Israeli editor, Didi Canoch, just read Magic or Madness, and while he enjoyed it, thinks it’s untranslatable into Hebrew. Colour me disappointed, but I found his reasons why, and the enusing discussion in the comments fascinating.
So far, the book has sold to Taiwan, France and Thailand. I confess I have been wondering how those translations were going to get around the linguistic play in the book between Australian and USian English. Especially as I don’t speak any of those languages and don’t know much about them. Didi reckons a French translation could make use of Quebecois French.
Which got me wondering: wouldn’t using Quebecois French or, say, Mexican Spanish—were Magic or Madness ever to be translated into Spanish (fingers crossed)—raise different questions? There’s a particular set of relations between France and Quebec; between Spain and Mexico. Weird, mixed up colonial/motherland questions. But Australia and the US of A don’t have that kind of relationship. Neither country colonised the other, I mean, not in the way that England colonised them both. Am I overthinking this?
Obviously, translation is always about approximation, so you go for the best solution available. I’m dead curious about how they’ll deal with these problems. Or whether they’ll even bother. I can see a possible translation that would simply leave out the differences in the way the characters speak. Though I do think the translation would lose something if they went that way. But then most people reading it wouldn’t know the difference, would they?
The whole thing reminds me of Rome which just started on HBO in which everyone talks with an English accent so that it’s easy to figure out what class they are: toffee English accents for the upper classes etc. Yet it’s a USian production. US English has a huge variety of accents, many of which are marked for class. I wonder why they didn’t have posh Romans talking like Boston Brahmins (think Katherine Hepburn) and the lower classes talking like working class New Jerseyites (think Tony Soprano). Too close to home, maybe?
Rome, by the way, is a hoot. I, Claudius updated and with a bigger budget. Much camp fun. I can’t wait for the second episode. Maybe they picked English accents because they’re so much camper than the accents of any other English speaking nation?
Update: for those not familiar with the book, Magic or Madness is told from three different points of view. The two Australian characters have their chapters in Australian spelling and grammar, and the one US character has her chapters in US spelling and grammar.