Why I (try to) read untranslated literature

A sort of response to Tamsien (Babbling Books blog post: “Why I read: translated literature”

Book Selection

As a Spanish native speaker I feel in a similar circumstance as her: my native language is highly spoken and fortunately the Spanish literature is vast.

When I was a child, and later as a young adult, my teachers “obliged” me to read Spanish literature (meaning that “just” Spanish literature). I would say it was “good” literature, but let me doubt if it was the most appropriate at that moment. Most of it were old texts (“Lazarillo de Tormes”, “La Celestina”, …for the understanding of native English speakers, sort of “King Lear”). In my opinion they are must-read books, but not for starters. Then, I switch to translated literature, and it accompanied me until I had enough skills in other languages to begin reading untranslated foreign books.

I must agree with Tamsien that reading literature written by a foreigner (meaning that the one who writes in different language) allows the reader to travel to a completely different world, a different reality. For example, the atmosphere created by Mihael Bulgakov in “The Master and Margarita” could never ever be written by a Spanish or English speaker (neither the language nor the context would ever be the same).

My point, I switched to translated literature, and I discover a gigantic world full of magnificent microcosm, different realities which made me travel (and still make) to unknown and marvelous places. But also I found on my way some horrendous translations that kicked me out of that places. So, I stepped forward and decided to “force” myself to read untranslated foreign literature. The first one I remember (maybe it wasn’t the real first one) was Frankestein by Mary Shelley and I saw myself discovering a different way of understanding and living the story. The phrases and the rhythm were completely different, something new. No need to say that maybe I could only catch an 80 percent of the book, but what I got in return compensated that part I missed.

I am aware that learning “all” the languages is an unreachable goal but a worthy one for what you get in return. In the meantime, there are lots of wonderfully translated books that will brighten the way up.