The OF Blog: Which reads better?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Which reads better?

Here are two translations, one amateur, the other the official, of Carlos Ruiz Zafón's opening paragraph to The Angel's Game:

A writer never forgets the first time that he accepts some money or praise in exchange for a story. He never forgets the first time that he feels the sweet venom of vanity in his blood, and he believes that if he manages that no one discovers his lack of talent the literary dream will be capable of placing a roof over his head, a hot plate for the end of the day and his deepest yearning: his name impressed on a miserable piece of paper which surely will survive longer than he. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is lost and his soul has a price.
And:

A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood, and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets the most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.

One of those is mine, of course. I'll let those who haven't read the book in English guess which is which. I have to say that I feel better about my own translation after comparing it to Lucia Graves' excellent rendering of Zafón's words. I'm going to guess there will be quite a few people pleased with the quality of her translation, while others may be curious about how the two of us chose to interpret the Spanish original, which I guess I should supply to those of you who are bilingual:

Un escritor nunca olvida la primera vez que acepta unas monedas o un elogio a cambio de una historia. Nunca olvida la primera vez que siente el dulce veneno de la vanidad en la sangre y cree que, si consigue que nadie descubra su falta de talento, el sueño de la literatura será capaz de poner techo sobre su cabeza, un plato caliente al final del día y lo que más anhela: su nombre impreso en un miserable pedazo de papel que seguramente vivirá más que él. Un escritor está condenado a recordar ese momento, porque para entonces ya está perdido y su alma tiene precio.

20 comments:

Foreverlad said...

I much prefer translation 1. The present tense works better than future tensing for me. Regardless of future or present tense, translation 1 feels reminiscent and personal, while translation 2 feels more like a matter-of-fact statement.

As I haven't read the sequel yet, I honestly don't know which translation is which.

Larry said...

And I won't tell you which is which, although I think there are good qualities in each (and I did have a native speaker help me in a couple of spots with the words).

And for the record, in Spanish, the verbs are in present tense.

Aidan Moher said...

As you know, I'm in the middle of The Angel's Game right now and, without referencing the original text, I knew immediately which was yours and which was Graves'. To be honest, I felt Graves' translation flowed better and took a bit less effort to digest, which is one of the things I love so much about both of Zafon's books (or the translation of those books.)

What's most interesting to me is to see how much of the original text really comes from Zafon, and not the translator. Considering how, for the most part, your translation and Graves' translation are very similar, one does have to give Zafon credit for crafting beautiful language in the original language, and Graves for retaining that beauty. I'm not terribly familiar with translated works, so it's nice to get a peak behind the curtain at what the translator means to a foreign language novel. I was never sure how much of the language in the novel belonged to the original author and how much belonged to the translator.

One series I'm interested in (after having been so impressed with The Shadow of the Wind) is Sapkowski's The Witcher. Before having read Zafon's work, the idea of a translation would have been enough to scare me off, but Graves has shown me just how nicely they can be done.

I'm curious to finish the novel, so I can finally read the review you wrote of it a few months back. Are you planning on reading/reviewing the English edition?

~Aidan
A Dribble of Ink

Anonymous said...

First one works a little better, mainly because I like "lost" better than "doomed" in the last sentence. The former sounds more ambiguous and down to earth, while the latter strikes me as melodrama. And melodrama was a huge reason why I was less than enthralled with Shadow of the Wind.

- Zach

Syukran said...

I like yours better.

Larry said...

Aidan,

Interesting, as I found that I liked my beginning and close to that paragraph better than I did Graves', but that her middle part did indeed flow a bit better than mine. Interesting thing was to see that she shifted the tenses in that passage from the original.

As for the Witcher translation, it's...well, you'll see why I prefer reading the series in Spanish, although there are some bright spots here and there in the English translation.

Zach,

That's what struck me about how much Graves was changing there, as the original has "perdido," which almost always means "lost" and never "doomed," as far as I can recall.

Foreverlad said...

Thanks Larry, you spoiled it, now I know which one is yours.

Without knowing anything about translation (2 years of Spanish, some 14 years ago...), I do like a few choices Lucia Graves made, such as 'poison' vs 'venom' and 'hot meal' as opposed to 'hot plate'.

From http://ets.freetranslation.com/ :

"A writer never forgets the first time that accepts some currencies or a compliment in exchange for a history. Never it forgets the first time that feels the sweet poison of the vanity in the blood and believes that, if obtains that nobody discover its lack of talent, the dream of the literature will be capable of putting ceiling on its head, a hot dish in the end of the day and what more longs for: its printed name in a miserable piece of role that surely will live more than he. A writer is condemned to recall that moment, because by then already he is lost and its soul has price. "

I like the choice of the word 'dish', there's something ambiguous about the word, but I don't know whether it's an accurate word or not.

Larry said...

Sorry about that, but at least you had already guessed first, no? :P And as for the dish/plate bit, the Spanish has "plato caliente," which can go either way, depending on how free you want to be with the literal meaning in order to get the contextual meaning across.

I'm tempted to get the translation, just to see about a couple more of the passages I translated back in January.

Martin said...

It is a bit of both.

First sentence: prefer 1, "a few coins" feels too contrived and I prefer it in the present tense.

Second sentence: prefer 2, I don't like the alliteration of "venom of vanity" and the punctuation leaves something to be desired making it harder to parse.

Third sentence: prefer 1, "lost" is better than "doomed"

E. L. Fay said...

I just started reading this one (actually a LOT of book bloggers are reading it).

I like the second translation better. The second sentence reads more smoothly.

Chris, The Book Swede said...

I'm reading this right now, too.

I do prefer Graves' overall, but you did a damn fine job on yours, Larry! I also prefer the beginning and the end of yours.

Also, for some reason the alliteration of "venom of vanity" works for me really well.

Chris, The Book Swede said...

Ps: This would be my "master-work" translation, combining the two :P

A writer never forgets the first time that he accepts some money or praise in exchange for a story. He never forgets the first time that he feels the sweet venom of vanity in his blood, and he believes that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets most: his name impressed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is lost and his soul has a price.

Gonzalo B said...

A very interesting post. Both translations seem to be OK and I guess in the end it all comes down to personal preferences in the choice of words, translation of expressions, etc. I was recently reading a post from the excellent "En Minúscula" blog about the need to "update" translations as years go by (and language evolves) and have been thinking about discrepant translations ever since. The post compares four translations of Kafka's Metamorphosis (including one by Borges and another one by Aira) and is well-worth reading:

http://weblogs.clarin.com/revistaenie-enminuscula/archives/2009/06/la_insoportable_levedad_de_las_traducciones.html

As for my pick, I believe the first Ruiz Zafón translation definitely "flows" better and invites you to keep on reading. Nonetheless, there are certain word choices in the second translation that I believe are more appropriate. In my view, the expression "plato caliente" definitely alludes to a hot meal and not a literally hot plate (which in English, I believe, doesn't make much sense even though readers will immediately understand what it's describing). Likewise, "su nombre impreso" should be translated as "his name printed". It seems to me "printed" is the more accurate translation in this context.

Larry said...

I'll have to check that out soon, Gonzalo - thanks! And yeah, I found myself kicking myself for a couple of the choices I made (mind you, I did that in like 5-10 minutes and left it at that for 13 months), but it's interesting that you found that the first (mine) flowed better, as I had a discussion with a Salvadorean friend of mine on IM and he thought Graves (the second) had a better flow for the English speakers despite not being as faithful to the original.

Hal Duncan said...

On the whole I prefer the second one, but it's a bit of a mixture.

First sentence: I think "a few coins" is awkward, forced, but I like the concreteness as opposed to "some money". I'd prefer a word with a more natural fit.

Second sentence: I prefer the repetition of "never forgets" over the tense shift, and "deepest yearning" over "what he covets most". I prefer "poison" over "venom" though, "hot meal" over "hot plate", and "printed" over "impressed". "[A]nd he believes that if he manages that..." has a sort of too-many-left-turns quality. Also it feels to me like you don't just "manage that" something happens you "manage *things so* that" something happens. Not that that would be better; it's ugly. I think it's a smart move to break this sentence up a bit.

Third sentence: Tough call. "Lost" is more poetic. "Doomed" is more dramatic. The former is a bit bloodless, but then the latter is a bit overblown. But then I'd rather have overblown than bloodless, and I think the latter is more in line with the "deal with the devil" theme.

Anonymous said...

As for the translations, I agree that a mix is better. I like 'lost' better than 'doomed' for sure, and present tense. But, to be honest, I'd rather just read it in Spanish. :)

Larry said...

Hal,

That's the problem with rendering "unas monedas," as "some/a few coins" is one choice, while my choice of saying "some money" is a compromise, as I didn't like the "coins" part and I thought saying "some cash" would be too much of an Americanism for this passage. As for my alliterative use of "venom of vanity," I know that "veneno" is the same word for both poison and venom in Spanish, but I thought the alliteration would fit with the style of writing; others obviously would (and have) disagree on this matter.

Your point on how "lost" and "doomed" conjure different aspects is a good one. After having read this story twice, I think "lost" sets up the tale better, as it more accurately reflects David Martín's situation, at least to me :P

Anon,

I agree. While I'm very confident that Graves did a very good job with the translation (despite having my own alternate choices for a few passages), I doubt I'll ever read a translation of this work, since it just reads much better in Spanish.

Laurel Lyon said...

A writer never forgets the first time he accepts money or praise for a story. He never forgets the first time he feels the sweet poison of vanity in his blood, and thinks that if he can keep everyone from discovering his lack of talent, the dream of literature could keep a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he most longs for: his name printed on a wretched scrap of paper which is sure to live longer than him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is lost and his soul has a price.

Jen said...

late to the party, but i like the way you kept it in the present, but graves' wording, especially on that second sentence. "if he manages that no one" doesn't sound right to me.

Larry said...

Yeah, that's something that I certainly would have fixed if I had gone back. I remember I wrote it in a rush one night and I thought I'd just leave it as that to show what a first go-through can be like for me when I'm translating something. I believe I've improved on that, or so I would hope, in case I ever do decide to do translations for pay!

 
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