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  • Emily Read about translating The Family by Tonino Benacquista
  • The Family |  Tonino Benacquista
Emily Read about translating The Family by Tonino Benacquista

Question to our esteemed translators from our readers: could you please provide one or two examples of interesting translation challenges you encountered (and surmounted of course) when working on a Bitter Lemon book?  

Here is Emily Read, much-acclaimed translator from the French, about translating The Family by Tonino Benacquista, made into a film with Robert de Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones: 

A translator’s main and only job is to produce a faithful rendering of the original text, as close as possible to the writer’s vision. But it must read as though it was written in English. Any sign of the original language, both in the words used or the rhythm of the sentences, represents a failure in the translation, which will, in turn, will spoil the reader’s appreciation of the work. In some cases, this may involve some verbal gymnastics, and even changes to the original, in order to convey the essence of a particular scene.

Here, a frivolous example, two passengers on a plane, are flirtatiously engaged in solving a crossword puzzle from a school magazine. All the clues turn out to have a sexual connotation. This required some pruning and a certain amount of flexibility in the translation to convey the gist of the scene…  

-Admettons amour, mais ça élimine émotion pour “Touche au coeur” en sept lettres. Et tout le reste s’effondre… 

-On ne va pas éliminer émotion comme ça. Remarque passion aussi fait sept lettres. 

-Impossible, ça remettrait en question le d, le r, et le second s de détresse pour “Demande un bon coup de main” en huit lettres. Au lieu de ça, on aurait un o en initiale.

  • en initiale de “Demande un bon coup de main”, en huit lettres … Tu sais a quoi je pense? 
  • J’en ai peur… 
  • C’est triste a dire, mais onanisme débloque ce “Tout feu tout flamme” en huit lettres, qui n’est plus brulantes mais embrasés. 
  • Pourquoi pas amoureux? 
  • Oui, pourquoi pas?


“Let’s allow love, but that means ‘needs a helping hand’, seven letters, would have to start with an o.” 

“You know what I’m thinking?” 

“I’m afraid I do…” 

“I’m sorry to have to say it, but onanism means ‘on fire’, seven letters, can’t be kindled.” 

“Why not amorous?” 

“Yes, why not?”


(p 165 - 166 The Family)


  • Author avatar
    Francois Von Hurter
  • The FamilyTonino Benacquista