Customer Review

118 of 119 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Knowingly clever, badly translated., February 24, 2011
This review is from: Foucault's Pendulum (Paperback)
I'm currently reading Foucault's Pendulum in English, but being both an English mother-tongue and a proficient Italian speaker and reader (as well as a language teacher and translator) I would like to add a little observation about this book. One of the reasons for the akwardness of the prose style and ambiguity is the translation. Many times I found the characters rammbling on at lengths about something which seemed irrelevant, but, when I translated it in my head into Italian, it made sense. One example is the recounting of a dream about a trumpet. The character says that he dreamt of the trumpet which he wanted as a child but instead received a clarinet, which he never played. Another character then asks him if he didn't dream about the clarinet...to which he replies no I played it. This all seems so stupid until you realise that the Italian for 'dream' and 'play' are very similar sounding and the whole dialogue is a play on words.
A book of this nature needs an expert translator. A good translator will translate what is there. An expert would have tried to reword the conversation to find two similarly confusing words in English such as 'knew' and 'blew'. "I knew of a trumpet but I never blew it" for example. The plodding unnaturally pompous prose style is a result of this type of direct translation. Italian prose is full of sub-clauses and spliced lines: English written this way sounds stilted and disjointed. So you end up with sentences such as "I, in the morning, after waking from a dream, went, with great haste, to the bar, which is near my house, for a, as always, coffee." [that's not in the book by the way :)]
To sum up, the book could do with a retranslation.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 9, 2012 10:41:09 PM PDT
K. Mattern says:
I think it's a good translation - let's face it, it's a very challenging work to translate! But I agree with you that when I'm reading it, I'm aware that if I could only read it in Italian I would be getting even MORE of the jokes, the plays on words, etc. Occasionally the prose does seem awkward and I'm sure it's because it's a passage difficult to translate into English. But my hat is off to both Eco and his translator for producing this incredible creation!

Posted on Apr 28, 2013 1:42:39 AM PDT
Andy says:
Very helpful to hear about this before reading! I've often marveled at the quirks of English and wonder how they are interpreted when translated into other languages. It's interesting, but not surprising, to hear that it goes the other way too. I wonder, when reading works translated into English, what I'm missing?

Posted on Jun 8, 2013 12:53:14 AM PDT
L. Whiteway says:
I attributed the awkward translation to a deliberate affectation of speech a la Damon Runyon with "Guys and Dolls" in which the gangster-speak he contrived added a layer of odd-ball complexity to the standard tough-guy interpretation. That being said, I fell in love anew with "The Inferno" after finding a fabulous side-by-side, page-by-page Italian/English translation (by Robert M. Durling). Now I am anxious to read an equally good translation of F's Pendulum: your mission, should you decide to accept....

Posted on Sep 29, 2013 10:40:22 PM PDT
M. Roer says:
I speak German, French, Italian and English. I read Eco's books in different languages and of course I always profited from knowing the different languages as he often drifts into other languages. I have not got my hands on an Italian Eco yet and it may be difficult to read for me as my Italian is more conversational and I might not be able to follow him in Italian. Not only with Eco but in general I find that translations are not always hitting the nail on the head. Some are better than others and Eco is certainly difficult to translate.

Posted on Sep 20, 2014 8:42:20 AM PDT
I have no Italian and cannot critique the translation on any serious basis. I did, however, notice a reference to "Ophiulco" at the beginning of chapter 8, which in English would be the constellation Ophiuchus. A small, even petty, oversight, but it made me wonder what I wasn't catching. Doesn't prevent this from being a favorite of mine, though.
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