Translations are funny. Really funny. Even English to English translation can be amusing (meaning of course, American English to British English). In The Lace Reader, I initially had my main character (who had just undergone major surgery and was unable to lift so much as a purse) wearing a fanny pack. Geeky and unfashionable at best. At worst, things move into the borderline pornographic. Anyone in the UK will understand what I'm talking about, but I will resist the urge to elaborate. Suffice it to say that there are certainly meanings that are lost in translation, as well as those that are gained, intentional or not. I'm relieved to say that the fanny pack was banished from both editions. In Italy, they changed the title of the book from The Lace Reader to The Lying Reader. The reason was simple enough. Lace has a few connotations in Italy, one of the best known has to do with a mafia bribe. My Italian publisher decided it was better to change the book's title than to have it land in the wrong genre. I think they made the right decision.
One of my Chinese translators asked me about the significance of a character's name: Beezer. I told her there was no significance at all, Beezer was simply a childhood nickname. The translator then had a decision to make. She could either translate the name into an equally insignificant Chinese childhood nickname, or she could use the closest translation to the word that she could find: Little Nose. Naming the character Little Nose would certainly render a descriptive new characteristic to the boy. She wanted me to make the decision, but, in the end, I left the choice up to her. Would a character named Little Nose be more or less likeable in China? What would it mean to readers? I had no idea. And I have no idea what she decided since, sadly, I am incapable of reading any dialect of Chinese.
We are now in the process of translating my second book, The Map of True Places, and I am working for the second time with one of my favorite translators, Elke Link, from Germany. Actually, she is doing all the work, I am simply fielding the occasional question. In my new book, the character's middle name is Trouble, and the initial T takes on special meaning in the story. Unable to find a suitable translation that began with the letter T, Elke suggested the word Turbostress. I was immediately delighted. Turbostress means exactly what it sounds like it means, and it describes a state I have found myself in for the last few years as I have tried to launch my writing career. In all fairness, it's probably a perfect description for the state I have found myself in all of my adult life, but that is another blog post for another day.
I'm heading out now to Denver on the final leg of my book tour for The Map of True Places. I'll be at one of my favorite bookstores of all time, The Tattered Cover, in Denver (2526 East Colfax Ave) at 7:30 tomorrow (Thursday) night. Can't wait! Just walking into that wonderful building removes any trace of travel turbostress. If you're around the Denver area tomorrow night, please join us.