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Les Miserables (Word Cloud Classics) Flexibound – January 15, 2013
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A number of interviews with Rose are available online, in which she discusses her work, and her work on this novel. The novel has a lengthy and detailed Translator's Preface, in which she discusses the novel, the translation process, and her approach to it. You also can find online some independent articles about this translation.
The great translator of Spanish language literature, Edith Grossman, said:
"I can't say what makes a book translatable, but I do think that all texts can be translated. The question of whether or not a work is "translatable" stems from a mistaken and widely held notion that a translation is really a one-for-one set of equivalences with the original--a straightforward lexical problem--when in fact it is a rewriting of the first text. Some, of course, are immensely difficult (they're usually just as difficult in the original) and challenge the translator's sensitivity to nuance, levels of meaning, and artistic impact in both languages. I see my work as translating meaning, not words."
Rose has spoken similarly about her work.
"I think the essential difference is that...and I'm not saying that translators always have to do this, there are reasons for departing a little bit further from a writer's text where it just won't work in English. I found on the contrary what really worked better in English was to follow Hugo much more closely than anyone else seems to have done. So I've actually followed his syntax as closely as possible, I've followed the rhythm of his sentences and I've actually broken it up the way he has and stuck more closely to what he says." -- Julie Rose, interview, 2009
She's translated more than thirty French works into English -- plays, poetry, novels, genre fiction. She worked on Les Miserables for three years. She has been awarded three international prizes for her translations. I'm willing to take the leap of faith -- she is "fluent in French." I recommend others accept the facts in plain sight, and do likewise.
I stopped reading works in translation in the early 1980s, and didn't start up again until around 2005. The reason I stopped was that I concluded that I could not hear the author's voice in the translated work. The reason I started again was that Rose, Grossman, and some others showed that they understood this challenge, accepted it, and that it is possible to capture the author's voice in a translation, by actually listening to the author's intent.
According to one account, the Rose translation is almost 100,000 words longer than the 1976 Denny "translation" -- that's how much material he excised from the novel to "improve it." Denny, in fact, is on record as saying that Victor Hugo was a terrible writer, and needed some "tidying up." If you're just looking to pad your reading CV with another of the "great books," then it doesn't matter which one you read. Might as well go with a shorter one. If you're looking to read the translation of Les Mis, that will make you feel like you are reading the original, hearing Victor Hugo's voice, then pick up Rose's translation.
True realism, this is an authentic look at many French lives during various revolutions. Jean Valjean rises from a thief and ex-con to become mayor and benefactor of a small town, but his past continues to haunt him. Javert, the obsessive detective, continually pursues Jean, dedicating years of his pathetic life to prosecute him. Shop girl and unwed mother Fantine's story makes you weep, and her daughter Cossette becomes adopted by Valjean, creating another sub-plot. Victor Hugo understands and realistically portrays good and evil people from all strata of society.
I looked at a French history book while reading it, and Victor Hugo is historically accurate. If you saw the play or movie adaptation, you know very little of this book. I recently re-read it for the second time, and I admit I skipped some of Hugo's philosophical musings and also the gruesome war scenes. It helps to have some knowledge of the French language and history before you read it. I read for an hour a day for several weeks, and followed all the characters as if It were a mini-series. This novel is a masterpiece, and you will absorb history and French culture while following an amazing plot that includes memorable characters.
I will open this review by saying that there are few books (and movies) that impact me greatly, elicit an emotional response from me, and that I get wholly involved with. In fact, there are few movies and books that I can even bother to finish! Les Miserables by Victor Hugo is a rare exception to this. Hugo's classic novel is fascinating and beautiful, haunting and riveting, and on top of this, the book is filled with powerful characters and a powerful message.
I have watched the 10th Anniversary Concert of Les Miserables since I was a kid, because Les Miserables has always been my grandfather's favorite musical. In fact, my grandfather still owns the little tape! So I am not new to the basic story line. Years later, I watched the 1998 movie with Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush, which does not do the original story justice in the least. Finally, the newest 2012 movie has been released. Oh my goodness. Let me just say, the newest movie is an instant classic!I am not one to cry in movies at all, and as I mentioned earlier, I seldom even feel anything but "meh" for most movies. However, I absolutely BAWLED on more than one occasion while in the theater, and I was not the only one! Crying and sniffling abounded in the theater. It was very touching and beautiful, and an engaging story line. As soon as I returned home, I knew I had to read the book!
And so I purchased the Les Miserables movie tie-in, translated by Norman Denny. I was crossing my fingers hoping that the translation would be good. It certainly does not disappoint! The words flow smoothly, and the book really flies, it is so good! The descriptions are quite eloquent and unique, and I almost hold my breath while reading the beautiful words. Suffice to say that the book is quite easy to understand, but at the same time this translation does not "dumb down" the content for modern audiences, if you catch my drift.
The book is large and beautifully bound. I positively adore the cover and the tones! The pages are large and bluish-white, and the smell is muted but new. The pages are rather thin because of the abundance of pages (1200, plus some parts that the translator chose to leave out of the main portion of the book and put in the appendix instead in order to make reading the book go more smoothly. Don't worry, the majority of the book is still there, and so is all the important content).
As for what the book is about, I'm sure most people reading this review are already familiar with the story, and if you are not, you can probably find a great summary elsewhere. But the basic gist is that, this is a poignant story about an ex-convict during 19th century France who, after experiencing great kindness for the first time in his life, strives to right his wrongs and live the rest of his life doing good for others. Of course, this isn't without hardships, which is what gives us an intriguing story in the first place, right? And lots of other things happen, and there are plenty of other important characters, which is obvious from the 1000+ page length.
As the title of the book suggests, this is not the happiest of books. You really feel for the hardships of each of the characters. This is a VERY emotional and thought-provoking story! I cannot emphasize that enough! I am certain that everyone who reads it will become attached to at least one character, and pity them and their strife. The characters really are strong individuals though. The character that has always been my favorite is Monsieur L'inspecteur, AKA Javert (Don't listen to the individuals who call him evil, he certainly is not! In fact, there are quite a few other characters that fit THAT profile...). Of course, our protagonist Jean Valjean has always touched my heart as well! My heart goes out to the tough decisions he must make, and all he has gone through.
The historical backdrop and the description of the surroundings gives this story a lovely, ethereal feel. Even if you know nothing about 19th century France, you'll be able to understand the story and events fine. The ending of the story is absolutely phenomenal and heart-wrenching!
Honestly, this has instantly made my (relatively small) list of ultimate favorite books! I only had five books on that list before reading Hugo's Les Miserables, and Les Miserables has trumped all of those books! I'm aghast by that...Never have I read a story that touches me so deeply!
I highly recommend this book! On that note, I also recommend going to see the newest movie with Hugh Jackman, and watching the 10th Anniversary Concert of the musical. You will not regret it!