One page at a time
di Joanna Jones
Some of us have books which define specific moments in our lives, we remember where we read them for the first time or what was happening in our lives when we picked up that novel for the first time.
I remember my Dad reading to me until I fell asleep, Black Beauty was my favour and I always fought sleep to stay with the story. Dick-King Smith came to read to us at primary school and our school was all about reading. As a teenager I had glandular fever, when I couldn’t go out or even get out of bed I read Bronte and Austen over and over again. Later I changed schools, I met lots of new people outside of my tight group of friends who I had had since primary school, I read American literature, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, adventurous and norm-breaking novels, books my parents had never read, that were about a culture that I had little understanding of.
I was lucky enough to study literature at university, I read classic German literature, Goethe and also more modern writers like Gunter Grass. I felt physically sick and well out of my depth at times but the stories drew me in. My German host family talked to me about books and literature, we formed a relationship which has lasted more than 25 years. When I moved to Italy I read Rodari to teach myself Italian, I used to drive through Omegna on my way to work. Before I moved to Sicily I read Camillieri, these novels didn’t prepare me but they gave me some insight into another different culture. Now I read to my children, when we were in the USA we read the American versions of Julia Donaldson where chips were translated into fries and Dr Seus was ubiquitous.
Literature read in the language in which it was originally written will give you insight and perspective that it is difficult to get from translation. We know that it is a big event when a new translation of a classic work of literature is being published, a different translator will have a different interpretation of the words and the subtext. When you read a novel in its original language it is you who discovers the nuance and details for yourself.
Language and culture are so closely intertwined, perhaps it is impossible to really translate a book from one language into another.