Saturday, August 26, 2006

To Read a Book As it Was Meant to Be...

This is my third entry in a day, but I couldn't resist making this one. Everytime I read a book, particularly a translation, I can't help wonder what the original work was like. I am always a little skeptical of the lyrical quality of the reinterpretation in a language foreign to the author. I accept translations as they are because it is easier to read a translation than to learn a new language from scratch. I've read books of Russian authors like Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Chekov. I've also read Franz Kafka (he wrote in German), Guy De Maupassant (French) and most recently Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Columbian who writes in Spanish). These are maestros who can trancend the barriers of translation. The translations probably render justice to the original work. For instance, 'The Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam' translated by Edward Fitzgerald seems like a genuine labour of love. Still, if one were to read 'Salome' by Oscar Wilde, written originally in French, the English translation doesn't capture the intended poetic elegance (at least that's how I felt when I first read it).
Another stunt, pulled off with so much panache by publishers, is editing. With all due respect to editors, some works simply must be left as they are. I realize that editing is challenging, it can give structure and meaning to a manuscript lacking both. On the other hand, editing attempts to make a book politically correct. In a studied attepmt to make the book 'acceptable and marketable', the raw quality to its content is often lost. Earlier, I never understood why some bibliophiles had a fetish for first editions of books. Now I know only too well. A book untainted by the sense of propriety of an editor gives insight into the author's mind. Reading an unedited manuscript is like having a one sided conversation with a person not physically present. The effect of that is beyond measure. It is priceless. Editing, if done irresponsibly, can mar the intended sentiment, and can amount to adulteration.
Unfortunately, first editions come at a price; they are almost never available. I have skimmed bookshelves and have never seen a book that says 'first edition'. It may be a misnomer, but it is definitely worth a try.

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