Wednesday, July 30, 2014

On the importance of good translations

I have been reading Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo for at least two months.  It is neither boring nor didactic, and I just wasn't sure why I couldn't get into it.  This is as chock-full-o'-revenge as you can get, really.  There's plots, counterplots, counter-counterplots, secret identities, banditti, murders, secret passageways, and betrayal! 

Finally, I came to realize that as I read, I was constantly noticing how poor the translation was.  It seemed very literal from the French, and not lively at all.  It was flat.  Being a cheapskate, I nipped over to Amazon and got a free copy for my Kindle (I am not getting into the Amazon/Hachette feud here) in French. 

I know this sounds like the most pretentious thing ever, but hear me out.  I actually feel as if I am reading this book the way Dumas meant it to be read.  It's like that scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy opens the door of her house and everything bursts into color.  Music swells, the violins hold vibrato, annnnnd ... TA DA!

You certainly don't have to read a book in the original language in order to enjoy it.  I wouldn't have even been able to read the title of Anna Karenina or Crime and Punishment, much less get through the book, had not some awesome translators made it accessible for this non-Russian speaker.  By a rather odd chain of events, I happen to have focused on French rather than Spanish in school, like most of my peers.  This means that I have very little practical language ability here in the States, but I can read French novels ... in French.  Whoop-de-doo. 

Even had I not been able to read French, I'm pretty sure I would have noticed the awkwardness of this (nameless) translation.  You see, I feel victim to CLS (Cover Lust Syndrome), which is quite common among librarians and book bloggers.  This copy of The Count of Monte Cristo had an embossed leather cover, a ribbon bookmark (bonus for me because I lose or otherwise mangle my personal bookmarks), and gold-edged pages.  It was, in short, blingtastic.  Sometimes I would just pet the cover ever so gently to feel the soft swirls and whorls of the leather.  I have, however, learned my lesson.  If the translator isn't clearly named, I will not buy the book.  I will research the translator as I did with my Anna Karenina.  I paid more just to get the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, and it was so worth it. 

Now I am lingering with the Count, but for other reasons: I am enjoying Dumas writing so much that I'm moving just as slowly as before.  Yet, I hope, this time I read with more insight.

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