Academic journal article Bucknell Review

The Wilderness and Its Voices: Translating Schneider's Novel Schlafes Bruder

Academic journal article Bucknell Review

The Wilderness and Its Voices: Translating Schneider's Novel Schlafes Bruder

Article excerpt


ROBERT Schneider's first novel Schlafes Bruder received both critical and popular acclaim on its publication in 1992. Since then it has been translated into more than twenty languages and filmed by Joseph Vilsmaier. It revolves around an isolated peasant community in a remote valley of Austria's Vorarlberg region at the turn of the nineteenth century. The novel's success rested to some extent on its vivid portrayal of bizarre local customs and on its exploration of a unique social and geographic environment, the specifics of which presented a challenge to translators whose readers were unfamiliar with the region and its heritage.

This essay sets out to assess the achievements of four translators: Shaun Whiteside (English), Claude Porcell (French), Miguel Saenz (Spanish), and Flavio Cuniberto (Italian). Style, vocabulary, and register proved problematic, and several key aspects of mountain culture required precise local knowledge and sensitivity. Given their partial understanding of the community described in Schlafes Bruder and in view of the constraints of the linguistic medium in which they were working, the translators had to develop strategies which, while not always doing justice to the literal meaning of the text, were able to offer solutions appropriate to the expectations of their target readership. The four versions range from literal renderings via various degrees of embellishment to fanciful transpositions, and it will be shown that, paradoxically, the least "accurate" translation is the one that received the highest acclaim from its readers.


The object of this essay is to look at some of the methods that were recently used to render a German-language novel into four European languages by translators from different backgrounds. Each of the translators was responsible for setting his own objectives and criteria while being bound by the constraints of a specific language and tradition. The outcome will be to observe some of the interactions between the cultures that resulted from their distinct approaches to a single text. Fundamental to this exercise is the view that the effects of translations are felt across many systemic frontiers and that their individual qualities will be better understood by adopting a comparative approach. If we accept the view that the identity of a given text is established and enhanced through various types of manipulation, one of which is translation, (1) this investigation will, it is hoped, also contribute to a fuller understanding of the source text. Schlafes Bruder, the novel chosen for this purpose, is the first novel of a thirty-one-year-old writer from a remote village in Vorarlberg in the extreme west of Austria. It tells the story of Johann Elias Alder, a natural, untutored genius born, like its author, in the backwoods of rural Austria. Alder is credited with the greatest musical talent the world has ever known, but lives in misery and obscurity, before putting an end to his life as a result of an unrequited passion for Elsbeth, a girl from the same village. He dies a gruesome, self-inflicted death, claiming that "he who loves, does not sleep." There are traces of bitterness but also of humor, of great passion and of cynical detachment in this work, which provoked intense interest and no less intense critical debate. In its first six years, Schlafes Bruder sold over 1.3 million copies. (2) It received much acclaim and not a few prizes, both within and outside the German-speaking world, though literary critics disagreed as to what was really special about it. Joseph Vilsmaier made it into a film, released in 1995, and it was dramatized, turned into an opera, and, inevitably, translated into many languages. (3)

If one tries to look for the reasons behind its meteoric success, one would have to mention the current popularity of the historical novel with the German-speaking public, and maybe also a conspicuous affinity with Patrick Suskind's Das Parfum of 1985, another novel in which a studiously researched period background is used to set off an unusually horrific tale. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.