Some books cannot be contained by the language barrier. Other than religious texts which are translated into numerous languages out of necessity, there are works of fiction that has such an effect on its readers that they have been translated in more than 50 languages. Some of these novels are “Sherlock Holmes” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (translated from English into 60 languages), “Pippi Longstocking” by Astrid Lindgren (translated from Swedish into over 64 languages), “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho (translated from Portuguese into 67 languages), “The Little Prince” by Antoine De Saint Exupery (translated from French into over 180 languages), and “Pinocchio” by Carlo Collodi (translated from Italian into 260 languages.
Translations: The unfortunate disadvantage
If the reader could comprehend the original text they would not have availed of the translated version in the first place. Unfortunately for book lovers who read translated work, they have no means of determining whether the translation that they buy is an accurate version of the original work. The only thing that consumers can do is choose a reliable publishing company, and trust that the book version that they provide is the best translation available.
Of the 67 languages that the Harry Potter series of books have been translated, there is no way of knowing whether each version out there has been translated from the original English, and are not second-hand translations. The practice of publishing houses is to provide just one translation for a particular language, so that the consumer does not have any choice.
One known controversy involved two of Haruki Murakami’s works, “South of the Border, West of the Sun” and “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.” It was discovered that there were German translations made and sold that were not directly from the Japanese, but from English translations. For sure much is in second-hand translations.The books were sold and earned the publishers a considerable profit. The affront was not made very public, though the scandal was a huge issue in literary circles. There were no boycotts, however, and the public did not really mind it. But the publishers eventually acquiesced to withdraw the books from the market.
Respect for living (and dead) authors
Murakami was, to say the least very disappointed, and said that the idea of translating from the American translation and not from the original Japanese never even occured to him. Like most authors Murakami was all too trusting of publishing companies. It appears that even award-winning and very popular authors like Murakami do not always get the respect that they deserve.
Scholarly translations of the rich texts of “difficult” authors of Cervantes and Umberto Eco are available. Most of Eco’s novels are translated with his leave and approval. But what of the more popular authors whose work fall into haphazard translation efforts? It is the hope of many book lovers that this practice will be put to an end soon enough. Translators abound, and very good ones are just waiting for their services to be employed. Maybe one day the book-buying public will find better translated books to enjoy.