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Customer Review

214 of 223 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 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 1-10 of 11 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
monroe 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.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 4, 2014 12:29:17 AM PST
Therewolf says:
I know it's been years when all this was posted, just wanted to say that that's the reason I prefer to buy old Russian translations of any prose besides English originals. Those translations were honest to the core, meticulous, and had footnotes, such translations is the biggest reason why I feel lucky to be bilingual:-) Seriously, how come modern English translations don't have footnotes? Passages in French, references to things and historical events I can spend hours looking up in the library or on the net, always have footnotes in old Russian translations. Lack of them p*sses me off, pardon my un-footnoted French.

Posted on Jun 26, 2015 6:41:11 AM PDT
Still not going back to it. Gave up at p. 32. But an informative review.

Posted on Oct 6, 2015 3:15:39 AM PDT
Robert Gray says:
Thanks for those insights. As someone who translates from Japanese into English, it can be a tough call to determine how much to change in order to match subtle or implied meanings. Something is always going to be different.

It's interesting and good to know beforehand (I'm just about to read this book), about the trumpet and pompous prose not being so pompous in the original. Thanks!

Posted on Feb 19, 2016 7:40:40 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on May 8, 2016 1:58:39 PM PDT]

Posted on Feb 21, 2016 4:19:26 PM PST
If you're proficient in Italian, why would you want to read the Foucault's Pendulum in English? I don't understand that, you lose so many of the subtle nuances, word play and most of all the actual style and flow of the prose. I am a native German speaker and I would not dream of reading any German Novel in English.
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