I remember when I was doing French exams and we had the passages to translate from one language to the other… I always did better on the French to English which I guess most people in my class did… But I always did much, much better. I think it might have been – and I hope I don’t seem to be blowing my own trumpet, to souffler ma propre trompette… or maybe chanter mes propres louanges – I think it may have been because I was trying to get across the sense and feeling of what was being said, and having it read in proper English, rather than word for word translating each line. In a way, I was concentrating on the English as much as the French – this didn’t always work, sometimes I had completely the wrong end of the stick!
I read a lot of fiction in translation, particularly Scandinavian and Icelandic crime fiction, and for the most part the translations are excellent – although a writer’s work can really vary if different translators work on different editions of a books I recommended ‘The Master and Margarita’ by Mikhail Bulgakov to my reading group – I had the translation by Michael Glenny, others didn’t and thought it was a terrible book as a result!
Last week I read my second novel by the Finnish writer, Jarkko Sipila, and to be honest a lot of the translation was not good; I wondered at first if it had been translated for an American market as I know there is a great difference between the two types of English. However, I came to the conclusion that the translation was never properly edited by an English editor as there were some things which were just not right. They were only little things, and I enjoyed the book, but it still irritated me. For example, ‘water kettle’… no, it’s just ‘kettle’; ‘gyro’- what? Do they mean ‘giro’ an electronic payment? No, ‘gyro’ is something to eat (not a gyroscope) a gyro is what we call a kebab or a donner kebab. Several times characters ‘smirked’ – but in the context, grinned or smiled would have been not only better, but right. Then there were the actual typos – ‘poked’ instead of ‘joked’, ‘fine’ instead of ‘five’ for example. There were lots of other mistakes which was annoying and distracting, and which also made me wonder if other things had been mistranslated but into correct English so the mistake wasn’t obvious.
I enjoyed the book and will read some more by Sipila, I just hope there is a different translator for the next one I read!