Category Archives: Translation

The Invisible Man From Salem

Except I read it in the original, so it’s really Den Osynlige Mannen Från Salem. But at least this way you know that you, too, can access Christoffer Carlsson’s award-winning first crime novel featuring Leo Junker. Because I think you might want to.

Admittedly, I hate the kind of society he’s writing about, but firmly believe that this is what people in other countries find so charming about Swedish noir. Life is dark and dismal, but because it’s not your dark and dismal, it’s all right.

This is an adult crime novel, but with enough flashbacks to Leo’s youth in a concrete-covered Stockholm suburb in the mid-1990s, that it can almost double as YA. Almost.

Christoffer Carlsson, Den Osynlige Mannen Från Salem

Leo has been relieved of his police badge after some dubious goings-on on Gotland. Not his fault, but a scapegoat was needed. And now a woman has been murdered in the flat below his, and he feels he could do with something to occupy himself with, in his half-drugged, sad state. And then it turns out it’s all much closer to home than he thought.

Maybe something to do with his friends from sixth form college? The police don’t like him much, nor do people from his past private life. It’s been tough, and the drugs are just about understandable.

There are no charming vicarages here. Very little that is nice at all, in fact. There is so little hope, even. I was glad I’d got out. Despite this being set 30 years after I was that age, it felt as if nothing had changed. I could have gone to that school. Those teenagers could have been my classmates.

It’s awful.

And it’s also very well written, and after a while I sort of liked Leo. A little. When I reached the end I did what any sane person would do and started on the attached sample chapter for the second book. Apart from having other books to read too, there is the slight conundrum of me only having the fourth, and last, book to hand. On Christoffer’s advice.

What to do?

(There are more than a few nods to Sjöwall & Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series.)

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Banished

Another holiday; another Selma Lagerlöf for the Resident IT Consultant to read. Though it has to be said that he had to take a break, because it wasn’t always all that pleasant. I know that sounds  unkind, but as you will see from his review below, Banished was a bit of a mouthful, and even Selma suffered.

“Banished is the latest product of Norvik Press’s initiative to publish new translations of the work of Selma Lagerlöf. Bannlyst (its Swedish title) was originally published in 1918 and first appeared in English translation (as The Outcast), in 1922.  This edition is translated by Linda Schenck, translator of  Lagerlöf’s Löwensköld Ring trilogy and five of Kerstin Ekman’s novels.

Lagerlöf, the first female winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1909, was a committed feminist and pacifist and was horrified by the violence of the First World War. After personally having seen the bodies of thousands of dead soldiers floating in the sea after the Battle of Jutland she was inspired to write a novel that explores the double standard that allows people to hold death sacrosanct and yet neglects the sanctity of life.

Banished tells the story of Sven Elversson, a member of a failed polar expedition on which the survivors are forced the eat the flesh of one of their comrades in order to avoid perishing. He is a brave and kind man but is rejected by those around him and banished from their company. Banished is a thought-provoking tale of love, death and survival that grapples with moral dilemmas as relevant today as they were a century ago.

By the end all those who have found Sven reprehensible realize that human life is worth far more than human death and that during the ongoing war the same people who vilified an explorer for doing what he had to do to survive were prepared to disregard daily mass murders and to glorify those who carry them out.”

Selma Lagerlöf, Banished

The Resident IT Consultant is now recuperating with something a wee bit lighter. But I’d say, keep them coming! He – sort of – enjoys them.

Swedish Eyres

‘There is a Jane Eyre in translation here,’ said the Resident IT Consultant as we discussed whether it would be suitable for Swiss Lady to read. You know, after fifty shades. Because it would have to be in Swedish.

I was surprised, but waited as he went to get it from the shelf.

He returned with the news that it was in English, as I’d expected it to be. I doubt Mother-of-witch read it in the original, but there was a time as she was learning English when she bought a fair number of novels in that language, some of which she did read. Lady Chatterley, for instance.

Hmm, that’s a thought. Would D H Lawrence suit a shades fan?

Jane Eyre translated by Gun-Britt Sundström

But thinking of Jane Eyre, I have no idea what the novel is like in translation. I only ever got round to reading those classics in English, which means I was much later than my [English-speaking] peers.

I looked Jane up. I believe she was translated at least three times, most recently in the 1990s. First time was soon after the book was published. And while the English doesn’t really date much, the Swedish would. Hence the need for more than one version.

You can buy a paperback for 55 kronor online, which seems reasonable. Translation by Gun-Britt Sundström. You can also read a short sample, which strangely enough is the mid-20th century one by Ingegärd von Tell.

Jane Eyre translated by Ingegärd von Tell

The Ice Sea Pirates

I almost expected the ice sea to have melted by the time I got Frida Nilsson’s book to read. But it was still cold. At least in the book. The Ice Sea Pirates, translated by Peter Graves and illustrated by David Barrow, is that kind of slightly old-fashioned, traditional children’s book that we often hanker after.

Frida Nilsson, The Ice Sea Pirates

Ten-year-old Siri lives with her sister Miki, who’s seven, and their father, somewhere far north, where it’s cold and life is fairly hard. And where there are pirates who snatch small children, forcing them to work for Whitehead, the pirate captain, somewhere unknown. All that people know is that the children are never seen again.

And then Miki is taken. The adults reckon it’s now too late to save her, but Siri is aware it was her fault and she vows to get her sister back. What follows is a hazardous journey for a young girl, meeting unreliable adults who mostly want something for themselves, rather than to help such a lost cause.

But Siri does make some real friends, and she perseveres like a true heroine.

I can’t tell you what happens, or how, but there are mermaids – yes they exist – and wolves and it is freezing cold. So cold you can walk on the sea.

As for me, I was so busy looking for connections between people that I missed the most important one. But if you have courage, you will go far.

The Emperor of Portugallia – Retranslating Classics

The Resident IT Consultant has been reading that well known feminist, Selma Lagerlöf, over the holiday. Here he is on The Emperor of Portugallia and translations now and then.

“There’s nothing like a fresh translation to invigorate a classic. When I read Austen or Scott or Dickens I’m usually prepared to accept the stylistic differences and obscure vocabulary that tend to accompany texts of this age. Publishers provide notes to help me to understand words that I cannot look up in the dictionary. But with a translation I’m less sympathetic. Why should I accept dated language when it’s not that of the original author?

If foreign language classics are to remain accessible to the ordinary English reader they need to be retranslated every generation or so: the last decade has seen enthusiastically received retranslations of, among others, Pushkin, Balzac and Cervantes.

Selma Lagerlöf, The Emperor of Portugallia

Selma Lagerlöf (1858-1940) was the first female winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. She is the author of a succession of works, mainly novels and short stories, published between 1891 and 1932. Most are set in her native Värmland and share some of the same sense of place, and the tragedies of life, as Thomas Hardy’s Dorset. Her books were widely translated at the time of their first publication but there have been very few retranslations. It shows.

Norvik Press are to be congratulated for undertaking (with support from the Swedish Academy) the publication of a series of high-quality new translations of Lagerlöf’s most important texts.

I have just finished reading The Emperor of Portugallia, translated by Peter Graves. This relatively short novel, first published in 1914, tells the story of the relationship between poverty-stricken farm labourer Jan and his daughter Klara. At the age of seventeen Klara leaves home in order to raise the money that will enable her parents to remain in their home. She is successful, but never returns home herself, and Jan is driven mad by his grief at her absence. He comes to believe that he is the Emperor of Portugallia.

The novel focuses on the father/daughter relationship and the author herself saw it as a Swedish King Lear.

I found the text easy to read, stylistically straightforward and with generally accessible vocabulary. So I thought I would test the hypothesis that classics need retranslation by comparing with the original English translation by Velma Swanston Howard in 1916 (available on gutenberg.org).

Stylistically, perhaps surprisingly, there seems to be relatively little difference. Average sentence length, measured over a number of passages, appears to be about the same. The main differences are in the words and I here I far prefer Graves’ choices. Howard has translated some of the place names: Askedalarna has become Ashdales, Storsnipa has become Great Peak and Snipaåsen has become Snipa Ridge. I feel this loses some of the feeling of place.

In Swedish, Jan’s daughter is named Klara Fina Gulleborg, a particularly grand sounding name intended to celebrate Jan’s idea that his daughter has the sun as her godmother. Howard has translated this as Glory Goldie Sunnycastle while Graves has left it almost unchanged as Klara Fina Goldenborg. I much prefer the latter.

Howard’s ‘seine-maker’ is Graves’ ‘net-maker,’ her ‘spavined bay’ is simply ‘Brownie who was old and stiff-legged,’ her ‘senator’ is a ‘Riksdag man’ and her ‘rix-dollars’ are ‘riksdaler.’ Again Graves’ translations all feel more appropriate.”

Well, this is what new translations are for; making books better. And who better than Peter Graves?

Hills, and snow

In just over a week I have reviewed three books, all with things that connect them – at least in my mind – in that odd way I find when randomly selecting books to read. Or is it so random? Maybe the books tell me to pick them? Because in some cases I know so little about plot or setting that I can’t subconsciously be choosing the snow theme, or the computer theme, or the mermaid theme. Or the anything else theme.

The books on my mind today are Belle and Sébastien, Orphan Monster Spy and Astrid the Unstoppable. On top of that, there is the snow we had more than we wanted of.

Belle and Sébastien had lots of snow in it. An avalanche and more. Astrid skis and sledges in snow, and she even had lots left, high up, after Easter. That’s Norway for you. I don’t know that there was snow in Orphan Monster Spy, but because I had snow, and the setting of southern Germany made me think Alp thoughts – possibly incorrectly – it took me back to Sébastien’s Pyrenees.

Yes, those mountains. Lots in the Pyrenees, lots in Norway, and presumably some in Germany.

Two of the three books are translations, which is unusual enough for it to stand out. And the third was set in another country, with plenty of languages being mentioned and used.

I myself had plenty of language to use when looking out my windows too.

But at least the good thing about being marooned by snow and having several excellent books to read, is that the two combine so well.

Snow

Above, my personal avalanche, waiting to happen.

Astrid the Unstoppable

You probably haven’t read Maria Parr’s Astrid the Unstoppable yet. In which case you are very lucky indeed, for what a glorious story this is! I felt so happy, having access to Astrid’s never-ending adventures. (In real life I might have got wiped out by the unstoppable-ness, but in fiction? Never!)

Astrid is the only child in the Glimmerdal valley, somewhere in northern Norway. It almost doesn’t matter, because 74-year-old Gunnvald in the nearest house is her best friend. They have a very special relationship.

It’s a story about kindness and [super-]energetic behaviour, about absent parents, and about belonging to a community. This is so wonderful. I thought Maria’s first book Waffle Hearts was special. Well, Astrid the Unstoppable is even more special.

Eventually there are a few more children, and Astrid even learns to cope when it turns out Gunnvald has been keeping a big secret from her all her life (almost ten years). If you want the perfect children’s book, look no further! Here you have courage and friendship and fiddle music, and as much madcap sledging and skiing as you can digest.

It’s more than refreshing to have a story where the children can go about on their own, with no need to kill or otherwise remove the responsible adults. I never lived in a place like this or did what Astrid did, but I still felt this was a return to my childhood.

And I cried when reading the piece about Astrid’s aunts.

Maria Parr, Astrid the Unstoppable

‘Astrid thought that God must have been having a good day when he made her aunties.

“Today I’m going to come up with a surprise,” said God, and then he started putting together an auntie.

He made her skinny and freckly, and decided that she would crumple up like a concertina when she laughed. Then he stuffed her full of noise. He’d never put so much noise in an aunt before, Astrid thought. God decided that she would like everything that was funny, everything that made loud bangs, and everything that moved fast. When he’d finished, he took a step back and looked at that aunt. He’d never seen anything like her. He was so pleased with her that he decided to make another, so by the end of the day, God had made two aunts who looked exactly the same. To put the icing on the cake, he took an extra fistful of freckles from his freckle bowl and sprinkled them all over both of them, especially on their knees.

“Knee freckles are my favourite thing,” said God.’

(Beautifully translated by Guy Puzey)