Manuel Vicent: Son de mar / Der Gesang der Wellen

Reading Progress Updates


Finished the first chapter.  So far, this is shaping up as a story told with gentle irony — foil rather than epee or broadsword. Several passages had me laughing out loud; I particularly like the juxtaposition of a Spanish seaside town somewhere south of Valencia at the full, exasperating and more than just a little ridiculous height of the summer tourist season with the fierceness and elegance of the story of Ulysses / Odysseus and Circe … and Penelope (whose name here is Martina).

And I can already see that to me, this is also going to be an a study of translation.  I notice that the German translator — while by and large fairly literal — at least occasionally sets literal accuracy at naught in order to catch the spirit rather than the words; e.g., when inane lyrics such as

“Corazón de melón, de melón, melón, melón, corazón”

are rendered by the equally inane and rhythmically similar

“In meiner Brust schlägt die Lust, Lust, Lust, in meiner Brust”

— never mind that the actual words are entirely different. (I bet Willi Zurbrüggen, the translator of the German edition, had a lot of fun looking for that one, and I actually wish he’d had that kind of courage a bit more often.)  And now, of course, I also want to know how that particular bit was dealt with in the English translation …

Having just finished Sarah Bakewell’s The Existentialist Café, one of the passages that had me laughing for reasons that the author may or may not have intended was this:

“Entre las personas que aguardaban al juez no había ningún filósofo. De ser así, mientras llogaba el informe oficial de la muerte, se pudo haber discutido de fenomenología, de la apariencia de los seres o de la realidad de los cuerpos presentes.”

“Ein Philosoph befand sich nicht unter den Personen, die auf den Untersuchungsrichter warteten. Wäre dem so gewesen, hätte man, bis der Tod offiziell festgestellt war, die Zeit mit einer phänomenologischen Diskussion über die Gegenständlichkeit der Wesen oder die Wirklichkeit vorhandener Körper überbrücken können.”

What goes around comes around!

(Though, I don’t think “die Wirklichkeit vorhandener Körper” fully captures the meaning of “la realidad de los cuerpos presentes” , but anyway.)

Onwards to chapter 2, where we supposedly learn how this book’s Odysseus and Penelope first met.


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Well, that escalated quickly …

… and all that, in language (and with imagery) vaguely reminiscent of Camus’s La Peste.  Hmmm …


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The subtext of love and lust being equated with disease continues.

In which context, incidentally, Spanish allows the author to create nuances and allusions that are pretty much untranslatable into English or German (or even French or Italian, for that matter), by dint of the sole fact that “to love” and “to want, to desire” (in both a physical sense and otherwise) are the same word — querer.  And he doesn’t even have to use it all the time, either.

On a separate note, the German translator is skipping parts of the original text.  In chapter 3 it was only one sentence (and I did such a double take there that I reread the paragraph in question a couple of times in both Spanish and German because I initially thought I’d just missed it — but nope, it really wasn’t me), but in chapter 4 it’s an entire fragment of dialogue.  In both cases, the gist of the missing stuff is incorporated (by the author himself, mind you) into another statement in close proximity, but Vicent clearly considered the extra sentence / dialogue important nevertheless, otherwise he wouldn’t have included them — so who is the translator to decide they don’t merit being included in the translation?  It’s one thing not to translate literally, and to play with punctuation and sentence flow in order to better convey a sense of the original.  It’s another thing entirely to decide part of the text doesn’t need to be translated to begin with!


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