Disclaimer: I apologize in advance. This post is going to be a rambling mess, but I can’t seem to get it better, so please bear with me.
Let’s play a drinking game. Take a shot for every time I say ‘different’ in this post. Actually, don’t do it. Don’t want you to poison yourself.
I love everything that has to do with words. Literature, Lettering, Languages. Over the years I learned more and more about it, I study different languages, love to learn about grammatical curiosities, untranslatable words and just everything. And I started to notice a few things. How differently I respond to each language, for example, the way my thinking changes, my voice changes and most importantly (for this post) my feelings.
I’m currently trying to make a personal rating system along the lines of G’s CAWPILE. You can watch her video where she explains everything but basically, every letter stands for something she thinks is important in a book and should, therefore, influence her rating. C-Character, A-Atmosphere, P-Plot, L-Logic etc.
I tried to use her system because I want to get more consequent with my ratings, but I haven’t yet found the right way for me. I’ll have to adapt and change her system a little for me to work.
But while debating about what I think makes or breaks a book for me I came across the letter W – Writing Style. A while ago I don’t think I would have included it, because honestly, most of the time I don’t really notice anything specific about it. I only comment on it if it was either really amazing or really rubbish and/or hard to read.
But it got me thinking about what emotions the different writing styles can evoke. Of instances where I really loved the writing style. Where it might have been the reason why I loved a story as much as I did.
I’ll give you a few examples so you know what I’m talking about. Let’s, for example, talk about Laini Taylor. She wrote the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy as well as the currently really popular Strange the Dreamer duology.
I’ve only read Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but from what I heard it’s a similar situation in StD. She just has a way with words. Her writing is simply beautiful and makes you fall in love with the words, the sound of them, the feel of them, maybe even more than with the story itself. At least that was the case for me. And it made me more lenient with certain tropes I usually can’t stand. The dreaded and much-hated Instalove! Daughter of Smoke and Bone definitely has instalove, but I was okay with it. It didn’t even really register until after I’d finished the book. People don’t mention it often, just because she hypnotizes the reader with her stunning prose.
Or, Agatha Christie’s ruthless way of describing characters. Tolkien’s long, looong descriptions. Those are things I do notice. I remember them, and they have an influence of high I rate a book.
I need to read one sentence and I know it’s written by Cornelia Funke. I would recognize Maggie Stiefvater’s writing anywhere etc.
And now to the actual point of this blog post. Translations.
I’ve first started thinking about this topic when I noticed the difference in the reception of Kerstin Gier’s books. They’re very popular and well-loved in Germany. I’ve seen all kinds of people read them. I loved them, my mom loved them, my best friend (who usually hates anything that has romance in it) and a random guy in his 40s on a train loved them … you get my point.
They actually got translated into English but haven’t been that well-received. Not by far. At first, I was perplexed. But then I analyzed what made me love them that much. The writing style. It’s just so cozy and comfy. And funny. That seems to have gotten lost in translation.
It’s hard to translate a book. Not only must the words be translated, but the atmosphere, the feelings and everything that makes a story come alive.
The example of Kerstin Gier is also the reason why I don’t usually recommend some of my absolute favourite books because I think they would be especially hard to translate. Walter Moers is another one. He plays with words like a composer does with notes. He uses the feel on your tongue when you pronounce a word, the meaning, the weight of a word. He creates new words that allude to other ones, uses anagrams for names etc. His books have to be a nightmare to translate.*
In this picture you can see all the booklings (creatures who devote their entire life to one author and are named after said author) with their names. Ojahnn Golgo Van Fontheweg is one of them. (Anagram: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
*One day, I’ll pick the English version up just, so I can finally shove it down everyone’s throats without having to say ‘But I don’t know how well the translation is’.
Nowadays, I love reading books in English. I actually prefer it. (Same with listening to audiobooks.) So much so that it takes me a while to get used to reading something in German again.
Now, why that?
Well, the obvious reason first: A lot of popular books are written in English. All the new releases I hear about on Book Twitter, Booktube or read about on blogs. While sometimes they translate books ridiculously fast
(Like seriously, one time a book written by an American author was published in April in Germany and in July in the US and UK … ???) I don’t want to wait. Also, it helps me get better at English (I learned much more through reading books and watching Booktube than in school, honestly).
And now, I actually find it easier to enjoy a book written in English. I debated for a long time why that is. Is it because my English is still so basic that I don’t really notice the nuances in writing style, word choice etc? These types of things would obviously be easier to notice, or rather harder to ignore, in my native language.
But while this is probably a factor I think it’s more than that. It’s the feeling I get when reading, listening or talking in a language. I almost feel a tiny bit like a different person depending on which language I’m speaking.
English is lighter and just flows better and is a lot more low-key. Meaning is more noticeable than the words. It’s the other way around in German. The words are more noticeable somehow. The writing style itself is heavier and more on the forefront. While in English I feel like the writing style is a tool to convey the story, the pictures, emotions and everything, in German I feel like the writing style is the story. Does that make any sense?
I really came to realize just how different English and German make me feel when I read a book that was originally written in German. Murphy. I loved the idea of it, the characters were cool, the plot was entertaining but I just didn’t like the writing style. At all. It was written in a lighthearted, easy to read, funny and quirky way. And I hated it. It felt so wrong. Silly and clownish and robbed the novel of all deepness. (Can you say it that way in English? Sorry, my brain is mush)
I’ve read countless English novels with the exact same writing style and not only did I not mind it, I actually really liked it and noticed it in a positive way. I never thought them to be silly, I never felt like the author talked to me like I’m a little kid or anything. They didn’t lose any deep or meaningful undertones.
So, English for me is much more suited to that writing style. The softness of the words, the intonation of a sentence and everything. German feels more serious in a way. A little more distant. Heavier.
That, of course, doesn’t mean I’ve never read and enjoyed a funny book in German or that English isn’t suited for dark, gritty fantasy books or anything.
It’s most definitely possible to write anything and everything in both languages, but some things are infinitely more difficult to pull off in one language than the other.
What I wanted to say is this: Reading in different languages leaves me with a different taste in my mouth. Evokes different emotions and is, therefore, fit for different stories. I’ve had this unarticulated feeling for years now, that it is just different to read in English. First I thought it was because of translations just not being good. But that’s rubbish. Some translators are geniuses. In non-English-speaking countries, it’s rather popular (at least in my generation) to prefer to read the original because it’s easy to miss what was being conveyed by the author. Basically, you experience the story through the filter of another person. Depending on how they interpreted the story, what they deemed to be the underlying message and tone, influences how they translate the book. It can ruin a book. But I’ve also read some absolutely fantastic translations where I really didn’t even notice which language I read the book in, where I could switch effortlessly between the original and the translation because they felt exactly the same. Same atmosphere and all.
There is this saying in Germany that translates to: ‘You always have to wait for the translation. You lose so much in the original.’
This talks about Harry Rowohlt, a very famous translator here. He was absolutely fantastic. Seriously. He took a book and made it better by translating it.
I especially loved his translations of Philip Ardagh’s A House Called Awful End. It’s completely absurd and quirky. So much fun and yes, it worked in German. No problem.
He added his own little footnotes and things and it was hilarious.
I hope this post made any sense at all. I tried to get all my thoughts in an order that was understandable and logical but I struggled a bit. Sorry!
Does anyone else experience this difference between languages and the feelings you get while reading?