I love the Tabor Süden mystery series, which are written by Friedrich Ani, and have often wondered why none of them have been translated into English. It got to the point where I started to translate them myself and so I picked up the first book in the series. I’ve translated tons of legal documents (cases, statutes, law review articles), but I never realized just how much more difficult it is to translate literature real literature. Take, for instance, the names of the main characters in Ani’s books: Tabor Süden, Sonya Feyerabend, Martin Heuer. When a minor character makes a remark like:
– Wie heißen Sie wieder?
– Martin Heuer
– Und nächstes Jahr?
The literal translation would be:
What did you say your name was, again?
And next year? (Heuer being the word for ‘this year’)
“Ihr Polizisten haben doch namen.” …. ” Heuer machen wir Feierabend im Süden.”
Literal translation: “You policemen sure have some [weird, peculiar] names” . ….. “This year we’ll celebrate quitting time (Miller time) in the south.” (Punning on all three names, and the homonym of Feyerabend).
Playing on the names of his characters works for Ani in German, but the wordplay doesn’t translate well, if at all.