Dear Amazon critics:


Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against you. You helped me a lot over the past years, and many books I bought on ‘recommendation’ from the comments were really good, some great even.

There is just one little thing that bothers me.

If you don’t like an author’s style or choice of words or even grammar and spelling and feel the need to point that out, fine, go ahead, it’s always good to know what’s hiding behind the cover. But, for the love of all that’s written, pleasepleaseplease check if it’s a translation you read or the original. Because you see, I can handle fair criticism, even if you’re nitpicking on my spelling or grammar, but what really ticks me off is people whining about bad choice of words, unruly commas and weirdly structured sentences who did not even read the original text and blame it solely on the author.

Granted, the really weird style is often coming from the author – but that’s mostly an issue in lit fic. In common light fiction (fantasy, romance, sci-fi, comedies, you name it, I have it), such ‘mistakes’ often happen during translation. Most of the time, such books are translated by people who get paid way too little for their work. I took part in a workshop on literature translation, and I know how hard it is to do it right. But if you get paid a couple hundred bucks for fifty pages of prose, you don’t go over every sentence three or four times. You translate, you proofread, you hand it in – next job, please, I’ve got a family to feed. That way, the style is not the best, there are mistakes that could be avoided by careful spell checking, and if you think twice you can find a better way to say something most of the time. Which you don’t, for the aforementioned reasons.

So, again, dear critics: Please don’t blame it all on the author. As I said, most of us can handle criticism (*coughs* JohnAsht *coughs*), as long as it’s fair and politely worded. But I think I’m not alone here when I say that authors don’t want to be blamed for whatever sloppy work a translator did. Just… recognise the work they put into a translation, even if they did it in a hurry to pay the next phone bill. There are even examples where a translation did the author a favour, so to speak. Two examples here to clarify. 1. Bad translation: The Lord of the Rings, as translated by Wolfgang Krege. Krege didn’t exactly do a lousy job, but something about his choice of words is… off, and his style doesn’t really fit the story. 2. Good translation: Twilight, as translated by Karsten Kredel. I read the original, and compared to the German text it’s awful. I recommend Reasoning with Vampires (see link on the right) to see just how awful it is. The German translation, however, eliminated most of these mistakes and actually improved the text; grammar, style and spelling, at least.

Again, dear critics, just keep in mind that however bad a text might seem, it might just be that not everything is the author’s fault. Don’t blame it all on us, will you?





One response »

  1. My Amazon review pet peeve is those people who say things like “This book has the same style as the author’s other works” or “Yet another book in Author X’s signature voice.” I mean: Duh. Of course it’s like the author’s other books, style-wise. They were all written by the same person.

    I really love translations (though I’m okay at Spanish, I’m certainly not fluent, but I still try to pick through them) *because* of the odd sentence structures and sometimes uniquely un-English forms. I went to a writers’ workshop with several Arabic-speaking writers, and the way they form their English work is very poetic and heavier on symbolism. It’s interesting.

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