I-Land is where memories and experiences turn into short stories, personal journal entries and narration in first person, part memoir, part fiction, exploring topics such as the relation between humans and the societies they live in.

The Magic Mountain’s English Translations

A quick note on translations: when you’re reading translated text, make sure to find the right edition. Not all translations are the same, and some will suit you better than others.

Take The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. A long book, which I intend to read one day, provided it doesn’t take me a thousand hours to finish. And since my German is not up to the task, I have to pick the right edition, which is both a good and a bad thing: bad because I won’t experience the manuscript as its author originally intended (the drawback of translations) but good in that I have options.

In fact, and here’s a little blasphemy (I’m a fan of blasphemy) if the original text was a bit of a bore, or stiff, or in any way unsuited to my tastes, perhaps a translation will have made it slightly more palatable.

Take the Vintage translation by H. T. Lowe-Porter. They say it doesn’t do justice to the spirit of Mann’s writing — that it misses some of the nuances. Maybe so, but it reads like a speeding car in third gear with plenty of torque in its engine:

‘An unassuming young man was travelling, in midsummer, from his native city of Hamburg to Davos-Platz in the Canton of the Grisons, on a three weeks’ visit.’

Crisp, clear, pacy, absorbing. I want to read more.

Then there’s the more recent translation by John E. Woods, which everyone says is closer and more in line with the original German text:

‘An ordinary young man was on his way from his hometown of Hamburg to Davos-Platz in the canton of Graubünden. It was the height of summer, and he planned to stay for three weeks.’

An old school approach. More formal, reserved. What was conveyed by Lowe-Porter in one flowing sentence is broken down to two sentences that sound like three.

Mann may have indeed written in the form of Woods’ translation. And maybe there’s great value in reading Mann by Woods. Maybe I’ll do that after I read Lowe-Porter’s translation, which flows better for me.

Others may disagree. They may enjoy the slower, more deliberate pace by Woods.

It depends on the reader, and on the state of mind one brings to the text.

Bottom line, find your translation. You may be surprised what books, which you may have previously deemed unreadable, jump out at you.

You may even get an appetite for more translations, even the original text.

I better brush up on my damn Deutsch. Ja!