Thursday, July 01, 2010

Lost in Translation

I can't remember if I first read Tim Park's "Italian Neighbours" when I first moved to Italy, or while I was already there. I do know that I read the depressing "Europa" years later where the happy family Park described in his earlier books had clearly vanished. Europa was depressing, indulgent, and dull. It was nominated for a Booker. I would skip it.

Anyway, I was interested to see a New York Review of Books article by Parks on the translation of foreign language books into English, or rather, the lack of it. Park notes that the translated works, instead of highlighting cultural difference, all represent the same, internationalist, progressive, literary worldview
It seems to me rather that as we tackle intriguing stories from Latvia and Lithuania, Bosnia and Macedonia, we are struck by how familiar these voices are, how reassuringly similar in outlook to one another and ourselves....

It is as if literary fiction didn't so much reflect other cultures, obliging us to immerse ourselves in the exotic, but rather brought back news of shortcomings and injustices to an international community that could be relied upon to sympathize. These writers seem more like excellent foreign correspondents than foreigners. Across the globe, the literary frame of mind is growing more homogeneous.
He is quite correct. To hear truly novel voices today (pardon the pun) you need to go back in time and read classics in other languages, ideally from the 18th Century or earlier. Certainly pre-world war 2.

It is best to read 18th century books judged classics pre-world war 2, but not after. Kipling, for example, truly seems to be from Mars.

(A brief aside: I believe Italy requires all foreign films to be translated into the Italian. This provides work for Italian (voice) actors. Kind of like Rhode Island and its petrol pump attendants.)



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