Why I refuse to learn Finnish or tryst with Gwyneth Paltrow

Translating a novel from Finnish to English must be like landing a spacecraft on Jupiter’s moon Europa in order to tryst with winsome Gwyneth Paltrow, who avowed she’d be there, too.

Sometimes, as in Arto Paasilinna’s The Year of the Hare, the sentences, like mine, come out a little funny:

imgresTheir apartment had become an extravagant farrago of shallow and meretricious interior-decoration tips from women’s magazines. A pseudo-radicalism governed the design, with huge posters and clumsy modular furniture. It was difficult to inhabit the rooms without injury; all the items were at odds. 

Wasn’t “farrago” an early 1960s Ford, fitting into the model lineup between the Falcon Futura and Fairlane 500? The Farrago Finesse was top of the line?

Wait, it’s already highlighted in my dictionary. It means: “A confused mixture: hodgepodge.”

Herbert Lomas, the novel’s translator, was very capable, and so far—other than the gummed up passage on display—this fable’s pages have flown by. Mr. Lomas specialized in Finnish; he had taught in Helsinki and somehow mastered the difficult tongue.

Maybe he had an easier time picking it up than most would, but Finnish looks pretty challenging.

It shares almost no root words with English or other European languages, meanwhile adding complex variables. To learn Finnish must be about as simple as being handed a hammer and saw with the instructions that you, having no experience whatsoever in the textile industry, must build a loom and produce piqué-knit shirts. You have three weeks.

Does it ease your mind that Finnish is related to Estonian, more distantly to Hungarian, and to some small languages in the Ural Mountains of Russia? If you could learn Finnish, then Udmurt and Erzya are, so to speak, just a few steps away.

How many novels written in Udmurt by G.D. Krasilnikov are being overlooked for translation into English? Gennady Dmitrievich, we need you!

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