Diana Wichtel on an Italian translation of her award-winning memoir of her father who jumped from a train bound for an extermination camp.
Lost in translation: the expression is used to indicate a failure to transport the full freight of sense and subtlety when moving words from one language into another. Something missing. Having a book translated into Italian has been another sort of experience, of being adrift in a different zone, one where the story of my father who jumped from a train bound for an extermination camp and survived until he didn’t has been seen through different eyes. New words take you into new worlds. What emerges is something true to the original but also strange and, for me, a bit enchanted.
Not that I speak much Italian. Poco poco. I studied it for a year back in the day at the University of Auckland because studying another language was a prerequisite for doing a master’s degree in English and because Italian is beautiful. It wasn’t entirely a success. The next year, in Italy, driving around in a Kombi van with my boyfriend, trying out my stage one Italian, I got my “caldo” and “freddo” mixed up at a roadside establishment on an infernally hot summer’s day. The staff just stood there watching until I finished my nice big glass of hot milk. Cin cin!
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