Tag Archives: Translations

The Beauty of Language – translations, post 3 of 3 (Edith Parzefall)

We read translated books all the time, but what goes into translating fiction stories? 

After writing in English for  years, German author Edith Parzefall translated her thriller, “Strays of Rio,” into German. Recently, she took time off from promoting her latest book, “Crumple Zone,” to describe the translation process.

It is my pleasure to host one of my favorite suspense/thriller writers. Please welcome Edith Parzefall.  


Ever since I attended college in the United States, I felt limited when writing in German, my mother tongue. No matter what I was writing, English phrases popped up in my mind. Working as a technical writer for a German software company, I started writing professionally in English when we were bought by an American company.

Two American friends kept encouraging, nudging and prodding me to write my novels in English so they could read them. And finally I dared to take on the challenge and much enjoyed it. One friend edited the first draft and didn’t find an awful lot of errors, but plenty of room for stylistic improvements. Finally I mustered the courage to look for a wider audience and found The Internet Writing Workshop. Boy, was I nervous when I started submitting my writing, but as I did, my English kept improving and my story-crafting skills as well. Since then I have written four novels in English and co-written four more.

Toward the end of last year, after toying with the idea for quite a while, I finally started translating my thriller Strays of Rio, published by MuseItUp Publishing.

I expected to suffer and give up soon. But I’m stubborn, and about twenty percent into the translation, I started enjoying the work.

As the author of the original, I probably took more liberties than a professional translator might dare. If the German version just didn’t flow in a literal translation or was too echo-laden for a lack of synonyms, I made content changes, but only minor ones that wouldn’t affect the story or character development. For example, if a description of the clothes of a character sounded bland in German, I wrote about facial expression, hair or posture, weaving in the outfit later.

At first I labored over every sentence and word, but then decided to get the first draft down quickly so I could put away the English version and do an editing round on the German text, taking even more liberties. During the translation and editing phase I only read German books and listened to German audio books and even avoided watching movies in English.

I’d say nothing needs to get lost in translation, except possibly a very specific wordplay or joke that can’t be easily replaced. And a translation can be better than the original. Of course, that depends on the quality of the original, the experience and skill of the translator and the time allowed to finish the work. And a good translation needs polishing by a line editor who
doesn’t know the original work and language, so they’ll stumble over errors like literal translations that make no sense in the target language.

Even professionally translated novels by big publishers have those sometimes, which can get very irritating. For example a literal translation of “cover your ass with paper”. An image hard to get out of your head when you’re not familiar with the metaphorical meaning of the phrase. Someone is chopped up by a serial killer but readers don’t take in the bloodshed because they see the victim with paper stuck to his or her bare ass. Yes, I stumbled across this one in a published novel, although there was no serial killer around. Another real-life example: “rib cage” literally translated as “Rippenkäfig”. Well, we call it “Brustkorb”, which literally translates to “chest basket”. Imagine reading a book where the heroine’s chest basket heaves and you’ll know how annoying such errors can be.

Have I started translating the next book yet? Well, I was tempted to get the translation of Crumple Zone done in time for the release of the English edition on February 22, but I shied from another two-month translation spree this soon after finishing Die Streuner von Rio. First I need a new writing fix. But in which language?


The Beauty of Language — translations, post 1 of 3 (Mihai Eminescu)


Mihai Eminescu (1850 – 1889)

    To speak of Mihai Eminescu is to encapsulate the spirit of his country in one name. Many of his poems are based on Romanian ballads (Miorita or The Little Ewe), and embraced by generations as favorite poems or songs. It would take pages to describe the poet’s life and works of art. I will not attempt to do that, as others have done it masterfully. I am, however, interested in exploring translations of his work.

Being so deeply traditional, Eminescu seemed to remain forever ingrained in Romanian literature. It was impossible to imagine his verse translated well enough to be evocative and understood. To be loved. Regarded as the national poet, he is adored by Romanians everywhere. A part of me liked the idea of keeping Eminescu to ourselves — the loving part — but not sharing his art, not reciting it to the world, seemed unjustifiably selfish.

Luceafarul (The Evening Star) is widely viewed as the poet’s greatest work of art. It is a 98-verse poem, although the length is up for debate, as a number of verses were said to have been removed after his death. Luceafarul is a philosophical composition in many ways, with heavy mythological and cosmic aspects. Perhaps an astronomically influenced poem, as suggested in many circles, but at the core it describes love, life, and sacrifice.

Here is a short section from the original followed by two translations side by side and closing notes below:


Porni luceafarul. Cresteau
In cer a lui aripe,
Si cai de mii de ani treceau
In tot atitea clipe.

Un cer de stele dedesupt,
Deasupra-i cer de stele-
Parea un fulger nentrerupt
Ratacitor prin ele.

Si din a chaosului vai,
Jur imprejur de sine,
Vedea ca-n ziua cea dentii,
Cum izvorau lumine;


Adrian G. Sahlean                                        C.M. Popescu

(The Legend of the Evening Star)          (Lucifer)

So left the Evening Star. His wings                   Lucifer set out and o’er
Grew large across the sky                                    The sky his wings extended,
As thousand years of reach would spring        And million years flew past before
And at a wink go by;                                             As many moments ended.

A canopy of stars below,                                      A sky of stars above his way,
Above, a starry dome:                                          A sky of stars below;
An endless lightning seemed to flow                As lightning flash midst them astray
And through the heavens roam                         In one continuous flow.

And in the dark that streamed around,           Till round his primal chaos hurled
As on the first day’s morn,                                 When from enwrapping night
He glimpsed the chaos vales unbound            The first, upflaming dawn unfurled
From where the light is born.                            Its miracle of light.


I know how much I love the original and leave the English versions for you to enjoy.

The main question is, do the translations convey what the original had set out to do?  I think the answer is yes, although it’s hard to fully appreciate a poem by reading three verses. So I ask, how was it possible to interpret Eminescu?

In looking at the original then the translations, I see one element maintained throughout, and that is flow. At least to a large degree. Of course we have two translators, and as such the versions differ in that respect. The rhythm changes (the rhyming part of it), but not very much. That leaves us with the words and meaning, perhaps the most difficult part when translating poetry, or any work of literature for that mater. The meaning is altered somewhat, words changed, but the beauty of language is in that we can say the same thing in several manners and not dilute the significance of what is being conveyed.  Emotion and feeling, so vital to the art form, are not sacrificed. As a writer, I find that fascinating.

Think about it, musicians have what,  12 notes to vary, rearrange, and play in different tones. But language — how many words are there in any given language? The Oxford Dictionary says “there is no single sensible answer to this question.” Of course not. Take English, for example. Is play one word or two? It sure has more than one meaning, as in child’s play (verb) and theater play (noun). In writing, and perhaps translating, it is how the writer uses the words to convey feeling and emotion that counts. It is what makes all the difference. If musicians and great composers can arrange and rearrange such limited number of notes to keep us enthralled and entertained, the possibilities are without limits for writers. The same is true with interpretations, I suppose.

It is how I came to accept that my beloved Eminescu could be translated. Through the beauty of language.

The Beauty of Language — a translation series


Language, when written well, is music to my ears.

Every language has its own beauty, but I’ve been captivated by English since I immigrated to the U.S. 20 years ago.  To learn something well enough to lose yourself in, you must love it first, I suppose. Must accept it as a new part of you, let it carve its own little place in your heart. After some time, it shapes the way you see the world.

Romanian, my native tongue, is a Romance language, part of the Latin family of languages. There are Slavic influences on all levels, as the country is surrounded by mostly Slavic speaking countries, with one exception, Hungary.

It is natural, I believe, to develop a linguistic interest when living in a continent with so many spoken languages. For example, I always thought Italian sounded beautiful. Similar in many ways to Romanian, yet different and unique.

In time, studying the sound of words, the way they translate yet retain meaning, one becomes fascinated with the idea of interpretation. Especially when it comes to works of art — literature. A conversation can be easily translated, but what about a story? Now we have thoughts, emotions, action, dialect. The order of words changes. What does one do with phrases that are untranslatable? Two different skills, I would say, translating and interpreting. We move away from a mechanical act (apa means water), and try to interpret a story so readers who speak a different language experience emotions the author intended to communicate. Sees the places the author intended to show — the simple yet spectacular sight of a bird flying against the pale, blue sky.


Or very, very close.

What about poetry? The rhymes, the lyrical aspect of the work.

Recently, I found one translation (two in fact) of Romania’s most beloved poet. Mihai Eminescu (1850 – 1889).  And since I understand both languages (Romanian and English), I spent nearly a whole afternoon studying the pieces.

It’s been said that Eminescu is not translatable. But as I read the English version(s), I wasn’t so sure anymore. Intrigued, I emailed the translator, Mr. Adrian Sahlean, at Global Arts, a non-profit organization, and asked permission to use his translation(s) alongside the original on my blog. He was very courteous and said yes.

My writing friend, Edith Parzefall, a German writer who translated her English thriller into German, has also agreed to participate.  As such, a blog series was born.

So, I invite you to return and read “The Beauty of Language — a translation series,” beginning sometime next week.

In the meantime, I leave you with two quotes on translation.  Enjoy!

“Beautiful translations are like beautiful women, that is to say, they are not always the most faithful ones.”
George Steiner in After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation

“Translators can be considered as busy matchmakers who praise as extremely desirable a half-veiled beauty. They arouse an irresistible yearning for the original.”
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749–1832), German poet, dramatist. Art and Antiquity, V, 3 (1826).