Review: Translation, History, & Culture

Translation, History, & Culture
Translation, History, & Culture by Susan Bassnett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book comprises of a selection of 12 essays illustrating elements of translation studies. Each chapter usually covers an analysis of a detailed example and to what context this example illustrates an element of the emerging discipline that is Translation Studies. There is a global reach of contributors with perhaps an overemphatic balance of Eastern European academics. Some of the chapters are more appropriate for entry level students although I feel that some of the papers go into deep complicated ideas on translation that will require further examination. There is a broad range of topics. I found the chapters which focussed on the history of translation to be enlightening. The establishment of ideas within the discipline usually arise in a historical perspective. The introduction looks at the exciting example of 1001 Nights and the intricacies of transmitting an ancient oral tradition into foreign cultures. It is clear that translation is very much a cultural exercise that widens the view of the world and throughout this book the cultural implications of translations are assessed in detail. Translators have a deep responsibility to remain faithful to the author and source culture, yet to transmit in line with the target culture without subverting too much the original content or the culture into which the translation is entering. The final example in the book, of the difficulties and challenges Milan Kundera’s ‘The Joke’ presented, illustrates how difficult it is for a translator to fully grasp the source language culture and to not betray the original author’s intentions. There is more to translation than a simple metaphrasing, especially where deeply cultural challenging literary works are the subject. Paraphrasing in line with cultural values of both source and target culture is critical. This book introduces some very good examples of translation theory at action in the field. I am sure that I will refer back to it in my ongoing studies of Translation.

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Review: Tudors

Tudors
Tudors by Peter Ackroyd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second volume of Ackroyd’s history of England, this work covers one of the most astonishing and exciting periods of English history. Two of the most revered and famous monarchs existed in the Tudor period, that of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The whole reformation and what it entailed, really separated our Isles from continental history and led to our definition as a modern race. Henry’s time was defined by his cataclysmic relationships with two wives fouling foul of the executioner and he became also a pioneer of the use of divorce. It is interesting to see how the Tudors interacted with other European powers, always on the dividing line between the struggles of France and Spain. I found the Elizabethan period to be the most interesting. The Virgin Queen was truly a great monarch and it is interesting to see how this mysterious woman steered our country onto a great imperial path. It was the time of the early explorers and the start of Empire and the infamous defeat of the Spanish Armada is a highlight as is the conflict with Mary, Queen of Scots, who was ultimately dispatched at Fotheringay castle, a place I once visited as a child and a whole story that was most inspiring. I look forward to see how England progresses beyond the Tudors. It, for sure, can be said that they were a dynasty set apart from others and that their influence can still be felt today. It was a fascinating period of English history and I eagerly anticipate to see how history develops from here, as Peter Ackroyd’s six volume history continues to progress.

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Review: Foundation

Foundation
Foundation by Peter Ackroyd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Peter Ackroyd is a fantastic author and, having previously read his ‘Albion’, I was keen to embark on this first of a new series of general English history. I wanted further detail on existing knowledge and the fact that this series is broken into separate volumes for each period of English history, makes it a compulsive part of my reading list. The first volume covers history from ancient times up until the start of the Tudor age. The book weaves the important political events and well documents the history of Kings yet at the same time, chapters are interspersed with more general elements of the history, covering the areas of history which affected more the general population. The range of sources compliment the narrative well and these sources are not always the more general ones associated with more standard histories. We hear tales of the common populace and these little anecdotes really help the reader to empathise more exactly with what life was actually like at the time. I was struck by the general violence of our more distant history, how it has shaped our culture, from the top down. The focus on Roman history wasn’t as pronounced as I have seen in comparative volumes of British history. In fact, through the series of conquests of England by various tribes and peoples, Ackroyd tells a story not of bast change but of an undulating continuity whereby newcomers integrate into the status quo of the island inhabitants of the realm. As a slight criticism, perhaps I expected more detail on the distant history. The time period covered by this book could have been divided into perhaps two or three or even four volumes though I’d imagine that, perhaps, a lack of sources would preclude the author from extending his ideas of history for my proposed extensions. The Plantagenets are a most amazing dynasty, full of beautiful romantic tales. The detail on the War of Roses is a more complete version of this 30 year period than I have ever read and as I headed up towards the reign of Henry VII and the initiation of the Tudors, I was turning the pages at a frantic rate. the book concludes with the first chapter of the next volume which I have already purchased and I will continue onwards with the series without pause for breath. A good book and a nice introduction to the new series of a most talented and dynamic historian.

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Review: The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation

The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation
The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation by Mark Kurlansky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I live in Wales and there are similar issues here as in the Basque country – We have a certain regional autonomy after devolution, there is a strong national feeling and independence movement, it is an industrial heartland and there is a strong tradition and language, populated by a fiercely proud people. I felt that it would be interesting to study the Basques as their struggle tucked in a small borderland between France and Spain is most certainly an interesting one. This book is well written and has a lot of variety, covering history, culture, traditions, political events and even cookery. The more ancient history of Euskadi I found particularly thrilling and most of the information was new to me. As a language student I found the details on the Euskadi language and its history and development fascinating. The struggles against in particular the Spanish state are well-documented and the independence movement culminating in the rise of the infamous ETA can be understood from a Basque perspective, though without being overly biased. Franco’s commitment against regionalism is contrasted with the autonomous areas which came about through democracy and accession to the European Union. The differences and similarities between the French and Spanish sides of the region are well covered, with their great historical characters such as Ignacio Loyola well mentioned. The importance of their land as an industrial and commercial centre from its days as a great fishing community to its rise through the industrial revolution. The occasional Basque recipes thrown in for detail are pleasant interjections and show that the author is a accustomed to writing about this topic in his other works. It’s a shame the book hasn’t been updated to cover the last decade where there have been developments in the Basque land, with more autonomy granted and ETA having declared a permanent ceasefire. The book is a great overall study and introduces plenty of further cultural refeneces which I may take an interest in researching.

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Review: The Holy Kingdom

The Holy Kingdom
The Holy Kingdom by Adrian G. Gilbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As an inhabitant of South Wales with a fascination of local history, I found this book truly enlightening. I was aware of the links King Arthur had with local places such as Caerleon and I found that this book built well on the histories I had already heard. To learn about the suppression of British history at various times and how our Roman-centric history is currently favoured was truly a shock. It was nice to see how Gilbert linked up with two serious scholars of early British history and the story that was presented is quite believable and realistic, if at times it sometimes could be found guilty of over-reaching conclusions, perhaps being over-dramatic. I’ve read other books by Adrian Gilbert and enjoy his style and he always covers interesting topics. The whole story of Arthur is fascinating and has intrigued me to study the legends more. I think the conclusions were a little weak, and find the Joseph of Arimethea links with Britain a little too speculative. It’s a great book and is one that I will be sharing with other friends interested in Welsh history.

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