special because they can help you share in something that somebody said in another language. You communicate in a way that would not have been possible otherwise. But translations are tricky! There are some impossible differences to reconcile, and I know it makes me less satisfied sometimes. But that’s okay. It’s good to stretch your brain sometimes.
Have you read any books translated from another language?