So, the basic question is--do translation processes change the essence of books?
My favorite books are Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai, and The Kite Runner by by Khaled Hosseini (*cough and Harry Potter *cough). I also love love love Kobo Abe's works.
Although I read the Abe, Dazai and Hosseini in their original languages (Japanese and English), unfortunately, I don't understand Russian (for Anna Karenina). I've read it a couple of times in English. Although I do realize that I wouldn't fully understand culture without the language and vice versa, I would like to believe that I'm not missing out on too much of Tolstoy's masterpiece.
I do think that it is always best to read the original if you can, but that's not always possible.
So, what's your take on it?
To everyone: Do you think that you understand or "get" the essence of a book even if you don't speak the language? Are good translations enough? (I'm aware that there are different qualities)
To the wonderful people of Russia: Have you read English translations of Anna Karenina before? Do they miss a lot of things?
To those who just can't answer generalized questions: What are your favorite translated books, and were you satisfied with them? Did they make you want to study the original language so you can read the original one day?
Hoping to get some insight and book recommendations :)
Translations are never good enough. There is no way to translate the exact nuances of foreign words while keeping the author's chosen style of language musicality and psychology.
Sometimes, translators modify the vocabulary and every other choice the author has made. The results can benefit or damage the book. I've read books I thought they were bad, but when I reread them in the original, I discovered a wonderful, totally different book. The opposite is also true.
Some languages don't mesh well, though. Their translations sound weirdly unnatural in other languages. Sometimes, I can guess the original language of a book translated into a third language by the awkward turns of phrases and the monotonous, oversimplified rhythm. Just like a dubbed TV series, where you hear the voices but the actors' lips are not following.
A talented translator, however, will be able to keep the "essence" of the author's structure, rhythm and style, without resorting to literal translations or nonsensical sentences in the target language. The reader will enjoy a nice book and be able to think about the book's message and structure and to appreciate the work of art.
That's a gain, compared to no access to foreign literature.