Are all books best read in the original language? Is it true that some languages are poorly translated into English while others are well translated, possibly improved upon? Sometimes, the result ends up better in the target language. For example, they say that Poe is better in French, but maybe this is because the English to French Translation was made by Baudelaire, and Baudelaire, well, Baudelaire could improve a lot of authors. Other times, well…
There are translations that are wonderful and that, I dare say, sound even better than the originals. “The Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam” is the first one that comes to my mind. It is considered a masterpiece even by many Iranians. Another example is one of Umberto Eco’s books which was rewritten by the author in English, and it is said to be better than the original Italian version. However, those are rare exceptions.
If you take the German To English Translation of “The Catcher in the Rye” by Salinger, for example, you will be disappointed with what Heinrich Böll, a well-known writer highly acclaimed for his novels and short stories, has done to Holden Caulfield’s narrative. Böll translated that language into faultless High German and thus has completely failed to hit the right tone and Holden’s way of speaking some kind of youth jargon.
Another example I can think of is Harry Potter series. If you are not a freak fan and read the Bulgarian Translation of the books, they will sound fine. However, if you read any of the books in English, especially the first ones, you will find out that about 30% of the meaning is lost! One of the biggest problems is style – the translators have kept to that old-fashioned fairy-tale language which might be acceptable in the first three books of the series, but with the rest sounds quite childish and queer. Russian To English Translation works of Harry Potter book series published by the Rosman publishing house were even worse. These ‘works of art’ were made on the run and turned to be very bad. The translation of the first book made by Igor Oransky stirred such a scandal that the publishing house had to change the translator. The hope for a better translation lived only until the translation of the second book was published. This “masterpiece” of Marina Litvinova was “awarded” with Abzats prize of the Moscow International Book Fair for the worst translation and editing.
I can give many more examples. To summarize, in my opinion, if you are not forced to read the translation you’d better read the book in original. Each language carries a specific mindset, a specific flavour and even if the text is brilliantly translated, the view is dramatically different from language to language. And if you want to improve your language and linguistic skills, why not reading the book in the original and then in translation? It will open a new world to you.