The eBook includes all the paperback edition illustrations, except the translucent bookmark, featuring a piece of art by Eevamaija Poijärvi. What the kindle edition lacks in touch and smell of a physical book, it makes up with its internal references and immediate delivery. The words are the same but the story, as with the paperback edition, might be different the second time around.
First, I should mention that I have not actually read the Purge but the original novel Puhdistus written by Sofi Oksanen. I highly recommend the Finnish version for its sublime language. Yet, I’m certain any translation of it is worth a read because of the story itself. Based on the first chapter of Purge, I’m fairly confident that the translation is good (as defined in Oxford dictionary, not the synonym to satisfactory to avoid any confusion). Someone once said that successful communication is accidental at best, or something to that effect. I’m curious what that person would have said about translations.
It is inevitable that some things are lost in translation. Dialects and accents never survive the brutal adaption process intact, if at all. Having to strip a piece of writing to its bare bones using standard language is a pity. In the novel, Aliide Truu, has a distinct way of speaking appropriate to her age. As an example, the following translation is correct, but fails to convey the speaker is Aliide and most importantly her tone. Aliide comes across more harsh in the English version compared with the Finnish version:
Sofi Oksanen Puhdistus, page 18: “Että mistä sitä oikein on tultu tänne?”
(Trans. Lola Rogers) Purge, page 12: “Now where exactly did you come from?”
Imagine a translation in its place that begins with something an old woman would say, but shows less concern and surprise than for example “Oh my” and ends with a reserved curiosity rather than interrogation.
It is a miracle if any translation remains true to the original work while achieving greatness at the same time. Once in a blue moon, the translation exceeds expectations and is even better than the original. An example that comes to mind is from the Finnish subtitles of the 1980’s Star Wars spoof movie Spaceballs. There is a scene where Lone Starr (Luke Skywalker) jams the radar by throwing a jar of jam into a satellite dish. Dark Helmet (Darth Vader) investigates the thick red goo and says: “Raspberry. There’s only one man who would dare give me the raspberry: Lone Starr!” The Finnish translation obviously misses the joke with “jamming the radar” and the sexual reference, but translation for “giving the raspberry” is still priceless when Dark Helmet gets to say in Finnish “…vattuilee”. The Finnish word “vattu” for raspberry has been made into a verb that conveniently differs only by a single letter from the commonly used profanity equivalent to “f-ing with”.
Another example is the name of the beloved character Jon Snow from George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series translated into Finnish by Satu Hlinovsky. Jon’s Finnish surname Nietos is type of snow that accumulates and hardens and the poetic word is also suggestive of something that is not quite what it seems. A very similar noun “keitos” in Finnish is derived from the verb “keittää” “to boil” or noun “keitto” meaning “soup”. “Keitos” itself is either diminutive soup or something whisked together by too many cooks. You could similarly give new meaning in English to noun “soupling” especially if you couple it with the word “dumpling”.
One of the cherished Finnish novels is Tuntematon Sotilas (The Unknown Soldier) written by Väinö Linna in 1954. It tells a story of the ordinary Finnish men on the Karelian front during Continuation War of 1941-1944 that followed the Winter War between Finland and Soviet Union. The most recent film adaptation, to celebrate the 100 years of independence, was directed by Aku Louhimies in 2017 based on the original manuscript Sotaromaani (the war novel), that Linna pitched to the publisher WSOY with “to give the soldiers, who bore the weight of the calamity, all the appreciation and strip war of its glory”. One of Linna’s motivations was to give the lowly soldier a brain as he felt other stories written by Swedish speaking elite fell short on that front.
The publisher subjected Tuntematon Sotilas to self-censorship known as Finlandization to some degree but most edits served to improve the story. It is a rare depiction of war that has no great heroes or generals as the main character, or any one lead character for that matter, but men from different corners of Finland, all speaking with their distinct dialects trying in their own way to cope and live to see another day. The novel achieves greatness by delivering the first hand account of the low level pawn caught in the senseless war. It has been translated to over twenty languages and should be part of the curriculum everywhere. Unfortunately, as you might have guessed, the original translation to English left something to be desired. Spoiler alert if you are not familiar with Finnish history: the last lines of the novel depict men on their way home after the war has been lost. The benevolent sun is shining on them and the last line is affectionate “aika velikultia”. The first English translation fell far from the mark with blunt “Those were good men.” I hope Liesl Yamaguchi solved this one better and the new translation conveys the brotherhood and bond formed between the soldiers.
Finally, I would not do translations of Finnish novels justice if I didn’t mention Mika Waltari’s Sinuhe egyptiläinen (The Egyptian) published in 1945 and translated to English in 1949 by Naomi Walford via the Swedish translation. This breathtaking novel transports the reader to ancient Egypt and tells a story of an orphan, Sinuhe, rising to become the pharaoh’s physician during historical era when you lived and died as one man saw fit. The depictions of professions and life in Egypt was so well researched that no one believed it had been written by a Finnish author who had never set foot in Egypt. Waltari took artistic liberties with some minor details, using medical practices that were not used until 1000 years later and borrowed a familiar scene from the Old Testament. Still those serve the story that highlights the contradiction between ideals and the reality. The circumstances might have been different thousands of years ago but human condition has not changed. While Sinuhe, the expat of Egypt, was born from the imagination of Waltari, albeit inspired by real historical man, his life journey challenges the misconceptions we humans so easily harbor when it comes to culture, religion and history. The Egyptian was the best seller for two years following its US publication and remained the most sold foreign novel in the US until Umberto Eco came along in 1980.
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My newly released novel, 7 Days and Counting, is available at the Kapok online store with free world-wide shipping.
Stock pile at kapok on sun street
Address: 3 Sun Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
The story begins on Saturday, October 27th at Kapok on Sun Street.
Over twenty Informal Editors from Finland, UK, Japan, Belgium, US, Australia and Hong Kong helped to refine 7 DAYS AND COUNTING that reads like a modern romance, unfolds like a mystery and at the end opens up for interpretation. Now the polished novel, which has been awarded a Literary Arts Grant by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, is coming out as an unique book befitting the story that challenges your perception.
Reserve the date 27.10.2012 from 5pm until 7pm. Invitation to follow.
The most famous word in Shakespeare’s Hamlet is the one we don’t know, the adjective omitted here:
O, that this too too flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew,
Or that the everlasting had not fixed
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter – O God, God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world.
Attempts have been made to resurrect the misprinted word as “sullied” and “solid” among others, but what is a beloved brought back to life for one is a Frankenstein to another. Everyone seems to agree though that we are free to speculate until a long lost original manuscript will set the record straight and Shakespeare has his last word. We pledge so strong allegiance to the author that if such a manuscript were ever found, we would debate about its authenticity – not whether there is a right word for Hamlet.
“Solid flesh” would fit nicely with melt, thaw and dew, but solid as an opposite of liquid doesn’t add anything that isn’t already implied. Based on the meaning, “sullied” would be the logical choice as “tarnished flesh” adds to the verse, provides explanation for Hamlet’s desire to commit suicide, and it fits well with “weary” and particularly “stale”.
The “too too” preceding the misprinted word indicates either desperation, emphasis or temporary amnesia. The desperate tone is set at the beginning with the “O”, and it continues through out the passage, so desperation cannot be ignored. If “too too” is also used as an emphasis then boolean “solid” makes hardly sense. “Sullied” on the other hand lends itself to both desperation and emphasis as there can be different degrees of stained. I prefer “sullied” because it ties closely to a reoccurring motif of incest in the play and gives the most freedom of expression to Hamlet. Imagine if a manuscript surfaced and it revealed that it was frustration and amnesia that Shakespeare was aiming at, and there was a blank to begin with. Would we accept his artistic choice when for years we have been in search of the right word?
We are reluctant to correct a mistake, even a blatant one, if it is made by an artist. When a famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto designed Finlandia Hall, he chose white Mediterranean marble for the exterior walls that proved to be ill-suited for the harsh conditions of Northern winter. The same Carraran marble was used when the music hall was renovated after his death, because it was the architect’s choice. As a proponent of functional design I have no doubt Alvar Aalto would have chosen differently had he known how the constant freezing and thawing affects the marble. His mistake would have been corrected by others had he not been a famous architect. Instead, a decade later, Finlandia Hall is once again in desperate need of a renovation.
I strongly believe we should aim for the integrity of the work instead of the integrity of the author’s final judgement. Sullied solids should not be blindly determined by what we might find in a manuscript or a blueprint if it is in contradiction with the work. People make mistakes. Artists make mistakes. And sometimes those mistakes are what gives the work a more profound meaning; other times they are just what they are – mistakes.
It is official. 7 Days and Counting has been awarded a Literary Arts Grant by Hong Kong Arts Development Council. My first novel will be published in 2012. This would not have been possible without the help of the Informal Editors. Thank you.
I’ve updated the beginning of the 7 Days and Counting blog version to reflect the version that is currently going through the final editing process.
Are you looking for a children’s story that has something for the adults as well? A short story set in Hong Kong Park you happily read again and again even if your children become obsessed with it? Take a peek at the sample of The Shy Star and join Informal Editors.
Despite the unpleasant coating of the cover, akin to toad skin, I could not put down Stacy Schiff’s entertaining biography Cleopatra A Life. To avoid parting with the fascinating metropolis that was Alexandria, and the larger than life single-mother-queen-goddess of Egypt, I even began to read it out aloud to my children as a bedtime story. I was prepared to distort the history for young ears, but quickly found it to be a surmountable task as murderous plots and incest were celebrated more frequently than birthdays in Cleopatra’s inverted family.
I hope my children could piece together from the heavily censored bedtime version that not all princesses have to marry the prince charming or an over-weight man from the swamp. Even though Cleopatra was born a princess, she had to work and fight for her right to become and remain a queen. Cleopatra, who spoke fluently nine languages, was a highly intelligent and educated woman, which was a key to her success. The most important lesson to learn from Cleopatra’s story is that history is written with an agenda and should be viewed in context. Schiff succeeds to provide that context for past historians, and does not merely recount the different tales of Cleopatra we have come to cherish over the centuries.
Future historians might criticize Schiff for advancing her own agenda by casting Cleopatra as a modern Alexandrian woman in a dark contrast to the oppressed women of Rome, for stripping her of bewitching seductive powers and portraying her as an equal, if not superior, to the powerful men of her time. Schiff’s Cleopatra, a capable, wealthy sovereign, who captured all of Egypt and several Roman hearts with her mind rather than her looks, was a master of public relations and brand management. Schiff takes the reader to an exclusive backstage tour behind the scenes, restores the glory and in the end provides one final tribute to her subject: even Cleopatra’s demise emerges as a triumph.
Schiff’s Cleopatra brings to mind Mika Waltari’s Sinuhe, another modern albeit fictional Egyptian, who forces the reader to shed misconceptions about the ancient times. Waltari’s novel The Egyptian is so well grounded in the egyptology, that it is worth the read even for those who prefer non-fiction. I highly recommend both.