Lost in Translation?


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  The chocolate covered, sprinkly one from the UK book had been replaced by a meeting table bent into a kind of never-ending mobius strip.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.   

16 thoughts on “Lost in Translation?

  1. Hi David! Congratulations on the books published by the TOVARISH(s). No idea about the title, but I like the way they spell “Pearl” and the exclamation mark at the end!!!!! “?!” sounds much better, more …Russian I would say. FIGATE! Kiss also from Liz

    Alessandro Colombo

  2. Hi David,

    I tried non-scientific transliteration and entry into Google. The only result I got was a picture of Chernobyl. [Still laughing!!!]

    Perhaps it’s “Will there be Toroids?”

    Meanwhile I have agents working on this… …

  3. And опять is ‘again’.

    Aha – it’s “We’ll Meet Again” :0)

    Or indeed “We’ll Meet Again?!”

    Vera Lynn must have had a big hand in shaping post-Communist Russian thought.

    I’m going to leave it to the experts now…


  4. Dear David,
    the most accurate translation of your book’s title in English will be:
    ‘Meeting again?! How to turn the waste of time into effective resource’.
    Unfortunately, here in Russia we do not usually have at meetings such tasty things as donuts – and can just moan – ‘O no! Another meeting?! For crying out loud!’

    Sincerely yours,
    Irina Gusinskaya,
    deputy editor-in-chief @ Alpina Publisher

      • David, to my disappointment your truly magnificent book at the moment is not selling as well as we believed (maybe Russian people hate meetings so much that do not have strength even to read about them) – but we are doing our best to change this situation.
        Thank you)

    • Dear Irina,

      Most probably your book doesn’t sell well, because of the translation? When i read the english “Start a business revolution one meeting at a time” – I absolutely wanna buy it, but when i read “How to turn “empty” discussions into effective one” – i don’t wanna buy it. Therefore, you have to spend more into promotion and explaining, so i can decide it to buy. Also when i compare the tittles and see the difference i start asking myself if the text of the book also is “adapted” this way…

      • Dear Natalja, many thanks for your advice – and no, we have not adapted the interior text. You may make sure by comparing the original and the translation 🙂

      • Dear Natalja, I believe great many Russians are in fact wary of any revolution. We’ve had already way too many with way too negative consequences.

      • Dear Irina,

        🙂 I’ll buy it.

        Dear Ada,

        i am tired of the word effective, if you read many self-development and etc books there is a point when you feel really sick of this word.
        As for revolution – I am Russian myself too and to be honest i am surprised by your comment.

  5. I am almost inclined to think you, non-Russians, are spoiled. You mean you have donuts at meetings and you still need to write a book on starting a business revolution?? Most of revolutions aren’t famous for additional donuts, you know.

    “lampshadey letter” is really funny. Never thought of it. 🙂

    • We are spoiled. And becuase of donuts we are also over weight! But I bet Russians have an equivalent? Something they use to tempt people to meetings that they really dont want to go to? Maybe pirozhky? Or Syrniki? Did I spell that right?

      • Yes, we have! It’s dismissal. Very effective to make people to go on meetings. 🙂 And yes, you were right, this was the only way to spell syrniki in English, I believe. 🙂

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