I have just received a copy of a translation of one of my books into Lithuanian. It’s quite fun to look at because I don’t speak a word of the language. There are occasional words I recognise from the context or because they are from the same root, but mostly it’s all very different. I’ve begun to realise how difficult translation must be and how skilled translators are. For example, at one point I mention Noddy’s car. The poor translator has had to come up with a similar reference which can be understood at home. She’s used Coco the Clown, who must be a more familiar in Lithuania. I also mention the Daleks, which are explained in a footnote. Garabaldi biscuits are translated into ‘biscuits with raisins’ – which kind of rules out the joke about Gary Barlow biscuits later on!
All this made me think about why we don’t have books from other languages translated into English very often. Wouldn’t it be great if we could read an entertaining story about everyday school life in Lithuania, or family life in Finland? A book where the point wasn’t to educate or even particularly to show the way of life in that country, but just the fascinating backdrop.
I’d love to know what Slovakian children have for school lunch, or what time Malaysian children get up in the morning. I wonder what families in Namibia watch on TV or what clubs Bolivian children go to after school.
Not all of us can afford to travel, not everyone is physically able. Books should take us out of ourselves, to experience how life is for other people. Along with diversity in books, there should be diversity of books. It would be great if, more often we could read about people from other countries, written by people in those countries.