If you’re familiar with another language, you know the complexity of approaching loose translations. There’s a constant fight in the translation world as to what’s more appropriate: a direct translation, or a loose translation that captures the spirit of the original. “The translator is a traitor,” the Italians say. Or take this statement from a French writer: “Translations are like women. If they are beautiful, they are not faithful; if they are faithful, they are not beautiful.”
When I lived in Japan, I was always entertained and flabbergasted going to the video store. This was not because of the wide range of bizarre anime, but because of the American movies. Over and over again, the movie would have a new name, rather than a direct translation. Napoleon Dynamite (starring Jon Heder)was Bus Boy; Equilibrium (starring Christian Bale) was Revolution. There’s a similar trend in book titles. Here are my Top 5:
5. Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo
Known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame in English instead of the direct translation Notre Dame of Paris, this one isn’t too much of a stretch. The English version seems to me as if it’s trying to capitalize on the unusual aspect of the book, while the French title seems to speak more to Hugo’s lovingly woven setting.
4. A la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust
Initially known as Remembrance of Things Past in English instead of the direct translation In Search of Lost Time, this first loose translation was actually taken from a Shakespeare sonnet by the translator:
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste
3. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
This work is known by the title Fiesta in Spanish and in the UK edition. When Hemingway first started the novel, days after attending the running of the bulls in Pamplona, his working title was Fiesta. He then changed it to The Lost Generation before settling on The Sun Also Rises.
2. Män som hatar kvinnor by Stieg Larsson
Known as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in English instead of the direct translation Men Who Hate Women, I think that the original title better captures the purpose of the author. The work was meant partially as an exorcism for him, haunted by a gang rape he had witnessed in his youth and failed to stop.
1. Het Achterhuis by Anne Frank
Known simply as The Diary of a Young Girl in English instead of the direct translation The House Behind, I didn’t run across the original title of this book until selling first edition copies of it. The title, left up to Anne’s father Otto, refers to the secret annex where they lived in hiding while Anne wrote the diary. Both titles are powerful in their own ways, so I’m not sure which I would place as the better.
Five entries, four languages. What are some of your favorite false titles? Let’s see how many languages we can dip into.