Book Versions of Anna – Perspective on Translation

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When I’m speaking of Anna, I’m talking about Anna Karenina, one of the most famous and tumultuous novels by Leo Tolstoy. It’s a torrid love affair, mixed up with tragedy and communication–tied into an irresistible bow by Tolstoy’s expert pen.  (Of course, my middle name is “Anna,” so that may also be part of why the book fascinates me.)

Thought so this novel periodically come to mind, but (as so often is the case) the most recent musing is sparked by a discussion of Anna Karenina in The New York Times (Book Review section). The comprehensive discussion took me back to the translations that I’ve read, and caused me to wish (again) that I had the skills to read the novel in the original Russian. The article also reminds me of the real power a translator has over those masterful words, as he/she grapples with a work that may appear “clumsy” at times. It’s not such an easy task to take such a epic novel and transition it into a work that can be read (and understood, in a semblance of the author’s intent) by a much wider audience.

Even the slighted expressions of the arm (body language) in a novel can mean so much…  So, yes,  there’s the possibility that something (or even “everything”) of the book could be lost in translation.

I’d much prefer to think along the lines of Salman Rushdie, who wrote in an essay:

“The word ‘translation’ comes, etymologically, from the Latin for ‘bearing across’. Having been borne across the world, we are translated men. It is normally supposed that something always gets lost in translation; I cling, obstinately to the notion that something can also be gained.”

What translations have you explored? Do you believe that you’ve lost something in translation (or, instead, prefer to become enamored with the splendor that is a masterwork in literature)?

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Esther is a full-time freelancer, who draws upon her background to deliver fun and compelling stories. To her, the story and the vehicle(s) of expression are important, but sometimes it's just as essential to explore those areas just outside one's comfort zone. She loves to jump head-first into that deep ravine, and discover where her parachute will take her.


2 thoughts on “Book Versions of Anna – Perspective on Translation

  1. Carolann

    What a great quote from Rushdie. I just saw him last night on a panel with Bill Maher. Brilliant man for sure. I haven’t read Anna in ages. I have to reread for sure.

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