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The Delighted States: A Book of Novels, Romances, & Their Unknown Translators, Containing Ten Languages, Set on Four Continents, & Accompanied by ... Illustrations, & a Variety of Helpful Indexes Paperback – March 30, 2010


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1 edition (March 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312428294
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312428297
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #341,345 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In his labyrinthine and surprisingly engrossing epic of literary influence and translation, Thirlwell (Politics) provides an idiosyncratic perspective on a wide range of authors and books, from Don Quixote to Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age by Bohumil Hrabal. A leading young British novelist, Thirlwell creates narrative enthusiasm and vividly drawn characters in a welcome departure from the academic approach to this kind of project. His technique is generally conversational rather than thesis driven, and his dips into notoriously tricky works like Ulysses and Tristram Shandy are characterized by impressively observed but plainly written close readings in the vein of the popular literary scholar Harold Bloom. One of Thirlwell's basic conceits is that style is inherently translatable, "even if its translation is not perfect," and he argues this earnestly and convincingly across eras and borders. Some of Thirlwell's arguments will undoubtedly cause debate among critics and readers, such as his defense of Constance Garnett, the original English translator of War and Peace, whose work has been criticized and possibly superseded by recent high-profile translators. However, Thirwell writes more as a reader than as an academic, and his passionate explications of writers from Flaubert to Nabokov is an absolute pleasure. Photos. (Apr. 22)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

Ostensibly devoted to the problem of literary translation, this provocative treatise rambles through the Western canon from Cervantes to Bellow, treating novelists less as subjects than as characters in a sprawling intercontinental epic. Thirlwell revels in the anecdotal (Italo Svevo studied English with James Joyce) and the serendipitous (the French word dada was invented as an equivalent for "hobby-horse," in " Tristram Shandy"); presents indexes whose entries include "hamburgers" and "squiggles"; and lauds digression as the best means of capturing the "serious nothings" of life. While acknowledging the difficulty of conveying the "perpetual giggle" of Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin’s name in any language other than Gogol’s Russian, Thirlwell insists that translation is possible and, to that end, offers his own version of Nabokov’s "Mademoiselle O," evoking the story’s trilingual origins in fittingly verdant prose.
Copyright ©2008Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Hamilton Beck on February 3, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Thirlwell's book seems at first to place a high bar for any reviewer, as it implies familiarity with a wide variety of foreign languages and literary traditions. Soon enough, though, one realizes that this standard is so exacting it can scarcely be met – least of all by the author himself. Besides English (his mother tongue), Thirlwell knows French and some Russian. He nonetheless deals fearlessly with stylistic aspects of novels written in a variety of other tongues, including Spanish, German, Italian, Polish and Czech, none of which he speaks.

Moreover, though he deals with an impressive array of primary sources, he includes few secondary ones. Many people, for instance, have examined Nabokov's views on translation. Thirlwell finds none of them worthy of note. One of his few extended discussions of actual translators deals with Constance Garnett and her "swarming precision." He also makes a daring suggestion when it comes translating the names of fictional characters: "in Gogol's story 'Coat,' it's not so much important that the main character's name is Akaky: it's more important that his name sounds like a minor part of speech. Mikey, therefore, will also do." And near the end he joins Nabokov in rejecting "the cliché of the smooth translation" (pg. 388). But that's about it.

He does attach his own version of Nabokov's "Mademoiselle O," a story that has already been translated repeatedly, first by Hilda Ward, then by Nabokov himself – twice (once from the original French, later from the Russian). Perhaps someday a graduate student in search of a thesis will take the trouble of comparing all these efforts, and then we can see how Thirlwell's stacks up. He himself never spells out why he thinks a new one is needed.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful By GDP on June 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Most mornings I begin my day with bran flakes topped by slices of banana, as well as the crossword puzzle. On Mondays and Tuesdays the puzzle is done before the cereal, on Fridays and Saturdays it isn't until a cup of coffee or two that the puzzle is complete. Like the other day, a Saturday, when a seven letter word for 'concoct' stumped me. Putting the puzzle aside I thought about the book I had read the day before, 'The Delighted States' by Adam Thirlwell.

The book is sub-titled, 'A Book of Novels, Romances, & Their Unknown Translators, Containing Ten Languages, Set on Four Continents, & Accompanied by Maps, Portraits, Squiggles, Illustrations, & a Variety of Helpful Indexes'. That alone should tell you something important about Thirlwell's style.

The theme of the book is that in spite of the difficulty in faithfully translating novels into a foreign language, the style of a novel can still transcend traditional language barriers and that innovative styles are readily adapted by authors around the world. Examples of novels proving his point abound, using Cervantes, Sterne, Stendhal, Chekhov, Joyce, Kafka et al as authors whose style echoes in the work of others from different countries. 'Point' may not be the appropriate word, since Thirlwell argues the theme in an indirect, multi-layered manner. 'Argue' works, however, as Thirlwell uses a form of the word himself, as in this short excerpt, "I have been arguing that style is the most important thing, and survives its mutilating translations ..."

Here is another quote from the book: "... [per Hrabal] literary history is like a giant game of ping-pong, where the talented players 'hit smashes over the nets as formed by the borders of States and nations'. And ping-pong is fine with me too. ...
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ann Marlowe on August 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The Washington Post review above is accurate, but no matter: The Delighted States is a must-read for any writer, aspiring or practicing. Yes, it's a young man's work, and Thirlwell can be twitty. But every other page or so, there's a startlingly wise line worth the price of the book.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful By M. Nesbit on September 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is amusing, intriguing, entertaining.

And what a mine for ideas on what to read next.

Damn! He's about got me ginned up to start reading "Ulysses" again.....

If this is what Thirlwell produces at thirty years of age, long may he live and write!
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