When this book arrived, I just sat down, and read, avidly, between laughter and fascination, for several hours, The humour is reflected in the title's reference to the babel fish of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which when stuck in the ear, provided instant translation.
However, do expect some mind expanding gymnastics if the subject at this concentrated level, is not familiar. Nevertheless, reading this book will give a far deeper appreciation of the tightrope walked by official translators of the pronouncements of national leaders in the UN for example, into our lingua franca, which just happens to be English.
There is a preliminary consideration of some of the answers to the question, "what is a translation?" Then we turn, surprisingly, to, "is translation avoidable?" The writer suggests three methods of such avoidance and says, "... if we baulk at adopting a common tongue and decline to learn the other languages we need, we could simply ignore people who don't speak the way we do."
Among other nations similarly cutting themselves off from "difference", he gives a hilarious example of Britain's sometime "splendid isolation" in a quote from the Times of 22 October 1957, which "famously ran a headline saying: "FOG IN CHANNEL, CONTINENT CUT OFF".
Admittedly, I have had to resort to dictionaries, both French and English, on occasion to appreciate at the precise meaning of his attractively written, flowing prose. This is to be expected when the writer, David Bellos, is Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Princeton, where he directs the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication.
I have always been aware of translation, for two reasons. First, my struggle to learn French in the knowledge that some of my ancestors spoke it fluently, and second, learning to differentiate between several versions of the Bible - the literal and the less precise though more graphic paraphrase, I early realised that not all translations were alike, or fulfilled the same purpose.
I am reminded of the words of the gentleman who had the task of checking the accuracy of translations of the Bible submitted to the Bible Society for publication. When there was nothing in the culture of the people the translation was intended for, to help them understand what was being said, he had to watch that "dynamic equivalents did not become more dynamic than equivalent".
I am submitting this review early in my reading of this book, because I am certain, having browsed ahead to some degree, that the consistency of this excellent and engaging book will continue to the end, and reward the reader.