When it is possible to me I prefer to read literature in its original language. I had not made a comparison, but I got to believe that what I read would loss part of its beauty if it was translated. Of course a translation is the only way to make a work available to other audiences. Taking that aside, do you thing there is more than semantics in literature? Is syntax or rhythm also part of the work of a writer? Do you know of a paragraph that can show whether or not translations are good reflections of the original?
I chose this two examples of translations into English. One from Spanish the other from Portuguese
I. From the Autumn of the Patriarch by García Márquez:
"Durante el fin de semana los gallinazos se metieron por los balcones de la casa presidencial, destrozaron a picotazos las mallas de alambre de las ventanas y removieron con sus alas el tiempo estancado en el interior, y en la madrugada del lunes la ciudad despertó de su letargo de siglos con una tibia y tierna brisa de muerto grande y de podrida grandeza."
Translated into English:
"Over the weekend the vultures got into the Presidential Palace by pecking through the screens on the balcony windows, and the flapping of their wings stirred up the stagnant time inside, and at dawn on Monday the city awoke out of its lethargy of centuries with the warm, soft breeze of a great man dead and rotting grandeur."
II. Memorial do Convento by José Saramago:
"D. João, quinto do nome na tabela real, irá esta noite ao quarto de sua mulher, D. Maria Ana Josefa, que chegou há mais de dois anos da Áustria para dar infantes à coroa portuguesa e até hoje ainda não emprenhou. Já se murmura na corte, dentro e fora do palácio, que a rainha, provavelmente, tem a madre seca, insinuação muito resguardada de orelhas e bocas delatoras e que só entre íntimos se confia. Que caiba a culpa ao rei, nem pensar, primeiro porque a esterilidade não é mal dos homens, das mulheres sim, por isso são repudiadas tantas vezes, e segundo, material prova, se necessária ela fosse, porque abundam no reino bastardos da real semente e ainda agora a procissão vai na praça"
"Dom João, the fifth monarch so named on the royal list, will pay a visit this night to the bedchamber of the Quenn, Dona Maria Ana Josefa, who arrived more than two years ago from Austria to provide heirs for the Portuguese crown, and so far has shown no signs of becoming pregnant. Already there are rumours at court, both within and without the royal palace, that the Queen is barren, an insinuation that is carefully guarded from hostile ears and tongues and confided only to intimates. That anyone should blame the King is unthinkable, first because infertility is an evil that befalls not men but women, who for that very reason are often disowned and second, because there is material evidence, should such a thing be necessary, in the horde of bastards produced by the royal semen, who populate the kingdom and even at this moment are forming a procession in the square"
Yes, you are right. I would say that to translate some words you need a long explanation. You may end up translating meaning, but the resulting text would have a different impact. And, in some cases, meaning may be lost in translation. I think the paragraph above, from García Márquez doesn't reflect in English what is said in Spanish. Maybe someone with a better knowledge of both could verify it.
And I have actually read, that Russian Literature is particularly hard to translate. I'm curious about it, and would love to read those master pieces in Russian.