I’m reading a book right now that I think is wonderful, but that—in perhaps a dozen tiny ways—reminds me constantly “I am a translated book; I was not written in English.”
There are some books where I never feel this translated-ness. Anthea Bell’s rendition of Austerlitz (W. G. Sebald) her The Dark Side of Love (Rafik Schami). Edith Grossman’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold (Gabriel Garcia Marquez). Humphrey Davies’ Yalo (Elias Khoury), Maia’s White Masks (Khoury), Paula Haydar’s Touch (Adania Shibli), except of course where the narrator discusses fos’ha and 3meya.
Perhaps these are all strong authors who make their translators’ jobs easier. And perhaps sometimes the feeling of “translatedness” is useful, a way of reminding the reader that there is a cross-cultural exchange going on, that “you are not at home.” Perhaps the feeling of being at home is not always a good thing.
But I’m also not sure it serves the translated novel, when—to use the theater metaphor Humphrey Davies favors—I am made aware that I’m watching an actor interpret a character.
And the book I’m currently reading is giving me this sensation. It’s certainly better-written than many novels in English where I don’t get that strange, vertiginous feeling. So thought I had it pinned down to contractions: There are very few contractions in the dialogue.
But Maia was doubting me. So perhaps it’s, instead, choices in sentence structure, or the result of just one or two awkwardly phrased metaphors?
And you? What gives you that translated feeling?