I have discovered over the years that there are many books I have read that were originally in a language other than English. One of, if not the most critical considerations for these, are the translators who take the original work and translate it to (hopefully) something resembling modern English, keeping the story and poetry from the original while rendering it an enjoyable read.
I can’t tell you if I have read the best translations of various books. I can tell you that I have re-read The Iliad and The Odyssey multiple times. I assume the versions I have read were the Robert Fitzgerald translations.
I have a book of poetry that my great aunt gave me when I was 10 years old, Palgrave’s Golden Treasury. The version Edie gave me included the “FitzGerald” translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Wiki notes the problem with translations such as FitzGerald’s (for the record, this is Edward FitzGerald and not Robert Fitzgerald from the Homer translations):
As a work of English literature FitzGerald’s version is a high point of the 19th century and has been greatly influential. Indeed, the term “Rubaiyat” by itself has come to be used to describe the quatrain rhyme scheme that FitzGerald used in his translations: AABA.
However, as a translation of Omar Khayyam’s quatrains, it is not noted for its fidelity. Many of the verses are paraphrased, and some of them cannot be confidently traced to any one of Khayyam’s quatrains at all. Some critics informally refer to the FitzGerald’s English versions as “The Rubaiyat of FitzOmar”, a nickname that both recognizes the liberties FitzGerald inflicted on his purported source and also credits FitzGerald for the considerable portion of the “translation” that is his own creation.
As I noted a couple of weeks ago, Jules Verne was also French and needed translating into English for the vast majority of us.
I would guess that among the more difficult books to translate to English while maintaining readability and the literary aspects are Dr Zhivago by Boris Paternak as a modern Russian literary classic and Anna Karenina and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy as examples of older Russian literature.
Photo from Robert licensed under Creative Commons