Discussion: Found In Translation

Friday, 10 April 2015

If your favorite piece were translated into another language, what would be the most important aspect you would like to remain consistent between languages? How does the language of the piece bring the story to life? 

So it got me thinking - what are some translated books out there and what makes them endure?

Above are just a few examples of books which I'd love to read which have been originally written in another language. A few years ago I first turned the pages of The Diary of Anne Frank and it really moved me to tears. Though it wasn't in English when Anne wrote it, the message remained the same - it's the sentiment which transcends our method of communicating, and is a common thread which all readers can understand, regardless of the language form. 

Currently I'm really looking forward to reading Anna Karenina and The Unbearable Lightness of Being especially, since they both seem to be such poignant tales exploring human nature in their respective times. Literary devices like similes, metaphors and vivid imagery may vary from the Russian to English slightly for example, as there are bound to be some differences. There are simply some words which you can't explain any other way other than in their original state. When it comes to the authors and the characters they create, do they have: Different cultural influences? Yes. Different geographical location? Yes. Different background? Yes.

However, aren't people the same no matter how we are explained or expressed? A person living on one side of the world compared to another at their core will be exploring the same perennial notions. Literature it what captures this - the nuances of our very existence, no matter what language it is written in. 

Coming across translation software companies like Smartling who making languages accessible for people online is one idea, but what about when it comes to books?

Let's look at a few examples from these books to see what aspects would be important to maintain in any language:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

It's a classic - and so has already been translated into a myriad of other languages (if I could read any others I would be curious to see how the expression differed). What I would hope to see be maintained? Definitely Lizzie's places of sarcastic tone, Mrs Bennet's histrionics and of course the rocky road to finding your true match.

The Fault in our Stars by John Green

There are some really beautiful quotes in this book which I would hope would be kept, like:

"As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once."


"My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations."

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavander by Leslye Walton

The lyrical writing style in this book is just exquisite, and there are so many stunning pieces of prose throughout that just speak to you and draw you in. Those parts which make this story so memorable are what should ultimately prevail.

Fate. As a child, that word was often my only companion. It whispered to me from dark corners during lonely nights. It was the song of the birds in spring and the call of the wind through bare branches on a cold winter afternoon. Fate. Both my anguish and my solace. My escort and my cage.

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

Now this would definitely be an interesting book to see translated - especially with the photos and little scrapbook parts which aren't all part of the main text. What really matters though is Amy and Roger's relationship and how their characters develop.

Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

As long as you get this same reaction when it's finished out of a reader and the suspense was there to support it, Dangerous Girls would be awesome no matter what language it's in. 

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

I loved this story about the Grimm brothers and how their fairytales came to be. It would work really well in German since much of it does have that influence in the first place.

In all, translations are important, especially since they allow readers from anywhere in the world to experience the same special magic of reading a good book.

Over to you - what books have you read that were first written in a language other than English?


  1. A love for mine is translated fiction, actually. Have fun with Kundera, he's a favourite of mine! And Murakami always has my heart. Thing with the classics is you can actually choose your translation so get picky with the one you get...makes a difference. The metaphors are translated more fluidly, just something to keep in mind.

    1. That's great to hear Jess, I really can't wait to read some of his works soon. Thanks for the tip with picking the right translation, I can see how it could definitely make a difference overall if you pick the right one.

  2. I just read As White as Snow which was Finnish! I also loved Inkheart (German) and The Shamer's Daughter (Danish). But it does make me wonder what happens with messages/themes are lost in translation. Like, how do we even know if they ARE lost?! Gah. It's complex. I don't even translators.

    1. I know what you mean Cait - it's hard to tell in the first place if you don't know the original language to begin with. Those books you mentioned look interesting, I never even knew Inkheart was translated!

  3. Ooh, this is a really interesting post. You know, I'm not really sure whatI I've read that has been translated into English because I've never really looked it up--but I'm sure that it's more than I realized. I absolutely ADORED the Diary of Anne Frank. I read it for school years ago, and it was such a moving story. When reading translated fiction I do wonder about what has changed in order for it to fit the English language, so that's a really good point you bring up.

    1. Glad you liked it Kara - I think that'd be the same too and now that I think of it I remember reading a book called 'We We Took The Car' by Wolfgang Herrndorf which was quite good.

  4. I swear I'd commented on this post the other day, but apparently not! I believe it was something along the lines of me loving this post and gushing about The Diary of a Young Girl (as usual).

    x Ely


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