FAVORITE BOOKS
from Language Pros

BY Óscar Curros

Book worms are not rare in our industry. Localization and translation professionals are voracious readers, and they do it in several languages. When they’re working on a book as translators, they’re the author’s closest readers. That’s why we’d like to celebrate International Translation Day, Sept. 30, with a top-of-mind list by some ever-reading colleagues.

Roberta Tabolacci

Position/organization:

Freelance translator and language consultant

Book title (Italian):

Il ritratto di Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (I read it in Italian)

Book title (English):

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Book summary:

In an upper-class house in London, the painter Basil Hallward meets Dorian Gray, a cultivated, wealthy, and pure young man of astonishing beauty. The painter is inspired by Dorian’s beauty, and he wants to make a portrait of him. During a posing session, Basil introduces Dorian to one of his friends, Lord Henry Wotton. A man with a clever wit and peculiar view of the world, society, and morality, Lord Henry mentions to Dorian the transitory nature of youth and beauty. In response, Dorian curses his portrait to bear the burden of life and time on itself. To Basil’s sadness, Dorian is impressed by Lord Henry and fascinated by his apparent freedom of thoughts. This marks Dorian’s life forever, changing his habits, his nature, and his future choices. In a spiral of events, he makes one wrong turn after another, each one exploring a darker aspect of his personality. Nothing about his wrongdoing changes his perfect beauty, and thanks to that, people around him still think highly of him. But life finds its own way to make Dorian face the reality of what he transformed himself into.

How did you come across the book?

I was about 14 and had just started venturing out in the world of readers, and this is one of the first books I read. It was a personal choice, not connected to my school program. For unknown reasons, it has always intrigued me, and one day I was in a bookshop in Rome, saw it, and it came home with me. Needless to say, it absorbed my time and my mind totally. I just couldn’t spend enough time reading it. I suspect that it contributed to my subsequent transformation into a book lover and an avid reader.

What’s the most important aspect of this book for you? Why does it matter to you?

On a personal level, the feeling I had while reading it for the first time was extraordinary. It opened up a whole new world for me. The rich language and abundant wit filled my mind (thanks to the brilliant translation by Benedetta Bini for the Italian version). From a content analysis standpoint, the main takeaways for my 14-year-old self were to analyze the duality inside each of us, where good and bad live together. Moreover, it taught me to look beyond the appearance of a person and observe their actions, even more than listening to their words. For example, despite his witty conversations and subversive ideas, Lord Henry lives a different life compared to the ideas he presents in his speeches. The young Dorian (a cultured, wealthy, pure man of astonishing beauty) is profoundly influenced by his talks and worldview. This bad influence leads him into a totally different lifestyle. Thanks to the “curse” on his portrait, he believes the illusion that he can do whatever he wants without paying for his actions. But in reality, although not visible on himself, the damage from the evil he did remained. The consequences of his wrongdoing appeared instead on the picture, and that sight was unbearable to him. His total freedom was an illusion, and facing that reality, Dorian realizes exactly what he has become.

Olaya Martínez Sánchez

Position/organization:

French/Spanish sworn translator (freelance), proofreader, professor (CESUGA), PhD candidate (Uvigo)

Book title (French):

Les Combustibles by Amélie Nothomb

Book title (English):

Human Rites

Book summary:

A literature lecturer, his assistant Daniel, and literature student Marina live in a city during wartime. They get stranded one night at the lecturer’s apartment, not daring to go out because of the bombings and the possibility of the presence of snipers. To combat the cold, they must keep a bonfire on, but in doing so, they only have access to the lecturer’s books. The three characters discuss in this play which books to burn according to their value as literary treasures, their social impact, and their relevance — questioning which books must be saved from destruction and which must be destroyed for a moment of heat.

How did you come across the book?

I used to go to libraries so I could improve my skills in foreign languages. One day, I randomly came across a book by Amélie Nothomb (Ni d’Eve ni d’Adam). I loved that book and her writing style so much that I started to track her books down. Around 2009 I found this piece of art in an old small library in Paris, and I had to buy it. It only takes a couple of hours to read, but the honest criticism of how we value art and life lasts in your mind forever.

What’s the most important aspect of this book for you? Why does it matter to you?

It puts into perspective the meaning of art, literature, and its impact on society as a form of self-expression. But it also touches on our ability to register reality and put our thoughts into words. As I learned from this book, the ability to make informed decisions is commonly pitched against feelings, and as social beings, we will have to learn how to adapt our value scales and live with the consequences.

Allison A. deFreese

Position/organization:

Oregon Society of Translators and Interpreters
Conference chair/literary translation coordinator

Book title (Spanish):

Mayo by Karla Marrufo

Book title (English):

Flame Trees in May

Book summary:

Karla Marrufo’s unique and magical novella is unlike any you have read. In Flame Trees in May (Mayo), Marrufo deftly navigates stream of consciousness and elements of monologue to capture the fragmentary and fleeting nature of reminiscences filtered through time, as well as the unreliability of collective memory transformed into myth. She explores universal themes (from family angst and anguish, to formulaic holiday dinners and multigenerational secrets) in a cultural context unique to communities of Mayan and Caribbean heritage in the Yucatán Peninsula. This experimental, bittersweet love poem of a book examines isolation, loneliness, memory, and the way our personal stories and family narratives evolve over time, inviting the reader to arrive at new and unexpected conclusions.

How did you come across the book?

I am grateful to all the librarians at the Biblioteca Central Estatal Manuel Cepeda Peraza (México), where I first read Karla’s work.

What’s the most important aspect of this book for you? Why does it matter to you?

This book is unique in its literary style, as well as for its linguistic and cultural references. Flame Trees in May (Mayo) transports the reader to a specific region of the world, yet is accessible and universal.

Adam Wooten

Position/organization:

Associate professor at MIIS

Book title (English):

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

What other languages is it available in?

It was originally written in English but also includes a good amount of Portuguese or “Portuglish.” It has been translated to at least French, Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish, Romanian, Portuguese, and Polish.

Book summary:

Speaker for the Dead was written as a follow-up to the popular 1985 sci-fi novel Ender’s Game. It follows the same protagonist but has a very different feel. Ender’s Game focused on how the protagonist needed to prepare to fight another alien culture that was not understood, and this sequel focuses on how he uses the empathy and intercultural understanding he has gained to help a precarious relationship with another foreign alien culture. The author alleges that Speaker for the Dead was the book he always “meant to write” but he needed to write Ender’s Game first as a prequel to set it up.

How did you come across the book?

I had heard about this book series ever since the 1980s but never felt that I had time to read it as I normally prioritize nonfiction. However, in 2015, someone in a podcast piqued my interest by mentioning how well this book dealt with empathy and intercultural understanding, two topics that were then a focus on some personal study. So I first listened to the audiobook on long drives and on hikes through the mountains of Utah with my dog, Pepper.

What’s the most important aspect of this book for you? Why does it matter to you?

My daughter and I are now listening to this audiobook together. I love that it gives us a chance to discuss topics like empathy and intercultural understanding that might not come up in other fiction but that a teenager might not have the patience to hear about from a work of nonfiction.

Óscar Curros is a journalist, translator, and writer for MultiLingual Media.

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