Translating Stieg and others

Some more translating thoughts hit me over breakfast. I was reading my Vi magazine, where someone was moaning over the mangling of poor Stieg Larsson’s titles. Whereas I agree with the comment by ab here  yesterday as regards The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (which frankly has the opposite effect of what I’m about to say, in that it puts the emphasis on tattooed women, with all its connotations), the person in Vi felt that foreign translations, where the title is changed in order to seemingly not offend weak minded foreign readers, are wrong. The idea seems to be that if a Swede has decided his or her title must contain strong (very strong) language, then they’d rather not sell in other countries, rather than have the title altered beyond recognition.

It appears that the Colombian (and other Spanish speaking countries?) shops are selling a Stieg Larsson called Los hombres que no amaban a las mujeres, i.e. Men who do not love women, rather than Men who hate women. I think that’s OK. Better than dwelling on tattoos.

The writer goes on to complain about another Swedish book (which I’ve not had any interest in, simply due to the title) by Maria Sveland, called Bitterfittan. The only reason a straightlaced person like myself can write this without blushing is that if you know what it means you don’t need it explaining to you. I don’t honestly know what it means, except that the first half of the word is bitter, and the second half alludes to a part of the female body using a word I personally would never use. But perhaps the book title really means something very nice indeed. Who knows? I’m a foreigner in two countries, these days, fluent in neither.

Over Christmas Son brought home a DVD for us to watch, as it’s coursework at uni. It’s a film I have also not had much to do with, because of the title, although I believe it’s a very good film. The English title is Show Me Love, which is a whole lot easier to say than Fucking Åmål. The theory in our house is that the f-word is a lot easier for Swedes to trot out because it comes without emotional ties for people, as it’s not their native language.

Authors and film makers have every right to name their work whatever they want to. I don’t think they have the right to complain if a daring title gets a milder foreign translation. It’s very easy to feel that “you” are right and everybody else is wrong, but it’s not that simple. I’ve been in England long enough to adopt some of this country’s values. And I’ve been away long enough not to understand quite what goes on in Sweden. But to do what the Vi writer does, and call Stieg Larsson’s Spanish title “translation rape” is going a bit too far.

It’s a translation, and it will sell books instead of alienating buyers and readers.

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20 responses to “Translating Stieg and others

  1. Do I understand then that the original title of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ is ‘Men who hate women’ (in Swedish)? If so then I can understand why it was changed. I think the issue is more than one of ‘strong language’. Rather, I think it actually might be one of ‘weak language’. ‘Men who hate women’ is weak language in English… it falls flat, thud, it has no music in it. I don’t speak Swedish but (I’m gambling here, Ann!) but I’m willing to bet that the phrase in Swedish Män Som Hatar Kvinnor has a bit more poetry to it, a bit more zing, a bit more edge and dynamism, which a native speaker would respond to at a gut level. Actually even I can spot that it has a rhythm: Duh-da duh-da duh-da. ‘Men who hate women’ in English is just an awful title, regardless of any meaning attached to it.

    There, that’s my defence of altered titles in translation! I wonder what they’ll call the German edition of ‘The Cat Kin’? I still don’t know.

  2. OK, I’ll grant you it doesn’t sound very poetic. But that’s what the translator should do. Find a nice sounding phrase, similar to the original. It’s also why I could never translate. Ever.

  3. We are hoping that the translator, “Reg Keeland” (aka Steven T Murray) will come to CrimeFest in May – then we can ask him all about it.

  4. Yes, I saw that on your blog, Maxine. It made me want to reconsider attending. I just reckon I can’t afford going, however great it will be. Maybe I can sleep in the bar… And sneak into the seminars somehow. An invisibility cloak, perhaps.

  5. Please don’t blame me for that title! Strictly the publisher’s marketing decision (and it seems to have worked). “Men Who Hate Women” sounds like a nonfiction book, along the lines of “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus”. And I have to agree with Nick, it just doesn’t have the punch of the same title in Swedish. Wait till you see what they’ve come up with for book #3 (not final yet, I hope). Hope to see y’all in Bristol if we can find an affordable flight…

  6. TGWTDT is OK, Reg. And I understand about the duh-da duh-da duh-da, now. It’s just that I think the title and the cover image has fed the male fantasy element a little bit too much. She’s an anorexic, an impossible, asocial misfit! Not a James Bond associate. And my understanding of the new breasts is that they are still very small. She’s just not flat anymore. Nothing to get all worked up about.

  7. Wait till you read the description of her tattoo in book 2! It’s huge, swooping from her shoulder down to her thigh, and I envision it as one of the modern design, black and pointy, not a dinky little Chinese thing. In fact, one reader bought TGWTDT and complained that there wasn’t a thing about China in the book…

  8. Steve Murray has a book of mine. I’d like it back! 😉

  9. Surely you want it translated and published?

  10. As a Danish crime fiction reader I felt called upon to comment on this title 🙂

    Even though I saw some very positive reviews of Stieg´s first 2-3 years ago, it simply did not enter my mind that a book called “Mænd som hader kvinder” could be anything for me. But two of my children gave it to me so I had to read it. Fortunately!

  11. I agree, Dorte. I took a long time to get round to reading the books. Looked carefully at what they were like in the shop and rejected them as boring and didn’t buy. But as all of Sweden appears to have read them, I had third thoughts on the subject.

  12. Hey Dorte, when we first got the book from Norstedts my wife said she would never read a book called “Men Who Hate Women.” So maybe the UK publisher was right to change the title, marketing-wise.

  13. We’ve just heard (I work for the publisher) that The Girl Who Played with Fire has gone in at number one in the hardback fiction charts. We’re just trying to find out when the last translated title to do that was – certainly there hasn’t been one in the last 6 years. Anyone got any ideas? ‘Perfume’ maybe? ‘The Name of the Rose’? ‘Sophie’s World’?

    By the way, I can confirm that the title decision was made by the publisher. I supported the title of ‘Men Who Hate Women’ in-house, but it looks like I was wrong to do so…

    The Americans are going with the UK titles also.

  14. That’s great news, Iain. Nice to hear from someone on the inside.

  15. Iain, I believe it might have been ‘Smilla’s Sense of Snow’. Thanks for sticking up for the original title of Stieg’s, and congrats on the great sales.

  16. Pingback: while my back was turned . . . « Scandinavian Crime Fiction

  17. First I´d like to say that “Los hombres que no amaban a las mujeres” means “The men who DIDN´T love women”, which it´s not exactly the same that “don´t love”, by the way in French is the same translation. Anyway if the writer´s idea was “Men who hate, or hated, I can´t be sure now, women”, then why don´t keep it?, I think that thing with the tatoo it´s just confusing, and has nothing to do with the book, and moreover she isn´t even the main charachter, and the story is not about her.
    I don´t understand why a book about a girl with a tatoo has to be more atractive than the other one. And I don´t undesrtand either what is the reason for the change of hate for didn´t love…

  18. Gerald Wallis

    All power to Mr Keeland’s translation, which must have been a very onerous task (Swedish is not exactly a world front line language!) But why hasn’t anyone produced an English english version (eg “clever” or “skillful” rather than “neat”)? I’m not nitpicking but It just feels wrong to have Swedes talking American.

  19. There are two versions of English translation, Gerald. And I hope you are not suggesting it’s harder to translate from a smaller language?
    You should have been there when Stieg’s friend Kurdo Baksi spoke in Edinburgh last week. His ‘English’ was pretty American and a lot of Swedes do speak like that.
    https://bookwitch.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/he-knew-stieg/

  20. Gerald Wallis

    No, I was suggesting that it was a skillful translation, even more so because in world terms there are not many swedish speakers, hence a very small number of translators from swedish to english (excluding Swedes of course who’s 2nd language is english). It’s a culural thing, if I read an american book, then I expect it to american english. If I read a book where the characters are european, then I expect the translated language to be english sounding. Why? I dunno! … No slight intended.

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