Lost in Translations

‘Twice Born’ by Margaret Mazzantini

In Italy we are surrounded by translations. Books, magazines, movies – everything is translated or subbed, and we love our share of foreign art. I can only speak from my experience but Italians are quite in love with everything not-Italian when it comes to literature. I don’t know what I would have done without the translated versions of Stephen King, Shakespeare, Joyce or Conrad. The reading of other cultures is so important; it gives us perspective, make us grow personally and culturally, opens a window on new ways of life that we were not aware existed. I can’t even contemplate growing up without reading Marquez or Allende, Flaubert, Hikmet or Kundera.

I have been living in England for a while now, studying and working with people from so many different countries, and I have been curious to find what I can about my closest friends and their culture. Imagine my surprise after looking around in book shops or libraries that I couldn’t find almost any books from non-English authors. Yes, of course the classics are translated, but there are so many amazing contemporary writers that England is missing out on. I understand it is risky to rely on external readers and examiners to decide whether it’s worth buying the foreign rights to a book. There is the question of identification – can we empathise, and therefore fall in love, with characters so far from our own experiences? More importantly, would the English public be interested in buying such books? I think they would be. There are some books so beautifully written, their message so universal that every person would enjoy them no matter where they grew up or where they live.

The key to a market strategy is to find excellent translators. Nothing is sadder than a beautiful book poorly translated. One Italian author that has been translated on a few occasions is Margaret Mazzantini, though the fact that one of her books – Don’t Move – has been made into a major motion picture starring Penelope Cruz has probably helped. Her books are totally worth the translation, though I have to admit that I am probably not the best judge of this since I harbour a certain bias: she’s my favourite Italian author. Her other translated book is Twice Born, which in Italian is probably the best book ever written, in my opinion. I still have to read it in English, which is the next thing on my to-do list.

Benedetta Petrozzi

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