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.