Monday, September 22, 2014

Flow of Information

Having worked for some years now as a freelance translator of both business documentation and magazine articles from Dutch to English, I’ve observed a real drive for information from other countries to reach American shores. If we look at history we see that information - pretty much since the end of WWII - has flowed from the US to the rest of the world. The US has been the big culture exporter. While Europe was rebuilding after the war that was all right, but I think it’s time for that pendulum to swing the other way, or at least for a greater circulation of information in more than one direction. 

The US might lead the way in many things, which is just fine, but I also feel mainstream media is very limited in what it tells us from foreign sources. Granted, it would require an investment in people who know other languages and can monitor diverse and far flung news outlets, but I think the long-term benefits would outweigh any up-front costs. That benefit being a greater understanding of other cultures around the world; a less isolationist view of the world and a greater sharing of resources, knowledge and discoveries across borders. 

The same holds true for literature. So few of good foreign writing makes it the US, and then if it is poorly translated the success of a book will only be limited. 

Despite my reservations regarding Amazon, I do like the fact that one of their imprints is dedicated solely to bringing foreign books to an English speaking market. I’m eager to assist in the translation and bringing to market of Dutch books. A number of outstanding teen novels come to mind as a good starting point, but there are many, many wonderful books in the Dutch language, published in the Netherlands and Belgium that would appeal to an English speaking audience. 

The internet of course is a great source of information and Google does a decent job of translating foreign websites, though some words and expressions become something entirely different than their original, it’s not the same as having a newsmagazine or newspaper that has at least a section devoted to information, opinion and research from overseas sources. I will say though that there is a growing trend in European institutions of higher learning to conduct business/classes in English to better mesh with a global market, but that still only captures a small portion of relevant information.

I’ve talked to small overseas blogs and news magazines that would like to see a deeper dialogue, who would like to be able to start greater cross-cultural discussions, but are stymied in that ambition by lack of funds to pay a translator (some days translating reminds me of my impoverished days writing grants for small non-profits). 

People from different cultural backgrounds will have very different opinions on the same event/activity/experience. Only through sharing of knowledge, information, opinion and research can we truly gain understanding of each other. Surely someone is willing to invest in that?

Monday, September 8, 2014

September Book Review

The Eye of God
By: James Rollins

I picked up this book at the very well stocked, ad hoc bookstore at the PNWA writers conference I attended earlier this summer. Again, it was not a book I would ordinarily choose, but something about it grabbed me and I thought I’d give it a try. 

It must have been the combination of physics, history, a mystery, and an adventure that caught my eye. More than anything though I was curious to see if the author putting all these disparate elements together could still make the book readable and the story plausible. I’m pleased to report that the author succeeded and when reading the book I found myself unable to put it down. 

Some of the elements in the story are: a satellite sent up to study a passing meteor comes crashing down to earth in an inaccessible part of Mongolia, a very old book, bound in human skin, gets delivered to a researcher and priest at the Vatican, setting off a mystery. Then there are the Triads in Hong Kong who weave in and out as well. All the stories converge when Sigma Force, an elite black ops type of team, goes in search of the satellite, because it holds the key to preventing a global cataclysm. But the mystery surrounding the book is somehow tied up in that as well. 

So much happens in the book and at such a fast pace that I can hardly begin to describe it, but the history and science are very well researched and woven into the tale. I now know more about Genghis Khan than before and also about quantum physics, which, as you know, is something I’m always eager to learn more about. I also learned about biohacking which sounds fascinating, but I’m not sure I’m up for trying it.

The violence again was something I could have done without, but it made sense to the story and this author is, thankfully, not that graphic in his descriptions. He also shows remarkable respect toward women and even has a couple of his characters look for ways to ease the suffering of women and children, when they are finally free to do so. 

All in all, a richly woven narrative with strong characters and an excellent balance of fact and fiction. I’m eager to read more by this author.