Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A book by any other title

Some titles are easy to translate.  Austen's Emma or Tolstoy's Anna Karenina can just be transliterated from one alphabet to another.  Some cases are a little more difficult, but still pretty simple.  Just go for a literal translation.  But other times, whether for marketing or artistic reasons I can't be sure, the changes are a bit more interesting. While trying to improve my Spanish on duolingo, I was on the Spanish language Wikipedia page for William Golding, a page which included his bibliography, including his novel Close Quarters which, in Spanish, is titled Cuerpo a cuerpo ("Body to Body").  This was a pretty neat translation, and reminded me of something I'd been meaning to look up.  At a panel at the Festival of Books, Jonathan Lethem remarked on the strange titles his Italian publishers gave his books.  For example, his sci-fi/noir pastiche, Gun, with Occasional Music is known as Concerto per Archi e Kanguro (Concerto for Strings and Kangaroo), As She Climbed Across the Table is Oggetto Amoroso non Identificato (Unidentified Love Object) and, most perplexing, Men and Cartoons is given the title A Ovest dell'Inferno (West of Hell).

It seems like loose translations of titles may be a trend in Italian publishing.  While the Spanish translation of The Grapes of Wrath is pretty literal (Las Uvas de la Ira), the Italians pared it down to just Furore.

Furore is basically Rage or Fury (at least that's what the internet tells me), so I went to see if the Italian edition of Stephen King's early pseudonymous novel Rage shared this title on Roman bookshelves.  It doesn't.  For some reason, the translated title is the Ossessione (Obsession (obviously)).

This led me to look at another King title, The Stand, which is admittedly a rather subdued title for a novel about a civilization ending disease and ensuing holy war.  The Spanish translation at least makes sense in this regard.

But, though it's been a while since I've read this, I think the Italian title, L'ombra dello Scorpione (The Shadow of the Scorpion) is a complete non-sequitur:

Here's a fun game, I'll give you a few foreign titles (and their English translations) and you guess what notable English language work they refer to:

1. Un Mundo Feliz (A Happy World)

2. Schiavo d'amore (Slave of Love)  

3. La Senda del Perdedor (Loser's Lane)

4. Pânico (Panic)


1. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

2. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

3. Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski

4. Something Happened by Joseph Heller

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