Unsuccessful English writer Henry’s novel sells to no one. But when his book is suddenly a surprise hit in Mexico, his publicist insists he travel there on a promotional tour. Upon arrival, a confused Henry discovers the reason behind his novel’s popularity – Mexican translator Maria has rewritten his dull book into a steamy erotic novel. As tempers flare between them, the sparks begin to fly.
As writers we can only imagine how confusing it would be to find out that our translator has turned our work into something we barely know anymore.
That’s exactly what happens to writer ‘Henry Copper’. What sounds like a nightmare to us writers, turns out to be the hilarious plot to a very cute movie. I watched ‘Book of Love’ today, and had a lot to laugh. There are quite a few sparks to fly between reserved Englishman Henry and enthusiastic and extroverted Maria. To people with a ‘flair’ for romance, please, watch the movie.
But this is not a movie review. I decided to prepare this blog post looking at the movie’s plot from a writer’s point of view.
Imagine your publisher tells you, nobody wants your book, but it’s very famous in another country, one, whose language you don’t speak. You are invited on a book tour in said country, and find out, your translator actually changed your book. Suddenly you sit there, your wonderful, thoughtful, considerate and logical characters had turned into passionate irresponsible hot-blooded lovers, without regrets.
As a writer I have to say: please, translator, whoever you are… don’t change my book! That’s not your job! As funny as it sounds in this movie, I’d like to have my characters the way I wrote them!
Let me make an example: ‘Soul Taker’, the first book in my series. The main characters, Katie and Raphael… I write Young Adult fantasy. And even though they do fall in love, I wouldn’t want anyone to turn them into wild sex-maniacs. It would be completely off. That’s not what I had planned. However, I figure, I would have to make amends, I expect. Another language means often, that a ‘word-by-word’ translation isn’t possible. The translator knows how to interpret my book without effectively changing it. But how do we trust that person’s work? If someone translates ‘Soul Taker’ to German, Dutch, or French, I could follow easily… but Spanish, Russian, Chinese? (And yes, of course, I hope, one day, ‘The Council of Twelve’ series is going to be loved globally).
How can we trust the respective translations are correct and leave my story the way I wrote it?
I have never translated an entire book. I translated short stories and a few articles and blog posts into German, and I was always making sure I kept everything the way it was written, including the tone, which wasn’t always easy. But not in a million years I would have even considered changing anything. I consider that unethical. I wasn’t actually thinking twice how the authors of the respective pieces felt about trusting me. Did they? Or did they just ‘accept their fate’ and hope for the best? I can imagine it’s quite a risk!
If someone has experience with their books being translated, would you let us in on the secret in the comments? We’d really appreciate it! Thank you!