While we don’t often talk about books that are written in another language and then translated, at the library we come across this on occasion when talking about French books for children. Many popular English books are translated into French and then released for French readers, but sometimes, the translation leaves something to be desired. So much so, in fact, we’ve had requests from Francophone parents who have asked us to only purchase books by French authors. The art of translation is a tricky one, even at the picture book or chapter book level, so you can imagine how difficult it must be for adult fiction to be translated well.
It gets even more mind-numbing when you think that there is a literary award given to books that have been translated from some other language into English. The Man Booker International Prize for 2016 was just awarded to Han Kang for her book THE VEGETARIAN, translated from Korean into English by 28-year-old Deborah Smith who only started learning Korean at the age of 21. Wow. The translation must not only be accurate, but also portray the beauty of the author’s prose and their original intention.
Kang has won a variety of literary awards in Korea for her novels and teaches creative writing at the Seoul Institute for the Arts, but this was her first book translated into English. It is a novel in three parts, telling the tale of a dutiful Korean wife who one day decides to become a vegetarian. Along the way, the act of giving up meat also leads her to give up other things in her life, and eventually, leads to her discard the whole premise of humanity, causing her life to spiral. You can read more about this author and the award right here.
What an amazing accomplishment!