My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I recall my childhood days when my school copy of Heidi was worn to tatters because I never could get enough of reading about the little orphan girl who goes up to the Swiss Alps to live with her hermit grandfather. I loved how the relationship between the little girl and the old man grew, and how she touched the hearts of all she came in contact with. There was wonder in those beautiful mountains where the goats would play with Heidi and feed and fresh herbs, and in the cry of the eagle echoing off the snow-capped mountains. There was magic in the fir trees that surrounded the grandfather’s hut, and oh how I longed to have a bed of hay just like Heidi!
Now, more than twenty years later, I re-read the old childhood favourite, and I’m relieved to see, that while I could not exactly capture that child-like enthusiasm for this book, I could still see what it was the drew me to this story. If I were a child now I believe I would still be as drawn to it as I was then.
But as an adult other things begin to intrude….most notably, language.
My e-book copy had a preface written by the translator who claimed to be a native of the same place as Johanna Spyri. With that claim he seeks to tell the reader that his work as translator could bring out the literary finesse of the original story (written in German). I think what got me the most was that he likened himself to Joseph Conrad (a non-native English speaker said to be the greatest writer in the language)!! Expecting some brilliant writing, I could not help but wonder if this was the same version I did when I was in school. The translation was stilted and unwholesome, and though bringing out the quaintness of scenes in some parts, in others it only sought to distract.
I wish I could give my readers an example from the novel itself, but as I’m done with and am not up to combing through it again for a sample or two I will just have to leave you with my opinion of the translation.
As a children’s work it is beautiful and fun. But an adult reading for the first time might find even the plot rather dull and saccharine. Heidi seems the perfect little girl. There is no person in the book who is not kind, and there is no person in the story who would not do anything for Heidi because she would do anything for them. Rather stilted and contrived in that manner…but charming in its own way.