Discussion│Language and translation (kinda)

My favourite book ever hasn’t been translated in English (only in Spanish) and it kills me that I can’t share it with you.


We live in a world now where English has become the international language. Being from France, once upon a time, when you had the “skills” to speak English, it was a big deal, it could make a big difference on a CV. Now it’s almost become the norm (“You can speak English? Good for you. What can you do that’s actually of value to us?”). Of course, not everyone speaks English, some have notions, others are just baffled by the idea of a foreign language. The internet has become a treacherous place where people who speak English assume that everything will be available to them, and people who don’t just can’t have access to some of the things they are looking for because the websites are only in English.

I’ve noticed on my phone that when I use Chrome, for every page in English, the app asks me if I need it to be translated in French, and would I like, in the future, for all English websites to be translated in my mother tongue. More recently, I’ve come across this website called Smartling, who provides translation services for businesses. I guess this is more targeted towards companies than the general public, but it is a useful tool nonetheless if you’re looking to create your own company but can’t comprehend the software you need to use because it is in a language you can’t understand. I’ve also noticed that more “big” YouTubers (Tyler Oakley for example), create subtitles in a multitude of languages for their videos, to appeal to a broader audience.

We still live in a world populated with different cultures, civilisations, and languages (if you’ve read Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, you know what I’m talking about and how the decline of “uniqueness” and language can be a very frightening thing). While I myself am very fond of the English language, I can understand that people don’t necessarily have an ear for foreign languages, or don’t really care about speaking a language other than their own.

Now that the night is forever surrounding you

This was my very lame attempt to translate for you the title of my favourite book: Maintenant qu’il fait tout le temps nuit sur toi by Mathias Malzieu.

Okay, I promise I will do my best to not get into great detail about myself, but it’s gonna be hard because this books means a lot to me.

Let me tell you very briefly what the book is about:
Mathias, a thirty year old French guy, loses his mother to cancer. After she has just passed, he finds himself on the parking lot of the hospital, not knowing what to do with himself and how to deal with everything. Enters Jack, a Scottish giant with accordion legs. Through the process of lending Mathias a piece of his shadow in order to repair the young man’s, Jack will accompany Mathias on the journey through grief, introducing him to the world of the dead/ghosts and to many other wonders that only Jack has access to.
It is a heartbreaking and heartwarming story about loss, grief, recovery, and everything in between.

This was Mathias Malzieu’s very first novel, and it was loosely based on his own experience of losing his mother. He has written 3 novels since (a 4th is coming, I know, I asked him), including one that you may or may not have heard of: The Boy With The Cuckoo-Clock Heart. Yes, this was was indeed translated into English and was even adapted into an animated film. Although …Cuckoo-Clock Heart is definitely the most popular of his books, to me, Maintenant… is definitely the most beautiful. Sure the accordion-legged giant is a bit weird, but it’s magical realism, I’m sure there are some other weird things out there. But I do believe that everybody —at one point in their life— can relate to what the main character is going through in the book. I myself read it when I was going through a similar situation, and I can’t even begin to tell you how incredible the reading experience was. I bawled my eyes out, of course, but I also laughed at the humour, smiled at the poetry, and overall just cherished this book more than I could say.


Now that I am doing this book blog thing (including on Tumblr) you come across a certain number of tags, or people just want you to list your favourite books. Maintenant qu’il fait tout le temps nuit sur toi is ALWAYS listed in my favourite books, but since the majority of the book community doesn’t speak French, that reference is lost, and it pains me so much that nobody I know online can read and appreciate this book. In my real life, I bought a copy of the book for most of my closest friends (including one who later told me that it helped her a lot in a similar situation as the character’s) and I annoy everybody else because I feel like they need to read it.

I am not going to lie, since the book is not that long, I considered translating it myself. I’m neither a professional translator nor a poet (which Mathias Malzieu is), so I don’t know if I would be able to make this book justice, but it needs to be out there, in a multitude of languages for people to have access to it.

“English-is-not-my-first-language” peeps out there: is there a book that was written in your native language that you wish were translated into English to be able too share it with the rest of the world?

5 thoughts on “Discussion│Language and translation (kinda)

  1. I disagree with you on english speaking being just a formality. Not that many people do speak it. I think you surround yourself with people you can communicate with and on the internet… That means many english speakers. Sure, languages on a CV are not like “speak english? you’re hired.”, but oh, you know about books, edition and such AND you can help us broaden our company to new markets/get new clients/get in touch with people or stuff or whatever that’s out of our reach ? That does make the difference.
    Though I guess that the capacity of speaking english in the UK would not be suuuch a big deal. But you also speak french so.. There, I guess that would be your competitive advantage.

    On Maintenant… Try and translating it, and maybe get some help by native english speakers or people/friends who you feeling have this poetic side… I think it is a nice project.

  2. Hey. Don’t know if you still check this or would ever see this comment, but if you ever want to tackle translating it, I’d love to help. I’m a native english speaker that studied french in college. I’m very rusty but forgiven language is like riding a bike; I’ll figure it out after the first couple falls. Haha Seriously though, do let me know! It sounds like a lot of fun and a nice transliteration challenge.

  3. If you ever do translate this book, i’d love to read it! I recently read The Boy with the Cuckoo Clock Heart and bought the albums that accompany both that book and this one, Monsters in Love, and I want to read it so bad.

  4. Hey Marion, I’m from Brazil and I have a problem. Only 5% of the population of my country speaks another language and 3% speaks english. So it is so difficult to acquire books in English in my country. That’s only problem, just the book ‘The boy with the cuckoo-clock heart’ is translated for english. I’m madly in love with Mathias Malzieu’s works, he really is a genius!
    But I am completely unable to consume his works, besides being an injustice with the readers of other nationalities and also injustice with the author himself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *