lost in translation

updated May 15, 2018

a bookblog brought to you by

Unduly _Yours/jessica lim

This is a little off topic but wonderful. In 1987–91 chinese artist Xu Bing published ‘Book From the Sky’, composed of 4000 non-existent chinese characters. I’m trying to imagine the next step. If meanings were assigned to these characters and someone translated a book into them. If Borges were alive I’m sure it’s the kind of thing he would do.

Below: ‘Book from the sky’ or ‘Tianshu’ and the museum installations.

The french writer Charles Baudelaire (author of ‘les fleurs du mal’) was a great admirer of Edgar Allan Poe. He ended up translating much(all?) of Poe into French. Baudelaire felt that in Poe he had found a literary soulmate, so much so that some people actually accused Baudelaire of plagiarizing the American writer.

Below: Baudelaire’s tr. of EA Poe’s complete works

Does Jules Verne need to be retranslated?

a large proportion of the early translations of Verne apparently need to be thrown out, for unjustified editing, for misunderstanding the science, for egregious racial bias. The later translations, starting in the 1960’s are the best ones. Unfortunately most of the ones that are in the public domain (free ebooks) are the ones that have been poorly translated and don’t do Jules Verne justice.

Solaris – a scifi novel by stanislaw lem, originally written in Polish. Until recentlythe only english tr of this famous book was one that was re-translated from the french. This is like, as the author’s family says, the game of telephone. It might make good literature, depending on the literary talents of the translator, but unlikely to be a faithful rendering of the author’s original vision.

from author site

Which languages Lem’s books were translated into?

Lem’s books have been translated into 41 languages: Albanian, Arabic, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Basque, Belorussian, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, Flemish, French, Georgian, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Moldavian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, Ukrainian.

below: Solaris tr into Korean

Frances Yates, one of the most fascinating writers on the Renaissance and Elizabethan esoteric thought, has been translated into the french

below: link to pdf file of her book on techniques of memory building in the classical era on..

below: Yates’ reconstruction of Giordano Bruno’s memory wheel from “de umbris idearum”

a list of Yates’ work as tr. into the french. She is best known for her book on Giordano Bruno

Ouvrages traduites en français

Les Académies en France au xvie siècle (1947), Paris, PUF, 1996.

Giordano Bruno et la Tradition hermétique (1962), Dervy, 1997. [1]

L’Art de la mémoire (1966), Paris, Gallimard, 1987.

La Lumière des Rose-Croix : l’illuminisme rosicrucien (1972), Paris, Culture, art, loisirs, 1978.

Astrée, le symbolisme impérial au xvie siècle (1975), Paris, Belin, 2000.

Les Dernières Pièces de Shakespeare : une approche nouvelle (1975), Paris, Belin, 2000.

La Philosophie occulte à l’époque Elisabéthaine (1979), Paris, Dervy, 1987.

Raymond Lulle et Giordano Bruno (1982), Paris, PUF, 1999.

Science et tradition hermétique (1967–1977), Paris, Allia, 2009. Extraits de Collected Essays t. III (Ideas and Ideals in the North European Renaissance), 1984.

Fragments autobiographiques, Paris, Allia, 2009.

cixin liu – prolific and reputedly the most popular writer of scifi in China. The Three Body Problem, part of a trilogy, tr into English by K Liu and Joel Martinsen

interview with Ken Liu, on translating The Three Body Problem, from Wired bookclub

Ken Liu is also a writer in his own right, as well as former tax lawyer. Below, one of his short stories

some translations of cixin liu (looks like other volumes of the trilogy) into spanish, german and french


the belly of paris – by Emile Zola, tr by Mark Kurlansky, writer of ‘salt’ and other books.

Salt – by Mark Kurlansky. Informative, highly entertaining micro history.

Dame Dorothy Dunnett

For some reason, though Dorothy Dunnett’s historical novels are a cult phenomenon, they have not been much translated. some have been tr into german, though they have been criticized as being poor quality.

There are also italian translations, which makes sense, since a lot of the action, esp the niccolo series takes place in the italian city states.

and apparently some bootleg translations exist in the russian. though this begs the question: who owns the translation copyright? and what happens in the case of an unauthorized translation?

below: some of the translations of dunnett’s work which i have been able to track down on my pinterest board

and a new spanish translation of ‘game of kings’ has just come out this spring as ‘juego de reyes’

Willa Cather in translation – a bibliography. Most famous for her novel ‘My Antonia’, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her book ‘Death Comes For the Archbishop’. She has been many times translated into the chinese.

interview with brazilian writer Clarice Lispector 1920–1977

Lispector in english translation

Choi Byong-Hyon: Jingbirok/admonitions/taejo wang sillok

Au Bonheur des Dames – Emile Zola

one of a series of 20 books by Zola that chronicle a changing France in the 1800’s. I came across this book after I watched the tv series called ‘Paradise’, about a businessman in France who has a vision of a department store and the woman who comes to work for him. From my researches it looks like not all of the 20 volumes have been translated in modern times which is odd since Zola is so well-known. The earliest translations were sometimes done by unknown writers but many by the Vizetelly family, and were heavily censored.

Zola, though a prolific writer is not widely read in English. The first volume in the Rougon-Macquart series mentioned above is “La Fortune des Rougons” (1871), tr. most recently in 2012 by Brian Nelson.

“La Ventre de Paris”/”The Belly of Paris” volume? in the series has most recently been tr. by Mark Kurlansky, author of several micro-history books, such as “Salt”, a highly enjoyable read about…of course salt the commodity.

below – original manuscript?

in Korean some of the Rougon series is available under the following titles (i have no way of knowing whether they have all been translated)

Nana – as 나나

L’asommoir – as 목로 주점

Germinal – as 제르미날 (appears to be out of print according to the blog post below)

it’s long been thought that learning a second or third language is good for the brain. the article below discusses the specific example of learning, memorizing long passages in sanskrit orally and then measuring changes to the brain. The bards of old, like in Homer’s day, or celtic culture were all adept in memorizing epic poems and songs. is this true of all languages?

list of Korean authors available in English via goodreads. not all the books belong on there, like the barbara demick book which is about korea, not a korean author, but still a useful compilation

At one time the most popular way of learning a language was by translating. So it is that many classics have multiple translated versions, only a fee of which have been published.

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, or “cream and punishment” :) as one of my friends used to pronounce it, has several different versions in english. As My russian skills do not stretch to deciphering nuances in literary style, I can only go by which seems to flow more naturally in English, rather than which is more faithful to the original. Below is the first sentence from the text as tr. by Constance Garnett

“On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, toward K. bridge.”

but according to the Spectator here is a much better tr. by Oliver Ready

and also a version tr by David Magarshack, which appears to be out of print.

it’s stunning to think of the wealth of creative output that is our legacy as humans living in this time. But as stunning as that is, and no one can hope to read or watch all the books and films made out of these books it is just as surprising the number of books that have never been translated. This blog is about books in translation, or books lost in translation, that have never been translated, or needs to be retranslated with a fresh eye.

renowned science fiction writer Ursula K LeGuin’s translation of the Tao Te Ching. Today we learn of LeGuin’s death at the age of 88. Lao Tzu’s work on the Tao must be one of the most difficult books ever to translate, let alone comprehend. But here it is. I look forward to reading it.

I remember reading LeGuin’s ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’, (one of the most memorable titles ever) with great enjoyment, although i can’t really tell you what its about anymore. The details fade, although the memory doesnt. It has been translated into numerous languages, including two versions of Chinese, simplified and not, as well as Korean. In Korean it is known as 어둠의 왼손. In German as ‘winterplanet’, as well as a more literal translation of the title.

Juan Eduardo Cirlot, born Barcelona, musician, artist, symbologist, sword collector. why are all the cool people spanish? they have ideas you have never even had a shadow of before. it appears many of his books have never been tr.

the below work is the one he is most famous fir, tr into the english by Page

original spanish version


Cirlot, with his sword collection. d of pancreatic cancer in barcelona 1973

his book on Gaudi the architect whose fantastic buildings dot Barcelona like a cake decorator’s fevered dream has been tr into english

The Glass Bead Game by herman hesse

the below version tr by mervyn savill

The Glass Bead Game https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B01HHPNZBG/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_1fglAb1TKDNX0

also tr by Clara and Richard Winston. in their introduction they write that they regard savill’s translation as lackng the sense of irony that Hesse intended.

it would be interesting to compare the two versions to see.

kiss of the Spider Woman – by Manuel Puig. hit broadway musical and film with William Hurt and Raul Julia as thr prisoner that Hurt falls in love with

photo of Manuel Puig, below

tr into the french as ‘le baiser de la femme araignee’

tr into English

Red April – tr by Edith Grossman

‘arirang/아리랑’ Part 1, volume 1 – ‘ah, hanbando!’ an historical epic written by bestselling author Cho Chong-rae. (hanbando/한반도 – literal meaning is korean peninsula but it makes more sense here to translate it as ‘ah, land of the han’ or korean peoples, because at least to my ear ‘peninsula’ has a tchnical ring to it that doesn’t fit the tone. as far as i know this is volume 1 of 12.

and this is the last volume. my cursory research shows that this has never been translated into any language, at least, according to wikipedia. but i’m not sure wiki would know whether it has been tr. into chinese or japanese…

but some of Cho’s other works have been translated into english/french. see below

note: in fr. his name has been tr. into Jo Jong-nae, rather than Cho Chong-nae. below is volume 1 of ‘Taebaek Mountain Chain: Soh-wa the shamaness’

also ‘The Land of the Banished’

aka the resident bibliomaniac (photo below from the movie 🎥 “lost in translation”) starring bill murray and scarlett johanssen

i really liked this 🎥

it resonates with a lot of nomads i guess, and i am a nomad. I come from nomad stock – i am a ‘steppe daughter’.



a bookblog about works that have been translated and not:

i hope it fills a gap – i noticed when i was trying my hand at learning korean through translating korean lit that there was no master listing anywhere of books that have been translated or into which languages. is this the same for other language pairs?

anne rice’s 📚, though wildly popular have been tr into very few languages

‘entretien avec un vampire’/original english title ‘interview with a vampire’ has been tr into french, albeit with a horrible cover

‘the feast of all saints’ – by anne rice. the first book i read written by her, and perhaps the best. set in New Orleans.

surprisingly many of anne rice’s books have never been translated. including this one.

‘interview met de duivel’ – dutch tr of ‘interview with the vampire'

‘Lestat le Vampire’ fr. tr. of ‘Lestat the Vampire’

Lestat le vampire (vam.) https://www.amazon.ca/dp/2266101544/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_En6.zb60GS4AE

queen of the damned, the third in the vampire trilogy has beeb tr into:

The Mummy in italian ‘la mummia'

snow white and the 7 dwarves/blanche-neige

a side by side tr. of the grimms fairy talebelow

빨간머리 앤 (literally, red-haired anne) original title ‘Anne of Green Gables’ enormously popular in korea and in japan

canadian children’s lit creator a a milne who wrote the Winnie the Pooh 📚 a winnipeg manitoba native

‘it was a very blustery day’ from Winnie the Pooh by canadian writer a a milne

one of my first memories is watching disney’s Pooh. what has stayed with me all these years is the image of Pooh stuck in Rabbit’s hole after eating too much honey, or Hunny :)

statue of milne in winnipeg, 🇨🇦

christopher robin organizes an expedition

the charm of disney and the charm of the original illustrations – i love them both

some people in my life do remind me of eyore :)

eyore floats (not quite as tragically as Ophelia…but perhaps quite as melancholy as the Melancholy Dane, Hamlet). Eyore badly needed an anti-depressant 😏

they translated pooh into latin!

the hobbit, in latin! i wonder if anyone has translated. these into ‘pig latin’.

LOTR ( The Lord of the Rings) in japanese above

dubbed version via youtube

lotr map/mapa/지도

Tolkien wrote many many other books besides the most well known LOTR and the Hobbit. I think i had the Silmarillion but never read it. went on to other books. there was so much to read at university.

tolkien was banned in the soviet union for many years. i wonder why? and when did it become unbanned?

the ‘Hobbit ili tuda i obramno’ in russian below (therr and back again)

by RR Tolkin (hqve they got his name wrong? isnt it JR Tolkien? now that i think of it, Tolkien is a highly unusual name, like Shakespeare.

below is a link to an article on the challenges of translating Tolkien


another very famous childrens book author Laura Ingalls Wilder has been translated into many many languages

into japanese

not sure but below is shown in tagalog?

can anyone help me identify this language below?

Farmer Boy into dutch?


These happy golden yeras into spanish (laura and her beau almanzo marry)

into chinese above

i think below is a the cover of the original edition for those readers eho like to collect


the library of the dead

the religious thriller – a pretty popular genre these days, which might have started with the Da Vinci Code by dan brown

da vinci code tr into korean, below

crome yellow – aldous huxley

portrait of

‘jaune de crome’ – traduction de ‘crome yellow’ Huxley’s first novel

agatha christie – detective fiction/roman à 🔑

the secret adversary

mysterious affair at styles

ten little indians

to paddington

man in the brown suit

by the pricking of my thumbs

cat among the pigeons

miss marple investigates

uncle silas – j sheridan lefanu

the story of lot’s wife from genesis 19:17–2


machiavelli - the prince – originally written in the italian

the Bible

la bible/ ‘the Good Book’

2 kings – old testament?

matthew 7

anne of green gables

below: 5 reasons to discover

Prince Edward Island (the setting of Anne of GG)


enn iz zelinek krish (anne of GG tr into russian)

the anne books have probably been translated into most of the languages that currently exist

agatha christie mysteries and detective fiction

have been translated into the most languages except for the bible

some examples

murder on the orient express and in dpanish/espagnole below


bookstore in lisbon, 🇵🇹 above

반지의 제왕 – Lord of the Rings in korean/LOTR

shakespeare – tho it’s hard to know how the feeling of shakespeare could be conveyed into a different language as well as the meaning

my mother recalls reading shakespeare translated into #korean so she remembers

Check out this video on YouTube:

also goethe was popular

Check out this video on YouTube:

the Firm – john grisham

bestsellers widely translated

Tom Clancy – also widely translated

song of ariran


i like vellichor- wonder what language thats from

tolstoy – anna karenina

war and peace – originally written in russian

crime and punishment – dostoevsky – also written originally in the russian

the sorrows of young werther


herman hesse

bertrand russell

ruth rendell –

donna leon -

diana gabaldon

lord of the flies – william golding

Check out this video on YouTube:

dream of the red chamber

st trans as story. of the stone, by Cao

pillow book of sei shonagon

land/toji by pak kyung ni

song of ariran (?) nym wales and kim sun


the da vinci code – tr into many many languages

la dama azul/lady in blue by javier sierra

gone with the wind – margaret mitchell

the hobbit and

lord of the rings,

narnia chronicles – cs lewis

nancy drew books which have been tr into french with the name of the heroine chsnged?

the name of the rose/il nome de la rosa – umberto eco

foucaults pendulum – eco

hanbando ?

books 📚 that badly need translation:


arirang 20? vol series

song of arirang – nym ?

most korean literature ancient and modern

much chinese literature

📚 that have been badly translated

(feel. free to leave responses at the bottom of this page about books that you feel need translating or retranslating)

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