Thursday, December 8, 2011

What's in a Title?

I learned today that a novel that won last year's German Book Prize, Tauben fliegen auf, (Pigeons Fly) is always referred to in the English-speaking press as Falcons without Falconers. It's a savvy decision on the part of the novel's Anglophone publisher—Falcons without Falconers sounds much more intriguing than Pigeons Fly. I have no real point to make about this other than to share my bemusement at how book titles change when a book is translated into another language or published in another country. The most famous example is Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu, (In Search of Lost Time), which appeared in English under a title lifted from one of Shakespeare's sonnets, Remembrance of Things Past.

And a book doesn't even have to be translated for a title to change. Beat to Quarters, a 1937 novel set in 1808 on board a British warship, was
originally published in the UK under the much less martial title The Happy Return (the only reason I even know of this book's existence was that it was one of my dad's favorite novels). The 2004 Ian Rankin novel Fleshmarket Close was published in the U.S. as Fleshmarket Alley on the assumption that the original title would puzzle Americans (in British English "close" means dead-end street).

However, the most interesting title changes occur when a book is translated into another language. Stieg Larsson's books provide interesting recent examples. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo originally appeared in Swedish under the lackluster title
Män som hatar kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women). The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest was originally Luftslottet som sprängdes (The Castle of Air that Exploded).

But my all-time favorite title change pertains to a Spanish health book I stumbled upon at work, Cuerpo radiante (Radiant Body), which originally appeared in English as Dr. Jensen's Guide to Better Bowel Care.

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