A Different Character in Translation

Question:

 
I don’t know at what point one grows tired of reading the same fan mail all over again, but I just put down “Alice On Her Way” again for what I suppose must be the fifth or sixth time, and I just wanted to send off a note to say how much I appreciate the novels. I’m 21 now and studying English literature at UCL in London, but I’ve been reading Alice books since I was eight, when the book club I was in began to sell the Swedish translation of “Alice In-Between.” Strangely enough, it was only after having read the next two books they translated and put out – “Alice in Lace” then “Achingly Alice” – that I realized that there must be some books in between (pun not intended, ha!) there that I was missing. Sure enough, but I couldn’t find them in Sweden! I began a couple of them up every time we went to the States – about every second year. I can’t say that the Alice books were the first English chapter novels that I ever finished – that honor, oddly enough, goes to Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With The Wind” – but I will say that reading the novels in English as opposed to Swedish lent me an extra layer of understanding of the characters and their surroundings. (Now that I’ve read all the three aforementioned translated novels in English as well as Swedish, I can tell you that Alice comes across as a different character entirely in translation! I find that that’s true for many translations, though – as such, you could say that Alice has, in a way, taught me to always try to track down any given book in its original language of writing, which is also how I learned how to speak at least a rudimentary French and Spanish, as Sartre’s “No Exit” and Allende’s “The House of the Spirits” were some of my favorite books from my English A1 course’s World Literature unit. Many thanks for that, Al!) I can also tell you that reading the Alice series definitely expanded my vocabulary – for instant, I can credit Alice for having taught me the word “reluctant!”

This is turning out to be longer than I thought it would, and I don’t want to bore you. I’d just like to give a word of thanks for writing this series – it’s given me a lot, throughout the years, and will continue to do so as I read the final novels of the series, and then reread the series in its entirety again and again. No matter the range of books I read and novels I appreciate, I will always come back to Alice … she’s a part of my childhood as well as my teenage years, and she’s helped me grow and develop. Reading an Alice book feels like coming home, if you’ll forgive the somewhat strained simile. Thank you so much for creating such a wonderful, true-to-life world.

Phyllis replied:

Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a thoughtful and appreciated email.  It was especially interesting to learn that Alice is a far different character in a Swedish translation than she is in English.  There are four more Alice books written since “Alice on her Way,” and a fifth coming out in  June, so you have a lot of happy reading yet to do.  You seem to be well versed in literature of different types, and I’m just happy to know that the Alice books are some of the ones you enjoy.

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