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German Short Stories: Deutsche Kurzgeshichten (New Penguin Parallel Texts Series) Paperback – 25 Sep 2003
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About the Author
Ernst Zillekens teaches German at Charterhouse in Godalming, Surrey.
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Top customer reviews
Firstly, the choice of stories. I liked the fact that they are quite modern stories. Learning a foreign language is doubly difficult if you have to struggle with archaic terms. Another positive point is that a couple of the stories were quite origina: the first one, with its "story within a story", and the one about Chicago. However, some of the others were, well, a bit underwhelming. For example, the extremely long story about the lady who is waiting for her dinner guests to arrive. Another reviewer here was less kind, and described that particular story as "interminable".
Secondly, the translation. According to Penguin Books, Ernst Zillekens was the editor and translator, he chose the stories, translated them, and wrote the useful notes at the back. Apparently he was born and brought up in Germany, and after spells at universities in Germany and the UK, he now teaches German at Charterhouse School. Therefore, one would imagine that he is eminently suitable as a translator, and I'm sure that he's a good one. However, I am skeptical about the claim by Penguin Books that Zillekens translated these stories. The translation seems very wooden and literal, and there are some absolutely elementary mistakes that are absolutely baffling in this context. For example, in the story near the end about the grandfather, there are two references to the grandfather's habit of eating a fried egg on a slice of fried bread as a "second breakfast". There is no difficulty in translation there. It's not some overly abstract concept, it doesn't deal with an obscure metaphor or some cryptic, high-flown metaphysical theory. Yet, at two different points in the story, the eggs are described as "poached eggs". You may be thinking: "what does it matter, poached, fried, who cares?" But it does matter. The original text says "Spiegelei" and "Bratei". Both are incontrovertibly "fried egg", "Bratei" even had the prefix "Brat-" which denotes "fried". A poached egg is "ein pochiertes Ei". I hope this has not been an "interminable" explanation, my point is that someone of Zilleken's background would not make such an elementary mistake. So who did the translation, then?
Another reviewer, D.S. Hall, presumably feels similar because he/she writes, "I struggled with the way this was translated so I loaned it to a native Berliner who works as a translator for the government, she was less than impressed and suggested the translation was poor and that some compound German words were either not used or do not exist. I buy parallel text books from German bookshops now."
A final point: in my experience, "dual-language / parallel text" books from German publishers are not necessarily any better, neither in choice of story nor in the quality of the translations.
The point of having a parallel text is surely so that you can cover up one page, and try as hard or as little as you feel like to understand the original before taking a look at the translation.
That's not possible with a Kindle edition - the English version follows at the end of the entire German text in each case, so you'll have to bookmark it in several places as you go along and skip backwards and forwards.
Maybe it's my fault - after all, how did I expect they were going to render parallel columns? - but feeling stupid doesn't make feeling disappointed any better.
I buy parallel text books from German bookshops now.
Normally Penguin Parallel texts feature quite dull texts (I should know, I have all of the new series in each available language and the 1st of the old Penguin Parallel series which believe it or not even had a now unavailable 'Soviet Stories') that are as a rule boring. However I found some of the stories in this text genuinely interesting; Lascia for instance features a humorous car journey with a rather crazy Romanian taxi driver around Sicily and the collection is capped off with two simple but involving stories about Communist East Germany. Not much occurs, but the description I found interesting. Personally I found the 48 page long story, which is only second after a truly bizarre first story "The Listener, or a Description of a Route with a Hidden Motive," 'Waiting for Guests' unbearably boring about an anxious woman interminably ruminating over her feelings about her divorce.
Still, short of being immersed in oral conversation with Germans, reading is the next best thing and with a parallel translation to look over I find I absorb much more of the important structure of thinking (& grammar). This volume, as with written German in general, is difficult to run through having long sentences only being completed at the end, but it is worth it; especially after time spent investigating the roots of the German language, which then enables one to 'build' the German language yourself.