Lost in Translation

December 16th, 2008

With apologies to Sofia Coppola whose movie I really loved

I got an e-mail last week from my agent.  I have to admit that I love getting e-mails from my agent.  Even though there’s a chance she’s forwarding a rejection from an editor, just seeing her e-mail address pop up in my inbox gives me hope that good news is coming my way.  And it was good news this time: a Japanese publisher had made an offer for the rights to  the book Dr. Lynn Koegel and I co-wrote (GROWING UP ON THE SPECTRUM) which will appear in bookstores here in America this March.

The same Japanese publisher bought the rights to our first collaboration, and I know it sold pretty well there because we got royalties (I’m always stunned when I get royalties: my first book sold so few copies that the accounting was always in the negative numbers, so when I actually earn out my advance, I can never quite believe it.)

I love translations.  They’re just so, well, COOL.   Your words, in a language you can’t even read.  Someone actually sat down and TRANSLATED what you wrote because someone else thought it was important enough to appear in a different language.  See what I mean?  Cool.

That same first novel which didn’t sell all that well here in the US was bought by a British and a French publisher.  They both changed the title.   I had originally titled the book Same As It Never Was–a deliberate play on the  chorus of the Talking Heads’ song “Once in a Lifetime.”  It fit with the theme of the book: David Byrne was singing about how you can suddenly find youself in this middle-aged existence and have no idea how you got there.  And my main character, still young, finds herself suddenly saddled with a kid and living in a big house with tons of responsibilities and often wonders how she ended up there.

Anyway, I liked the title.  But apparently no one else did.  The British publisher immediately asked for another title and somehow we ended up with “Olivia’s Sister” which was kind of boring and bland for my taste–not unlike British food. 

The French publisher on the other hand, completely renamed the book without even asking me.  I got sent a copy, but my high school French wasn’t up to the task of translating “Ma Soeur, Ce Boulet.”  I knew “Soeur,” of course, but “Boulet”?

Turns out that means “ball and chain.”  So the new title was “My Sister, This Ball and Chain.”  Cute.  Sounds better in French, but cute either way.  The first edition used the same Barbie cover art that the American one did, thusly:

The original French cover

The original French cover

But then they came out with another edition and someone decided to switch up the cover art, thusly:

The New French Cover

The New French Cover

This cover totally cracked me up.  It didn’t quite match with my view of what I had written–I was going for something a bit more adult, a bit more thoughtful–but it was kind of irresistible in its own way.  From what I can tell, the French liked the book.  I’m the literary Jerry Lewis, I get.

OVERCOMING AUTISM got translated into both Chinese and Japanese and I’m fairly certain that there’s nothing cooler in life than seeing something you wrote in English translated into a language that uses completely different characters.  My 14-year-old son takes Japanese so I’m especially proud of having one book (soon to be two) in a language he’s studying.

The covers are interesting. The American version of OVERCOMING AUTISM has a photo of a kid being carried by his mother.  I like the color and the picture is fine.  Nothing wrong with it:

The American Cover
The American Cover

autismcover  This here is the Japanese cover and it blows the American and Chinese (see below) out of the water.  I’d frame this and put it on my wall if I had the original art.  It’s just so WEIRD.  But pretty.   It works for me.  So I can’t wait to see what the next one’s going to look like.

autismcover-001

And now I’m sick and tired of inserting photos into my blog and I must end and go to bed where I will go to sleep and dream of one day having a shelf of books like my friend W. Bruce Cameron whose book EIGHT SIMPLE RULES FOR DATING MY TEENAGE DAUGHTER was translated into every language that exists and a few that don’t.  It’s a fine looking shelf of books.

  • Kim says:

    This is wonderful! _Overcoming Autism_ has a translation in Chinese?? I really need to get one for my parents. They are totally in denial, but I think this book in translation might do the trick. Do you know if I can get on in Canada?

  • Claire says:

    I don’t know. On the back it says “Global Group Holdings, Ltd”–is that something that would be helpful? And the ISBN number is 986-7088-47-6. Everything else is in Chinese. If I had an extra copy, I’d send it to you–but I only got one!

  • Kim says:

    Thanks, Claire. I’ve googled the ISBN but it seems like it’s only available in some Chinese libraries. Now that I have the title, my cousin in Hong Kong can look for it. If we can find it online, I’ll let you know.

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