Because I’m bilingual, I can choose to read a foreign language author in either English or French translation: not as simple a decision as you might think.
If my intention is to purchase the book, then economic common sense wins out, and I choose the always cheaper English translation. But if it is a library book that I’m looking for, things get trickier.
My intuition often leads me to make such blanket generalizations as: German is closer to English than to French, so I’ll read Oliver Pötzsch in English; or again, Spanish is closer to French, so I’ll look for the French translations of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s work. It’s as though I’m trying to bridge the gap that the translator has to overcome.
But other factors also enter into my calculations.
For instance, I’ve noticed the passionate French predilection for the Detective and Mystery genre—which they call “le polar”—and which has led to the tendency for bestselling foreign D&M fiction to appear in France far sooner than it is published in North America. This was so for all of Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander novels, and it was strikingly so in the case of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, which I had breezed through in French before English language readers had even heard of it.
But there is something else. In our bilingual city which is nestled in the eastern heart of North America, English works of fiction abound, and English also dominates the internet. I have found fifty literary websites for each one that I find in French.
And that is certainly part of the reason why I picked up my first Jo Nesbo and Leonardo Padura novels in French. It wasn’t so much because of what could be lost in translation; it was simply to keep the languages I do master alive and in the best literary form possible.