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Some weeks ago, Über-Setzer-Logbuch had a post on the translation (well, if you can call it that) of movie titles into German. Indeed, many of the “translated” movie titles have no connection anymore with the original. One of the often-cited examples is the 1980’s movie Nine to Five, which ended up with the German title Warum eigentlich… bringen wir den Chef nicht um? or the 1948 Key Largo which turned into Hafen des Lasters.

I had visitors from Germany over Easter, and they came supplied with detective novels for the long flight to and from LAX. At the end of their stay they left me two of the paperbacks. Generally, I don’t like to read German translations of light fiction (if that’s what you call the genre). The reason: Because of time and money restraints, those novels often read like translations with English syntax left in place and unnatural German phrasing (disclosure: I have not yet read any translations of @isabo_, who is in my blogroll).

So imagine my surprise when I started Weißer Schatten by the South-African author Deon Meyer, translated by Ulrich Hoffmann, and found that it read much better than the translation of other novels of this kind. In fact, the German translation made me curious about other Deon Meyer books in English. That’s when I discovered that Deon Meyer writes in Afrikaans. So did Ulrich Hoffmann translate from Afrikaans? Was that the reason the translation read so much better? Well no, he translated from English, which made his a translation of a translation. Further investigation revealed that for the U.S. paperback, the original Afrikaans novel had been translated into English by K.L. Seegers. It also reads very well.

So two great translations of light fiction. But I found one curious and incongruent fact. Just like the movie titles mentioned at the top, somebody saw fit to change the title of the novel, not translate it. The original title is Onsigbaar. This mutated to Blood Safari for the U.S. paperback, and that changed to Weißer Schatten for the German paperback. And in-between there is an “official” English translation with the title Invisible, but I don’t seem to be able to locate it and on Deon Meyer’s website the page for Invisible is deleted, but not the link. Go figure. Perhaps it was just too simple to translate “Onsigbaar” with “Invisible.”


2 Responses to “Invisible”

  1. Lisa Carter says:

    Hi Michael! Interesting post…

    For what it’s worth, translations of translations are more common than you might think in the lit trans world. I did one book where certain edits had been made to the Spanish version of a Portuguese novel; the English editor/publisher wanted to be sure those were maintained in the English so I translated from a translation.

    And speaking of editors, they’re usually the ones (in consultation with their marketing department) who chooses the title of a work. The translator rarely has final say, even if it works perfectly to translate “Onsigbaar” as “Invisible”!

  2. Michael says:


    I am somewhat surprised that translations of translations are not that rare. That marketing has such an influence on titles, however, does not surprise me. It is probably the same in the movie distribution business. “Blood Safari” suggests something the book is not. But I’m sure that it sells paperbacks.

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