Lost & Found in Translation and Movie Adaptations

The other day I read this great article about words and translation. It's actually a review for the much-talked-about book "Is That a Fish in Your Ear?" which I'm looking forward to reading next year.

But what really caught my eye was the intro and the whole idea of how sometimes you only have access to the translated version of a book and it gives you impressions and a perspective about the story and characters that can change completely if you read the original. We see that happening all the time with movies, for example, when you read a great book and the movie adaptation falls short of what you had in mind, or when you really have fun with a movie and when you get to read the book that feeling just isn't there.

By the way, next on my reading list are two books in translation, which have been adapted to the big screen into movies I really enjoyed:

  • Thierry Jonquet's Mygale, a French novel that recently inspired Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar's "The Skin I live In." I don't read French, so I've bought Donald Nicholson-Smith's English translation "Tarantula" and downloaded it to my Kindle. I read a negative review on Amazon that was written by someone who didn't think the English version was as good as the French, but being a translator myself I know that personal opinions on the subject can be debatable, so we'll see what happens when I actually get to read it. I'm trying to stay neutral, for I know a lot of the movie came from the brilliantly perverse mind of Mr. Almodóvar, but I'm looking forward to enjoying this thriller on its own merits.
  • José Saramago's Ensaio sobre a cegueira, which became "Blindness" in the English translation by Giovanni Pontieroand in Fernando Meirelles's movie adaptation. You may ask, "Well, don't you read Portuguese?" Yes, of course I do―that's my native language! Even though I'm from Brazil and Saramago was from Portugal, I'd have no problem reading his original book with a little help of a good dictionary for localization purposes. "Why did you buy theEnglish version then?" you might insist on pestering me. Okay, I just coudn't resist, alright?! Amazon had EIGHT Saramago novels bundled into one Kindle book for less than $16 and, by what I've seen, the original paperback of this title alonewould have to be imported for no less than $40. You do the math. Still, I'll get my hands on the Portuguese version one day to compare the two versions and contrast my impressions with the haunting movie I liked so much. I think we're due for another trip to Portugal...

Well, going back to my original point (focus!), here's the intro to the article I was talking about:

"A Russian friend of mine once tried to improve his English by studying T.S. Eliot's 'Preludes.' He already knew a translation by heart, and he liked to recite, with great reverberating passion, a line about how the streetlamps of London glowed like luminous jellyfish at the bottom of the ocean. When he reached the corresponding passage of the English text, he was shattered. All it said was: "And then the lighting of the lamps." No jellyfish, no ocean. Evidently the Russian translator had found Eliot's austere original to be insufficiently poetical and had decided to goose it up. My friend felt doubly betrayed—first by Eliot, because his poem was not so interesting after all; then by the translator, because his beautiful line was a fake."

I'll come back later with not only my impressions on "Tarantula" and "Blindness" but also with a 2012 To Read List, because I better organize myself for next year with  so many good titles waiting for me on my Kindle.