A courier just delivered a package post-marked Moscow. I confess to a bit of a Tinker Tailor frisson as I ripped open the industrial-strength sellotape which gave way to delight when I discovered ten copies of my book on the art of meetings Will There Be Donuts? which, I had forgotten, has just been published in Russia.
Delight. Followed by a little apprehension. For a start there is no Donut on the cover. The chocolate covered, sprinkly one from the UK book had been replaced by a meeting table bent into a kind of never-ending mobius strip. Very deconstructivist.
Then there was the title (see above). I don’t speak any Russian so I’ll take it on trust that the lampshadey letter followed by the mirror euro sign, the capital b, backwards N and smaller lampshade spells – David. But what of the title? I looked up Donuts in a Russian dictionary and doesn’t look anything like COBEWANHE?! whatever that means.
Listen, they bought the rights so, as far as I am concerned they are free to rename the book. But titles don’t always travel well. Consider films, which are often renamed when they are redubbed to suit the local culture and more. It’s rarely an improvement.
For example, the Germans have a penchant for the over-literal turning Airplane into The Unbelievable Trip in a Whacky Aeroplane. How did they even get that on the poster? And heaven knows what the Argentinians were expecting when they turned up to see John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in Vaseline. That’s Grease to you and I. The Czechs should have left well alone when they turned the perfectly adequate Hot Shots into the anaemic and slightly unsettling Warm Shots. But it’s the Chinese who you really have to watch out for. Their retitling ranges from the bizarre (Full Monty becomes Six Naked Pigs) to the luridly, leave nothing-to-chance descriptive (Boogie Nights is transformed into His Powerful Device Makes Him Famous) via the scatological (As Good as It Gets becomes Mr Cat Poop) to the plain plot-spoiling, completely blowing he surprise ending of Sixth Sense with the blurt out title, He’s A Ghost!
This is all most amusing. Unless of course you are the originator of a work sitting in North London wondering what on earth the Muscovites think my book is about.
Donut Recipes? How to Fold an Office Table? Or does the book jacket just read David Pearl, Mr Cat Poop?
So this is me, sending out a request to anyone out there who speaks Russian to let me know if I have been lost in translation. Da or Nyet?
David’s book Will There Be Donuts? is published by HarperCollins in the USA later this year.