When the Translator Writes a Different (Great) Book

Two years ago I read Orlando, by Virginia Woolf. I thought I was prepared, because I had read before both To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway. I was not. Since the first page there were things which sounded familiar to me. Despite being aware of it, the style was slightly non-Woolf, regardless the first half of Orlando is noticeably easier to read than other Woolf’s books are. That was not the matter. I must clarify that I was reading the book in Spanish. So at some point I stopped reading and sought the translator. There he was, Jorge Luis Borges, an author whose work I knew. I acknowledged that reading would be challenging. I was about to read two different books.

Firstly, I was a bit angry. I had chosen to read a Woolf’s book after all, so why should I endure another writer’s text? While reading I used to think that a particular word was clearly a Borges fetish, although the next one was an evident Woolf’s expression… What a mess! I was more focused on the style than on the story. That was sinful, because I was really enjoying the story.

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Source: Commons (Public domain)

After a number of pages I started to think which Woolf’s expressions had influenced Borges’ style. That was even worse, because I interrupted my reading so that considering such trivia.

Afterwards, I understood that not only was I reading one book, but two. It was not I was reading two different books, but two insights around the same plot. I understood how a translator may convey his particular view of the book while still making a good work. Finally, I understood that all the translations are skewed. But do you know what? I didn’t mind. At least it doesn’t mind as long as the translation is good. Perhaps, there are translations which are better than the original.

I thereafter enjoyed Orlando to the fullest.

One thought on “When the Translator Writes a Different (Great) Book

  1. Magui

    That’s really interesting! I want to read Orlando by Woolf/Borges now.
    Funny how you write about topics I’m interested in, and how I’m posting a comment in English, when I know our mother tongue is Spanish. See you around!

    Reply

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