So I’m reading War & Peace at the moment. It’s a book that has been on my To Read list for years, I guess because it is probably *the book* that everyone feels that they should (even if they don’t) read. It’s actually really rather good – a little pedestrian to begin with but it gets going. The thing is, it’s occurred to me that I’m not actually reading Leo Tolstoy’s book, but some translator’s version of the Tolstoy book.

This isn’t a problem because it’s not as if I’m ever going to be able to read the original, but it does make me think that I simply cannot imagine how you go about translating a novel with all the nuance and subtlety that exists in the language.

I find it hard enough to comprehend how one goes about translating short, simple documents (although a friend of mine who is a translator will probably tell me that there is no such thing as a short, simple document), let along something that has metaphor, story, and emotion involved…


Anyone who has watched a film with subtitles will know that the half of the audience who can speak the language will be chuckling along with the laughter in the lines awkwardly ahead of those of us waiting for the subtitles. And dubbed films can be worse, with words that just don’t fit – all because sentences have to be reordered. How does anyone go about doing that? And where do you start? Presumably sometimes whole chapters have to be completely restructured so that in translation they work the same as in the original. It just blows my mind.

And in short, however much I read and enjoy War & Peace, I will never actually read the real War & Peace.