Friday, June 13, 2014

The Lost

There are many reasons why I’d recommend Daniel Mendelsohn’s wonderful book The Lost, but for now I’ll just mention Mendelsohn’s exploration of translation. He is a translator, so perhaps it makes sense that he has a particular interest in translation, but it also feeds into his story.

First of all, during some of his trips, he has an interpreter/guide with him. Few books actually acknowledge the use of interpreters, so I appreciated that he did. Many authors simply act as though they were able to communicate with local populations through their own abilities, never acknowledging that there was a layer of interpretation between them.

Also, and more importantly for the story, Mendelsohn talks about different editions of Jewish books, and the way the translators interpret the works differently, thus making the readers see them from varying perspectives. Mendelsohn’s analyses of religious passages and their interpretations are fascinating counterpoints to his travels and his explorations of his family history. For example, he discusses the story of Cain and Abel and how Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Ittzhak) and (Rabbi Richard Elliot) Friedman translate the story, and how they analyse the story and their own translations. Sometimes Mendelsohn even says which version he prefers and why. The biblical tales he chooses always fit with the themes of whatever he is thinking about or going through at the moment, and this has the effect of highlighting just how essential translation is.

I found it hard to put The Lost down, and I definitely recommend it, both for the translatorial aspects and as a generally fascinating read.

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