I noticed something a few years ago, after I put down Les Miserables three-fourths of the way through and never came back to it. After I couldn't get into Anna Karenina, never read past the 50th page of The Count of Monte Cristo, and quickly grew bored by Madame Bovary.
What do all these books have in common?
1)All have been translated from their original language into an English version.
2) I've never finished reading any of them.
Which is pretty strange, since usually I'm an extremely determined reader. I rarely put down a book once I've started it. I mean, I finished Twilight while wanting to rip it to shreds the whole time. But in all honesty, all the classical literature I've enjoyed or loved--whether it's Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, or Dracula--were originally written in the English language. For the purposes of this post I'm only including the older tomes. I don't think modern literature* should apply here since what turns many people off from classical books is the relatively stifled language, dense writing, and sometimes archaic terms that are mostly gone from literature published from the 20th century onwards.
That is not to say that originally English books can't be dense or boring as well; that's not what I'm claiming at all. Or even that English-translated books are always dense or boring. It's just that this is a consistent trend that I've noticed in my reading for at least four years running. I can make it through pretty much any original classical English text, but can count on my five fingers how many books that have been translated that I actually read and enjoyed. And it bamboozles me. It really does.
At first, I thought this was the case for everyone. I remember asking my sister after realizing this, and was quite confused when she told me that she actually thought English-translated books made for easier reading. And my Mom, (who grew up in China) told me that the classics she read when she was younger that had been translated into Mandarin were wonderful.
So I'm left thinking I'm the odd one out. And I've since avoided most non-original English books. I try again every once in a while. The last classical non-English book I've read was Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. I got one edition from the library; it was pretty boring and took me a long time to read. Then I went to my local B&N, read the first ten pages of the book with a different version of translation, and was immediately spellbound. The voice shone through, and the dialogue was great. On the other hand, the library-borrowed version had been pretty dull. So now I'm thinking that a lot of the times the translation falls short of the true greatness of a book. That some of the originality of prose has been lost in translation.
So, what set off this post?
It was my very latest English-translation reading failure: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I so wanted to read this book, but I couldn't read past the first twenty pages since the prose just did not appeal to me and seemed stilted, in my opinion. And I find it hard to believe that Marquez's original Spanish version was not absolutely beautifully written; just the book I was reading seemed to lack the magic, the feeling. I got that all too familiar feeling that I get when reading an English-translated text and stopped reading. Maybe it was premature of me to give up on it**, but it happens to me so much it might as well be a law of my reading habits:
While choco loves literature, she doesn't love English-translated literature.
I hoped this would be something I would grow out of as I grew older. But this trend of mine hasn't changed in the least. Even now, when I read more literature than I do YA, after I've learned to love literature after the ordeal of Literature Week. And I'm not attempting to pigeonhole English-translated books--I'd love to be able to love them. It's just that I'm curious why this applies to me, or if it applies to you too.
I might be the wrong person to be writing this post--I've never read an English version of a book and then the untranslated version to compare since I don't read more than one language. This is where I'm hoping that some of you bilingual readers will put me in the wrong; will tell me that the English-translated version of a classic is a much better read than the original text. Or maybe I'll find some kindred souls out there?
So, valiant readers: have you noticed any difference in quality between books originally written in English and English-translated books? Do you prefer one or the other?
And now the blog news:
In accordance to survey results and my desire to interview some lovely people, I'll be holding a series of teen writer interviews starting this Friday. I'll be inviting some very talented teens that are seriously pursuing publication over for a spotlight. Make sure to tune in*** tomorrow for the first post!
*I'm not including children's books either--but I have to say Anthea Bell is AMAZING. If you've read Inkheart or The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke, they were both translated from German to English by Bell and were still well-written with a lovely voice.
** I don't know if I've entirely given up on it, I'm just not that eager to read it anymore.
***or maybe this should be read in? link in? Hehehe.
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