Found in translation

Found in translation

I’ve never read Jules Verne, Miguel de Cervantes, or Karel Čapek.

Oh, I’ve read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Don Quixote, and War with the Newts, of course.

I just haven’t read them in their original languages (French, Spanish, and Czech).

Even though our adult kid is a linguist, I’m simply not fluent enough (if at all). I can blunder through an article in Spanish, and I did three years of Russian in high school. On the latter, I wanted to be able to read some research being done in the then Soviet Union…but I didn’t really become conversational.

I did learn all of Mangani, the language the “apes” speak in the Tarzan books, but that’s not the same thing. 😉

So many of the classics so many of us have read are translations!

I’ll admit, I don’t generally pay much attention to who the translator is of a book. I probably should pay more attention to that. Translated books often seem…stilted to me. I think they tend to use the “correct” language in English, when  the author is being slangy in their own.

I knew someone who was a translator. Out of curiosity, this person put “hit the road” (an American English idiom meaning to get on your way) into an online translator (this was more than a decade ago) and had it translate it to French…and then translated it back from French to English using the same software.

The result was “pummel the avenue”. 🙂

I just tried the same experiment with Google translate…and the retranslation was rendered properly as “hit the road”.

Amazon’s traditional publishing wing has had an imprint devoted to translating works into English for some time:

AmazonCrossing homepage in the Kindle store (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit by shopping*)

It has been very successful for them…one of their biggest successes has been

The Hangman’s Daughter (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) by Oliver Pötzsch

and its sequels.

The first book, nearly five years on, is still in the #250 paid bestsellers in the USA Kindle store.

There are 809 books published by AmazonCrossing in the USA Kindle store:

AmazonCrossing books in the USA Kindle Store (at AmazonSmile*)

Generally, they seem to be well-reviewed (there are exceptions), and there are some with thousands of reviews.

I just recently read one I got as one of the

Kindle First books (at AmazonSmile*)

Prime members can generally get one a month (sometimes it’s two) for free to own.

The one I read was

The Capital of Latecomers (at AmazonSmile*) by Nena Nenova (and translated by Vladimir Poleganov)

I would say the translation was pretty good…I wasn’t thrilled with the book itself, although there were some interesting elements.

Clearly, Amazon also thinks AmazonCrossing is working.

They sent me this

Press Release

announcing a fresh $10 million investment “… over the next five years to increase the number and diversity of its books in translation”.

Interestingly, they now have a website where authors/publishers can submit books for the program. You can do that here:

They are looking for books in these categories:

  • Fantasy
  • Historical Fiction
  • Literary Fiction
  • Memoir
  • Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense
  • Romance
  • Science Fiction
  • Women’s Fiction
  • Young Adult Fiction

Looks to me like they have around fifty languages from which they will translate (if the book is selected).

Amazon has been a leader on globalizing its e-book devices (they dominated the NOOK on that). They have also been an important way for authors/publishers to reach readers, both as a platform (Kindle Direct Publishing) and as a traditional publisher.

This combines those two strengths.

Amazon could certainly publishes books in the original languages…and in several other languages eventually.

They don’t list the terms on the submission site: that may be negotiated on an individual basis.

I think this is important.

It’s a great goodwill thing for Amazon’s relationships with other countries…even if books aren’t a huge part of their revenue stream.

What do you think? Do you like reading translated books? Do you seek out individual translators? Do you know someone who has had a book published and translated? If so, what was their experience like? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things. 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

7 Responses to “Found in translation”

  1. EJC Says:

    I have read all but the most recent of the Hangman’s daughter books and very much enjoyed them. I suspect that the translator(s) worked closely with the author to get the right tone for the books. They have not all used the same translator, but still managed to sound like the same author. This is no small feat.

    I have read reports of research done in other countries through translation. Sometimes it seems like you need multiple translations to really understand the work.

    I applaud the attempts by Amazon. They have certainly introduced me to characters and worlds that I would not have otherwise encountered.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, EJC!

      I haven’t read the Hangman’s books. I wonder if the author speaks English well enough to help the various translators with questions. Another thing is that there may be a single editor who has worked with all of the translations.

      Even since the press release about which I wrote, Amazon has announced more efforts in the globalization of literature. I was particularly interested to see a new emphasis on Indonesian works…I’ll probably write more about this within the next week or so.

      • EJC Says:

        oh, thanks for the update. I spent 6 years in Indonesia as a child so I would be very interested in Indonesian works.

        I honestly didn’t realize that the Hangman’s Daughter books were translated when I first read them.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, EJC!

        I’m hoping to write about the Indonesian initiative today.

        That’s impressive about the Hangman’s Daughter! I’m sure the translator and author would both be pleased.

  2. Harry Says:

    I have been translating from English to my native language German for almost 17 years. I’ve done software translations as well as books, pamphlets and many other materials. I can attest to the fact that the translator has a much harder job than the original author of … say … a novel.

    The most difficult parts are of course the ones you already mentioned: slang and idioms only known in the original language. It’s always a struggle between accuracy and readability. A translation can easily and sometime inevitably become stilted … as you put it.

    I tend to read books in their original language. Since I speak German in English there are more than enough to choose from. You do not know how well a translation will be before you start reading a book. So in most cases it’ll be a little bit like gambling.

    Unfortunately there is not much you can do about it – except to learn a new language of course. If you know who has translated a book before you buy it, look him or her up on the Internet and try to find out about his or her career and work. That might give you a hint about the quality of the translation you are about to read.

    When we leave novels and come to non-fiction books the most important factor is the knowledge of the translator about the topic of the book. You cannot expect a good translation of a physics book if the translator has only a second grade knowledge about physics. So if you have the chance lok the translator up on the Internet and try to find out more about his or her previous work.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Harry!

      I appreciate you sharing your experience, and your insight! I’m sure my readers do, too.

  3. Round up #310: | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Found in translation about Amazon’s commitment to their AmazonCrossing imprint, which translates works. […]

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