“One of the biggest challenges that any author has to face while writing a historical novel is to hone the language to match the period.” – Sumeetha Manikandan
bestselling romance author whose novellas ‘Perfect Groom’ and ‘These Lines of Mehendi’ (which was published as a paperback novel called ‘Love Again’) have been on the top of Amazon India charts ever since its publication. A bookaholic, thinker, feminist and a daydreamer, she reads across genres and is a crazy fan of history, romance and science fiction novels.
How difficult it was for you to do the translation because recreating the same magic with words in a different language is not easy especially when the book has stayed with book lovers for generations?
The first thing that anybody ever told me about translating was that ‘how can you write this classic in English?’ ‘How would you capture the nuances of one language into another?’ Speculation was endless as was criticism. Even today, I tend to read some passages and wonder whether I could have written them differently. I guess it’s a struggle that all translators undergo.
One of the biggest challenges that any author has to face while writing a historical novel is to hone the language to match the period. That said, one needs to be careful that they do not go overboard with their ‘thy’ and ‘thou’ (especially if you are writing a dark age or medieval novel) because today’s reader would find it disruptive. The other extreme of this argument would be to write novels where well-known historical characters utter words such as ‘dammit’ ‘bloody’ ‘What the F@#$’ which totally spoils the book for the reader.
Finding a middle ground here is very important. The language needs to be formal and yet must not be too archaic and nor it must be too modern. It needs to be fusion of neutral and formal – perfect enough to remind the reader that they are in a certain era in the historical timeline.
As a reader, I had to abandon many a book for this reason. The only times I have really persevered is when the plot is good enough to stir my curiosity that I chose to endure the bad language just to find out what happened to the protagonists in the end.
Ken Follet’s Pillars of Earth makes a great example here. Basing the plot in 12th century, the author doesn’t use archaic language (the kind for which you need a dictionary to consult for every other word) and yet he cleverly ushers us into medieval England and soon we are worried as to who would rule over the Kingdom.
While perfecting the language was just half the struggle but getting the humour right was important too especially in Ponni’s Beloved.
Ponniyin Selvan’s hero is a muti-faceted character. He was not only brave, courageous, daring and rash but also quite funny. His interactions with the rest of the characters results in situational comedy, eliciting peels of laughter from the readers.
That was the biggest challenge that I had to face. What might seem funny in tamil might just fall flat in english so I had to work around the language a lot and write many versions until I could get it right.
I will be the first to admit that much is indeed lost in translation. So those readers who can read Tamil must enjoy this classic in its original language.
Volume 1. New Floods
Kalki Krishnamurthy’s Ponniyin Selvan is a masterpiece that has enthralled generations of Tamil readers. Many authors have written phenomenal books in Tamil literature after Kalki Krishnamurthy, but Ponniyin Selvan remains the most popular, widely-read novel. It has just the right mixture of all things that makes an epic – political intrigue, conspiracy, betrayal, huge dollops of romance, infidelity, seduction, passion, alluring women, unrequited love, sacrifice and pure love.