Original novel vs translation

As I feared earlier - translation of my own novel is resulting in a book that differs from the original. So far, and I'm talking here about a perspective taken from the first few chapters - I see a plot that begs to go in a different direction and my main character as developing into a whole different person.

I thought that translating will be more or less word for word, with some creative transitions, but it wasn't working out that way. The only way I could do it was to read the original chapter, and rather than translate sentence after sentence - I'd do the whole thing without following the original text. I found that the result was much smoother and creative. Perhaps too creative... giving the new text a life of its own. Where does translation end and when does original work begin? How far can I go on, before I can call this translation an original? And, can I?

One other thing the translation of my own novel teaches me is the appreciation of there being different languages. I hope that humanity will never come to embrace a single language (unless we figure out how to combine many into one, but even then I would have my reservations: what about the different cultural experiences) as it will lead to a world much less colorful. Describing the same thought in a different language seems to give it a whole different life, life that is richer and more creative.


  1. This is very truthful post! I have been a translator for many years and could not agree with you more. No wonder that philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said that language is a "way of life".


    JK reply: I often wondered how much freedom does a translator allow him- or herself in translating works of others, and being able to read in several languages I found that only those who step beyond word-for-word translation are able to crate work that is alive, that lives apart from the original, and yet retains the original work's soul. Translation is an art, and a great opportunity to experience a different world. As someone else put it: The limitations of our language mark the boundaries of our world.

  2. I agree. I've tried translating before. I started it word for word, sentence by sentence. Then i realised how terrible it sounded, and i had to do it all over again in my own words in the other language.

    But for me, translations are always different. I can love translations, but never as much as the originals.