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Seven unknown Romanian translators who changed our lives forever


The boy who lived. One ring to rule them all. The keystone lies beneath the Rose Line. The list of famous quotes from your favorite books could literally go on forever. However, who are the people who’ve come up with them? In English, that question has an easy answer: J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Dan Brown. But what happens when these books reach a foreign culture, such as Romania? How do you translate and adapt these most famous writings?

Translators are the ones who take on the round-the-clock fight to be there in time when the world’s best authors come up with a new title. They are the ones who get the books in front of the Romanian public, for those who are not very familiar with English. The translators of the most important books in recent and expanded history are basically unknown on a national level. These are the people who forever changed our country, all through their words.

Harry Potter, translated by a teenager

The Harry Potter books are the most popular of our generation by far, maybe even in the entire history of literature itself. Ioana Iepureanu is the one who translated the series every single child and adult has read once. She was still in high school when she was chosen to be the translator of the series. Only a teenager at the time, Ioana started to translate the adventures of the boy wizard when she was 16. She finished the first two books in 2 and a half months.

Ioana learned English in school, as well as at home where her mom started talking with her in Harry’s native language, when she was 6. Even though she managed to translate the bestselling book series ever, Ioana got paid the regular fare as for any other translation. Ioana’s work is the first Harry Potter translation in Romanian, for which she came up with words such as “vâjhaț” for quidditch or “Cap-de-Mort” for Voldemort, which sparked controversy among the fans of the tale.

The Lord of the Rings, a daughter-father translation

The story behind the Lord of the Rings series of books is more about family and friendship than about the one ring to rule them all. It’s about Frodo and his journey towards the unhinged fire of evil, where he has to dispose of the ring and its powers. Somehow, destiny made it so that the translation of these famous books into Romanian was done by a daughter-father duo. The translators of the Lord of the Rings series in Romanian are Irina and Ion Hogea.

The books made it to Romania in 2012 at the Rao publishing house, being among the first true fantasy series to reach the country. Ion Horea started translating in the 1950s, at the same time when Tolkien’s books were published in the US and England. For “The Fellowship of the Ring” and “The Return of the King”, as well as for the “Hobbit”, “Silmarillion” and “The Children of Hurin”, Ion Horea worked with her daughter Irina, who is still a translator today. “The Two Towers” was translated by Gabriela Nedelea. The series is one of the bestselling in Romania even today.

Sapiens, about the humanity of now and then

According to an article in the Romanian newspaper Adevărul, in 2018 and 2019 Sapiens, the book about humanity by Yuval Noah Harari smashed all records of the Polirom publishing house. The book sold 100.000 copies in 2018, reaching an impressive 50.000 in 2019 and keeping a steady flow of sales in the years to come after the official launch. The book is about humanity, its loses and wins, focusing on the key moments of our species.

In Romania, the book was translated by Adrian Șerban. A private individual, Adrian likes to live a discrete life away from social media and the press. According to the Polirom website, he is the editorial director of the Iași offices of the house. Besides “Sapiens”, Adrian also translated “Twins in the Middle Ages”, from Italian and alongside other linguists, which is a book about the importance of twins in the history of the world, the work of Gabriella Zuccolin.

The Trial, a translation by the great Naum

Franz Kafka is one of the most famous novel writers in history. Alongside Agatha Christie, Kafka the Czech arrived late in Romania, thanks to the turbulent political environment at the time his books came out in Europe. The one who finally translated Kafka in Romania was Gellu Naum, one of the most active Romanian linguists in history. He translated works by Balzac, Beckett, A. Carpantier, R. Char, Diderot, Alexandre Dumas, J.H. Fabre, Th. Gautier, Victor Hugo, G. de Nerval, J. Prevert, M. Solohov, Stendhal, J. Verne and many more.

Gellu Naum was an integral part of the surrealism writer’s group in Romania. He wrote poems that got him the most prestigious local and international awards back then. He imposed a violent and rebellious style, with erotica, offences and blasphemy sprinkled on top, and his writing was more in-your-face than of any other writer. Besides “The Trial” by Kafka, Naum also translated “20.000 Leagues Under The Seas”, “Notre-Dame de Paris” and “Red and Black”.

The Alchemist, translated by a Spanish teacher

Our Arad offices opened right after we launched the main ones in Timisoara. We are very grateful to have colleagues right on the shores of the Mureș river. We’re also happy to report that one of the most important Romanian translators nobody knows about is also from Arad. We’re talking about Gabriela Banu, the author of the translation of “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. The author needs no introduction, yet Gabriela is basically unknown in our country.

Gabriela Banu was born in Arad in 1952. She was a philology student in Bucharest and is now a translator and poems writer. She was a Spanish teacher at the Cervantes High School and Institute and is now a journalist, periodicals writer and literary magazine contributor. Starting in 2008, she is a member of the Romanian Writer’s Union, the Translators branch of Bucharest. Gabriela translated 5 books by Coelho, as well as many others from Romanian to Spanish and Portuguese.

The Da Vinci Code, conspiracies, controversy, and marketing

Another important translator who’s absent from the web is Adriana Bădescu. One of the most important linguists of the Rao publishing house, Bădescu translated not only ”The Da Vinci Code” but also most of the rest of Dan Brown’s books. She was the one who brought “Angels and Demons”, “Inferno”, “The Lost Symbol” and “Origins” to Romania, all of which sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the first years after their launch.

Besides the work she did on the adventures and mysteries of Robert Langdon, Adriana also translated other famous titles from the bestseller lists most bibliophiles follow closely. Some of these titles in her portfolio include “Everything I Never Told You”, “Dark Matter”, “Cutting for Stone” and even one of Harry Potter’s mom’s books, “The Tales of Beedle the Bard”. The latter is a series of short tales from the magical world, made famous in the main series about Harry.

The Bible, a 330-year-old translation

No matter how famous the books you’ve read about so far in this article, there’s no book that surpasses the Bible, in both sales and popularity. “The Holy Book” for billions of people, the Bible was brought to Romania in its complete form in 1688. At that time, two writers were hired for translating the book into the local language, Radu Greceanu and his brother Șerban. They got help from Șerban Cantacuzino and Constantin Brâncoveanu, two crucial figures of the era.

Radu Greceanu translated the book into Romanian from the Septuagint, the Hebrew to Greek translation of the Old Testament and the other books of the work. The forthcoming of the full Bible in Romania was a turning point for the entire developing process of the literary language of the nation. Making the Bible available everywhere in the country imposed the Muntenian (Wallachian) dialect as the official Romanian literary language style for the years to come.

—click here for the Romanian version of the article—

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