Freitag, 30. Dezember 2011

Always read the small print or How to really annoy your potential readers

I love book buying, I love it almost as much as reading itself.
There is a pretty big book store in my town and whenever I enter it I feel as if I was on a long, relaxing holiday and surrounded only by the best of people: interesting, sophisticated  persons who all share my love for literature (because no one ever is in a bookshop just so they can buy a present for someone they don't know very well or some comics or maybe even a copy of the Playboy...).

Anyway, yesterday I went on a shopping spree again and since I am joining Kate's Chunkster Les Misérables Readalong I thought it was about time to get a copy of Hugo's long epic book.
Since they only had one edition the choice was easy and I bought a thick paperback with the beautiful title "Die Elenden" which is the exact German translation of "Les Misérables".
I decided on reading it in German because my French is far away from sufficient to understand such a book (I'm battling through Le Petit Prince at the moment) and it would be rather absurd for me to read the English translation of a French book which I would have to translate into German again in my head.
To be honest the book seemed a little too thin to me to be treated as the Chunkster of Chunksters but I thought that they had probably used really thin paper and also I didn't know the exact page number Les Misérables is supposed to have, so I bought it despite my little doubts.

When I had a closer look at home I grew more and more suspicious, the French original has about 1900 pages and although German is not quite as drawn-out a language as French, my edition was decidedly too short considering that it had not even 700 pages. Finally on the 4th page I found a note in about this font size saying that I had just bought a copy which had been "improved and abridged for better readability".


"Improved and abridged": Are they serious?!? How can anyone dare say that they have improved a book which is considered one of the greatest novels of French literature and the whole 19th century? And abridged: What kind of abbreviation is it to simply leave out two thirds of a novel? I mean, thousand pages are not quite a trifle, are they? 
I know that a lot of people think that Hugo's writing is too longsome and I am sure there are some boring scenes in Les Misérables, but I have got the feeling that if I read this abridged version I don't read Hugo's book at all, I read a renarration.
How can anyone assume they are able to decide 150 years later which parts of a book are relevant and which not? They have not felt what Hugo felt, they have not seen what he saw and they certainly don't know his thoughts. How can they arrogate to say "Oh, this part is boring, let's omit it!"?
And, more than anything: Why can't they write abridged version somewhere on the cover so people can choose if they want to read the thoughts of some arrogant German translator or of the real Victor Hugo?

Sorry that I am moaning so much today, but this really made me angry, I can hardly imagine what Monsieur Hugo would say if he was still alive! Oh, and I have kept the best to myself until now: After my disappointing discovery I looked for an unabridged German edition on Amazon and guess what? There is none. During the 1970s one which cost about 80 existed, but it is no longer available. Apparently no German person was interested in reading Les Misérables in the last 30 years.

I am so angry with my parents for not being English.


  1. This happened to me to with Les Mis!! So frustrating. I had to reorder to get the correct edition. Mine was only 5400 pages. (Mine was the English translation.)

    Also, I'm so impressed by how casually you reference the different languages you speak. I know some French (very little) and English. That's it. :-)

  2. Ha ha - that should say 'only 500 pages' - not 5400! :P

  3. Jillian, how good to have a fellow sufferer! (Although 5400 pages sound pretty impressive :D)
    I guess I am going to get the English translation now too, I will need a little more concentration to read it, but since the German one seems to hold only annoyance...

    Thank you, but don't be too impressed! My English is not half as good as it should be and it is enough to speak a little bit French to know that it is almost impossible to ever really learn that language! And, believe me or not, Spanish, Italian and Latin are all basically the same. In fact German is the language I have most problems with ;)

  4. What a bummer! That's very strange that there is no full edition in German.

    However, your last comment about your parents cracked me up. :)

  5. Oh, that is so frustrating! And I can't believe there's not a complete German translation of such a well-known work. Good luck with reading it in English.

    Also, your comment to Jillian about having problems with German makes me smile--English is my first language (I speak a little Spanish and Italian) but I can have enough problems with spelling and some of the irregular rules. Thank goodness for spell check! (I found your blog through a comment you left at Jillian's, but the way.)

  6. Well, that must be frustrating. You could try to read it in English... or perhaps, if you have a local library, you could try and have a lookout for a more complete version there. But, you're right, this is stupid. However, I advise you not to read it in French, unless you are near fluent in this language. Victor Hugo was a genius, for sure, but his writing style in his original language is supposed to be very difficult to read. An acquaintance of mine, who is quite good at speaking and reading French, had great difficulties in reading this book.