Valentine’s Day Reading: Fall in Love with Translated Fiction

If someone were to ask you to name the most perfect novel to read on Valentine’s Day, what would your answer be?

Perhaps your first thought would be Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. After all, it is a truth universally acknowledged that no one can resist Austen’s witty and sardonic prose. Maybe your thoughts would travel across the pond and land upon Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook. Every great love starts with a great story and with a story such as Allie and Noah’s, it’s hard not to fall in love with this classic.

But have you ever thought about the other love stories that exist? The stories that centre upon the Señor, rather than the Mr Darcy, or those that follow the Mademoiselle, rather than the Miss Bennett?

With approximately 7000 languages in the world, there are a multitude of happily ever afters waiting to be read. In this blog, we at Web-Translations are going to help you explore those happily ever afters as we present you with our top five translated romance novels from across the globe.

Books to represent Valentine's Reading

So, are you ready to fall in love with translated fiction? … Well then, let’s begin!

Sensei no kaban (Strange Weather in Tokyo) by Hiromi Kawakami – Translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell.

Our first choice of Valentine’s Day reading is Sensei no kaban. Uncluttered, dreamlike and enchanting, Strange Weather in Tokyo is the perfect novel for you to embark on your voyage into translated fiction.

Centring upon a young woman in her thirties and her blossoming yet hesitant relationship with her former schoolteacher, Kawakami’s novel is a tale of modern Japan and old-fashioned romance. It realises a balancing act between the lost Japan of the old and the modern, fast-paced Japan of today.

Furthermore, whilst the protagonists’ stories are universal, it is culturally embedded within Japan. From cherry blossom parties to drinking hot sake, the translated novel is intrinsically faithful to its source culture.

The novel states that ‘being in love makes people uncertain’. True as that may be, you are guaranteed to have one certainty after falling in love with this novel: Kawakami’s writing is pure brilliance. 

La Belle et La Bete (Beauty and the Beast) by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve.

As a tale as old as time, it’s not hard to recognise this French classic. Nonetheless, what you may not be as familiar with are the translated origins of the tale. Although immortalised by Walt Disney’s 1991 filmic adaptation, the French novel was first published in 1740 in La Jeune Américaine et les contes marins. It was then translated into English in 1757.

Although devoid of talking crockery and stirring musical numbers, Villeneuve’s tale is as magical as Walt Disney’s later adaptation. After all, with a moral celebrating the triumph of inner beauty over superficial entities, it’s hard not to become a thoroughly enamoured guest in the magical realist world.

El amor en los tiempos del cólera (Love in the Time of Cholera) by Gabriel García Márquez – Translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman.

Our third choice of Valentine’s Day reading is El amor en los tiempos del cólera. First published in 1985, it is a Colombian novel written by the Nobel prize winning author Gabriel García Márquez.

Exploring the enduring power of true love, this Colombian classic centres upon the lives of two protagonists: Florentino and Fermina. Falling in love in their youth, the two write letters to each other as they embark upon a secret relationship. However, due to the complexities of familial relations and expectations, Fermina eventually marries another. Despite whiling away the years in 622 affairs, Florentino reserves his heart for Fermina.

With subject matter a touch heavier than the previous two novels on our list, it might not be the best book to start your journey into translated fiction. Nonetheless, Love in the Time of Cholera is certainly a novel that you should at least dip your toe into. After all, how can you not be swept away by quotations such as:

The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love’.

Le Livre de Perle (The Book of Pearl) by Timothee De Fombelle – Translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone and Sam Gordon.

Our fourth recommendation for some Valentine’s Day reading is a YA novel, and it is quite simply stunning. Exuding romance, history and adventure, Le Livre de Perle will captivate you in a timeless fairy-tale of eternal love.

The story centres upon Joshua Pearl, a protagonist who comes from a world different to ours – a world of fairy tale. Despite knowing that the love of his life waits for him in such a magical realm, Joshua is trapped in our own world on the eve of the Second World War. What is more, as his memory fades, Joshua must piece together his past and find his way home.

The novel states that happiness is a dance where each steps brings you closer together or farther apart’. Reading this novel will certainly be a step that takes you towards that happiness. 

Hearts to represent Valentine's Day Reading

대도시의 사랑법 (Love in the Big City) by Sang Young Park – Translated from the Korean by Anton Hur.

Fresh. Unique. Modern. These might perhaps be the best adjectives to describe our final recommendation of Valentine’s Day reading.

Depicting the messy riots of young life, Sang Young Park’s novel follows the life of our protagonist Young. Recounting both his rakish college years and his still carefree thirties as he drifts from boyfriends, jobs and friends, the novel explores the hardships of platonic, romantic and familial love.

Unashamedly messy, cruel and raw, the love depicted in Sang Young Park’s story is real. Because of that we love it … and so will you!

These are just five of our favourite translated love stories from across the globe. We’d love to hear your favourite books to read on Valentine’s Day! Please feel free to get in touch via our social media.

Feeling the love and fancy reading more translated fiction? Why not check out our other fiction in translation blogs?

Sweden’s genderless pre-school bans ‘he’ and ‘she’

The question of gender and its importance in language and society has recently been raised following the banning of the terms ‘he’ and ‘she’ at a Swedish pre-school.  The school – named ‘Egalia’ – introduced the measure to allow children to develop regardless of their gender.  Teachers at the school in Stockholm refer to the children by their names, as ‘friends’ or by using the term ‘hen’, a unisex pronoun borrowed from the Finnish language, rather than using gender-specific pronouns.

This news has sparked debate worldwide regarding the importance of gender stereotypes, typical roles of men and women, and benefits and disadvantages of the policy in terms of child development.  From a language point of view, it also raises the topic of personal pronouns, gender, and whether the two are always necessary and how commonly they are used. (more…)

Britain under-represented in European Union Institutions

European Union institutions are currently under-represented by British natives, in part due to low-level language skills. Just 5% of positions in the European Parliament and Commission are filled by Britons, despite the United Kingdom comprising 12% of the total population of the European Union.

English is commonly used as a universal language in international situations and, as we commented in a previous post, the number of students of foreign languages in other European countries is high above the figure in the United Kingdom. What’s amazing to me is that some people still argue that there is no need for native English speakers to learn other languages, when in conducting international relationships with other EU countries, understanding another language, culture and country is paramount. As Michael Shackleton, Head of the London European Parliament Office, commented “The balance of the use of language has been in favour of English, but to understand what people are thinking about you also have to get a sense of them and how they see the world.” (more…)

Nothing beats a good pun!

Eating penguin chocolate bars with a couple of Spanish friends the other day got me thinking about jokes, puns and play on words in general. The Spanish translation of the word “pun” is “juego de palabras”, meaning literally “word game”, which sums up just what a pun is. Having always been interested in language and humour, I am a big fan of word jokes, and feel particularly proud of myself when I make what I consider to be an amusing pun (though others might disagree…).

We regularly groan at puns printed on the front pages of tabloid newspapers, and at the jokes printed on penguin wrappers and in Christmas crackers. Last year in fact, The Sun newspaper held a competition to see if its readers could “Out-pun the Sun”, inviting readers to give their best suggestions. Shakespeare used puns in Romeo and Juliet, and puns also appear in Harry Potter and James Bond books, which are internationally popular and have been successfully translated into many languages. Idioms and puns often have similar equivalents in languages with a common root, but there’s always a challenge for the translator to convey the original meaning, and this is why literary translation in particular is such a specialised and highly-prized skill. (more…)

Does the way you speak affect your compatibility with your partner?

Recent research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests that couples who speak in a similar way are more suited to each other than those who don’t. (more…)

Endangered language at risk of extinction

A language that has been spoken for centuries in modern-day Mexico is at risk of extinction as only two elderly people can speak it fluently – and they’re not talking to each other! Ayapaneco is the official name of this language, but is known as Nuumte Oote (The True Voice) by the two remaining speakers.

In the 20th century, there were a number of decades during which the use of indigenous languages was prohibited, and Spanish became the language of education. Following urbanisation and migration in the second half of the century, the close-knit group that had used the language gradually dispersed, and as a result, fewer and fewer people spoke the language. (more…)

Does spelling matter?

When contemplating the topic of spelling and its importance, I idly wondered how many spelling mistakes appear in journalism. Surely, as examples of high-quality writing composed by the most talented journalists in the country, newspapers, both in their paper and online form, should be free from errors, particularly orthographic errors?

I decided to have a look at the Daily Mail website, and within minutes of browsing articles, I found an error, unless of course I am mistaken and the flashes of light that go hand in hand with thunder are flashes of “lightening”. Some may argue that the spelling mistake does not detract from the information given, and that a reader would still understand what was meant (in this case, that Kate Hudson’s dress has lightning motifs on it). However, surely that does not excuse the error that appeared in a national newspaper? Readers would only understand the word by recognising it as being similar to the correct word “lightning” and realise that this is the intended meaning.

So just how important is spelling? Even though not a single word in the following paragraph is spelt correctly, we can still read it:
Aoccdrnig to rscheearch by the Lngiusiitc Dptanmeret at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

So if we just need the first and last letters to be correct in order to be able to understand a word, does the order of the letters in the middle matter?

When translating text, spelling is extremely important. Correct spelling is necessary in order to ensure that the translator, who will be translating from a language that is not their own, can understand exactly what the author of the text wants to say. One letter out of place could potentially change the whole meaning of a word and therefore a sentence. In addition, for foreign readers, who are making the effort to learn English, it is important that they learn the correct spelling of words. If there is a word they are unsure of, they would presumably believe the spelling that appears in a newspaper, thus incorrectly learning a piece of English vocabulary.

The question of technology should also be addressed. Are computers partly to blame for spelling mistakes we make? With the ever-increasing use of spellcheckers, not just in Office applications now, but also in various email sites, are we becoming too reliant on them? Do we think that we can get away with not learning how to spell correctly, as we know that the computer will correct any errors we commit? Are spelling mistakes in the press merely typing errors? Should we go back to pen and paper and photocopies? Or is spelling not that important after all? In my humble opinion, it is, it is an inherent part of the English language, that is at risk of being compromised due to laziness and lack of care. I think spelling should be one of the most important parts of any English lesson given to school children, so that our language continues to flourish and be passed from generation to generation correctly.

Apologies, rant over… just don’t get me started on apostrophes…

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