Wat zou jij doen? – The translation of meaning

Sometimes you find a book that you really need to buy. I remember taking this one and checking it, and putting it back in the bookstore’s shelf only to take it again, check once more, doubt, decide not to buy it, hesitate again and finally move towards the register very fast so that I can’t change my mind. How glad I am that I did buy the book. Wat zou jij doen? (in its Polish version, I co teraz?) by Guido van Genechten has been a pleasure to read and translate, and now it’s standing in my personal library where I can check it anytime I want.

This book is about the images, really. The text gives the story a meaning and a purpose but the images in this story tells it all – you could actually remove the text, and the illustrations would be more or less self-explanatory. However, what is great about this text is that it’s straightforward and speaks directly to the reader:

What would YOU do?

How would YOU feel?

It’s not just narrative, it’s demanding you to answer these questions, to look inside you and examine your feelings.

And why is it so important, as a translator, to understand this? To realize what the author is trying to convey in his writing and illustrations?

Because the meaning is what gives life to the stories. If we only translate words, not meaning, we’re just exchanging equivalents. It’s so easy to spot a text that has been translated superficially, word by word. It feels like a soul-less story, no emotions in it.

This book is not just a story, it is also a reflection. The author wants the reader to think, to get into the character’s skin, to live his experience. There’s no better way to examine a situation than to view it with another person’s eyes. If the character wins, the reader wins too.

There is no morality in this book, though. The author is not trying to answer the question for the reader, he wants the reader to get to his own conclusions.

If we don’t take all this into account and translate only with a dictionary in our hands the final text is going to be flat and without personality. We want to keep the spirit and we want the target reader to  feel as much involved as the reader from the source text.

That is why having time to understand the book, to find its essence, to fall in love with it even – it’s vital to deliver a good translation.

I advise you to fall in love with the book you have to translate. You will feel the difference.

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