Saturday, June 25, 2011

Kelly's Book 7: The Master and Margarita

Dear Jenny,

As you can see from this photo, this is yet another book I have decided to "Go Kindle" on (that's my phone -- my most commonly used Kindle reading device -- on top of the paper book).

What started out as my initial feeling of "I'm never going to get through this book if I have to read it on paper..." ended up opening a surprising new door for me: considering translations.

Translators: It makes a difference!
So far this year, I have read two other translated books (Love in the Time of Cholera and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle). In Cholera, I was so blown away by the prose that I really thought about the job that that translator had to do to keep the language so beautiful. For The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, I honestly didn't really think much about the translator one way or the other. (Which, I guess means that it was fine, right?)

But when I went to buy The Master and Margarita as a Kindle book, I noticed that the Kindle version had a different translator from my paper version. Huh. So I started to investigate which, if any, is considered the "best" translation. Turns out, most folks think the version that is sold via Kindle (translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky) is the best. Sold!

I had already read one chapter of the book, so my initial plan was to pick up on Kindle where I had left off on paper. But then I thought... well, here's an interesting opportunity. I could re-read that initial chapter and see if I (no scholar on this topic) could tell a difference between the translations. And you know what? I could! After just a few pages of the Kindle version, I really appreciated this new translation.

Helpful words are helpful

One small, but appreciated difference I noticed right away: individual word choice. In the paper version, a character approaches a beverage stand and says, "Give us some Narzan." Using context clues, I figure it's a beverage and I move on. In the Kindle version, the character says, "Give us seltzer." A-ha!

I've probably just outed myself as some sort of troglodyte for not knowing what Narzan is, but there you have it. I like the swap out.

But flow... now that's the kicker
Here is a comparison of two paragraphs that really blew me away (no spoilers -- this is in the first few pages). The differences are subtle, but I have to say that reading one of them is just... far smoother for me. Wonder what you think:
"And now came the second strange thing, which involved only Berlioz. He suddenly stopped hiccuping, his heart thumped and dropped somewhere for a second, then returned, but with a blunt needle stuck in it. Besides, Berlioz was gripped with fear, unreasonable but so strong that he had the impulse to rush out of the park without a backward glance." [4]
"Here the second oddity occurred, touching Berlioz alone. He suddenly stopped hiccuping, his heart gave a thump and dropped away somewhere for an instant, then came back, but with a blunt needle lodged in it. Besides that, Berlioz was gripped with fear, groundless, yet so strong that he wanted to flee the Ponds at once without looking back" [6]
For me, that second paragraph just flows better. What do you think?

Footnotes: a love/hate relationship
The Kindle version also includes linked footnotes. I find it nearly irresistible to click on them, so I do. This interrupts my reading, which I hate, but so far they have actually been super interesting, which I love! I'm torn.

Go, Kindle. I love you for being so smart.
There has been an improvement sometime in the last year to the Kindle app -- I had previously read a book that counted my "footnote click" as the "last page I had read" (because the footnotes are at the back of the book.)

So if I synced on another device (I also read on my iPad and, of course, my Kindle), it would take me to... the footnote. Grrrr. But it now seems to realize that, if I'm in the footnote area, that doesn't mean I've actually read that far and it syncs me to where I've read. YES!

Kindle, who loves ya, baby? I do.

Wow! This is a long post and I'm only about 30 pages in. As for content, I am... intrigued. No other real judgment at this point.


PS - This book is technically for July, but I thought I'd get a jump on it because it's long and seems dense. I read the lastest Sookie and... I liked it. Probably because everyone else said how bad it was. Low expectations can frequently help in these situations!

1 comment:

  1. K,

    The translation question is always really interesting, and a bad translation can really break a book for me. If I was reading your paper copy, I'd doubt I could get through it. That first paragraph is clunky...and that's being generous. There's definitely an art to translation, and I like the people who choose flow over the faithful word by word approach.

    I don't know if I actually wrote about it, or have just been thinking it over, but one of the things this project has made me notice is just how "Western" my reading choices are. I think I need to expand my horizons and read more authors that aren't American or British.

    I also have noticed the Kindle upgrading on footnotes and can only say "Amen!" to the much improved feature.

    Time to decide what's on tap for me in July!