Saturday, 3 January 2009

J.D. Salinger - Lost in Translation

Going back to what I said the other day – my belief that "a book speaks differently to different people at different ages" and that our perception of certain authors and books may vary over the years – on reading that J.D. Salinger has just turned ninety, I thought I'd grab a copy of The Catcher in the Rye and see what my impressions would be fifteen years after I read it first.

At that time, I remember I mostly read poetry. The little prose I read were works by Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Gogol, Pushkin and, from the English front, Joyce, Carver, Arden and McEwan. Salinger was recommended to me by a young student who I had met at a local creative-writing course. She was a promising writer, so I was curious to have an insight into one of her major influences.

I read The Catcher in the Rye (Il giovane Holden in Italian) and a collection of short stories, but was left completely unimpressed. I missed the point of the stories, and didn't particularly respond to the novel. My friend was disappointed when I told her.

Now, reading The Catcher in the Rye in English for the first time, I can appreciate its idiosyncratic style and language. This was totally lost in translation. I have been reading readers' comments on an Italian online bookstore, and many seem to criticize the writing itself. "True, the story may be interesting, but Salinger's writing is absolutely atrocious," says one reader. That had been my original impression too: maybe the translation wasn't that good.

So I look forward to reading the novel again with a fresh mind, and possibly rehabilitate an author who has long been banned from my bookshelves.


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