Born in Germany and raised in the Netherlands, most of my childhood was spend reading, and being read to, in Dutch and German. Not only were there the famous fairy tales, but also beautiful books by Tonke Verdragt, Michael Ende, Thea Beckman and many more. Mobing to the United Kingdom at sixteen, I found that many of my childhood books had never been heard of or if they had been, only in passing. The starkest example of this gap in shared experience for me came from talking about the Grimms' Fairy Tales. As a child I had spent hours with my nose buried in the original versions, whereas many of my English friends had only read the (severely) altered and translated versions. When I mentioned the step-sisters' cut off toes in Cinderella my friends stared at me in horror. Similar responses were triggered when I dared tell them of the fairy tale 'Donkeyskin'.
What was interesting to me about this difference was that despite Germany and the United Kingdom being so close together, we had very different experiences of the same tales. And all of this was down to translation. I realized that translation was a crucial part of the growing globalisation in the world. Stories such as the Grimms' Fairy Tales are an integral part of Germany's cultural history and also give you a sense of the country's "feel". Although the Grimms themselves did plenty to change the fairy tales, they had lost something in translation. In a similar way, Finland's ancient book of mythology, The Kalevala, is one which isn't widely available in translation. What does it mean when a country's stories can't be read and understood by others?
Although I myself have limited experience in doing business with people from other countries, I have done a fair share of traveling. While doing so, I have always tried to read stories from the places I was visiting, whether it was ancient myths while visiting Athens or The Shadow of the Wind while strolling through Barcelona. Doing so has always allowed me to recognize traditions, understand their origins and appreciate the differences which exist between cultures. The importance, and the good, of translation, then, lies exactly in this. Rather than considering it as appropriation, translation allows a book and its content to effectively spread to different countries. Literature and language are the lifeblood of culture and without them it is impossible to truly create understanding between cultures and countries. Translation, especially into English but also English into different languages, is crucial in allowing literature to reach people all over the world. I myself have recently read a number of amazing books from authors all over the world, including South-Korea, Japan, Columbia and France, yet these books aren't ones I easily found in bookstores around me. I think it is now time, in this global day and age, that publishers and businesses become aware of the massive audiences that are out there for them if they think to tap into them.
How do you feel about translation? Do you think it's important to be able to read stories from different countries easily?