In BBC The Reading Group, we bring together listeners, students of English, literature teachers and other contributors from the world of books to share their enthusiasm for reading.
We discuss the appeal of a classic French book beloved by adults and children – The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Arundhati Roy talks about her internationally best-selling novel, The God of Small Things.
Listen to the BBC The Reading Group Part 8 programme:
ANNOUNCER: You’re listening to The Reading Group from the BBC World Service. In this series we bring together listeners, students of English, literature teachers and other contributors from the world of books to share their enthusiasm for reading. We hope that following this series will encourage your own interest in reading books in English as a foreign language.
Gary: Hello. Today we hear from a novelist who cares less about literary prizes and more about books touching people’s lives. We also meet a small golden-haired boy from another planet. He’s the main character in a classic French book beloved by adults and children – The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
Insert 1 – Extract from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The stars are not the same for all people. For some who travel, the stars are their guides. For most they are nothing but small lights. For a few, the learned ones, they are problems. But you will have stars like no-one else has. You will stars that know how to laugh.
Gary: But first, teacher and author Martin Parrott continues his series of talks intended to help English learners to develop their reading skills. Today he argues the case for reading books in translation.
Insert 2 – Martin Parrott on reading books in translation
It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Why read a book written by one of your favourite national authors, translated into English? Surely, the whole point about learning English is that it opens doors to a vast new literature? So why read Tolstoy, or Balzac, Lu Xun or Paulo Coelho in English?
Well, because in the long run this will help to unlock those doors to English literature. Reading favourite works translated into English can be a useful – and enjoyable – means of building up essential language skills and at the same time avoiding possibly distracting and daunting implicit cultural associations.
Until you know the language and culture really well, these cultural associations can create a real barrier to enjoying and understanding books written in English.
What I mean by ‘cultural associations’ is references to – I don’t know – historical or literary figures, to religious or traditional practices, to TV personalities, games or meals that a reader who is part of the culture will pick up and understand, but which can be bewildering to other readers. The point about reading books from your own culture and tradition translated into English is that you are removing this kind of problem.
An obvious starting point is a favourite novel or short story, one that you perhaps studied at school. A French friend of mine, a teacher, discovered I had a copy of a Maupassant short story translated into English. It’s called The Necklace. She had taught the original French version so many times to her children that she knew the story almost backwards. Although her English was still shaky, she took the book down from my shelves and just devoured it, she didn‘t worrying that it was full of long words that would in other circumstances have made reading difficult.
I know from my own experience of learning foreign languages how useful translated books can be. I have read Agatha Christie murder mysteries in several languages. Why? Because the books have a predictable cast of characters – people behaving and talking in predictable ways. I understand them because I am so completely familiar with the cultural associations of Aghatha Christie’s novels.
So to summarise, strange as the idea may seem, if you are finding it difficult reading books written in English, try obtaining and reading books translated from your language into English. Later, when your fluency in reading has improved, of course you won’t need these books. But they will have helped you open those doors I talked about earlier on.
Gary: Martin Parrott.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s story Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) is a classic tale of equal appeal to children and adults around the world. It first appeared in 1943 in French and since then it’s been translated into dozens of other languages. A popular English version was published in 1995 and translated by Irene Testot-Ferry, who lives and works in Paris. Irene has been a conference interpreter for more than 50 years and she’s on the line now.
Insert 3 – Gary Stevens interview with Irene Testot-Ferry about The Little Prince
Irene: It appeals to both grown ups and children obviously. Children will take it as a fairy tale. I think it is basically a very philosophical work. It is a tiny little book, but very successful.
(Rest of interview transcript is unavailable.)
Extract from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery:
The first night I slept on the sand, 1000 miles away from other human beings. I was much more isolated there than someone on a raft in the middle of the ocean after a shipwreck. So you can imagine my surprise when, at daybreak, a little voice woke me up. ‘Please draw me a sheep.’ ‘What?’ ‘Draw me a sheep.’ I gave me eyes a good rub. There, standing before me was the most extraordinary little fellow. He was looking at me very seriously.
(Rest of interview transcript is unavailable.)
Gary: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
Now as some of you will know, the BBC World Service has a monthly World Book Club programme which invites leading authors to answer questions from a studio audience. The Booker prize winning Indian author Arundhati Roy was a recent guest, and she answered readers’ questions about her internationally best-selling novel, The God of Small Things. This is a many-layered story that on one level attacks the caste system, the position of women, and the compromises of communist-politicians. The book caused controversy in some parts of India, but Arundhati Roy rejoices in the fact that literature can provoke debate, and we’ll hear her remarks in a moment.
First though, here’s an introduction to the plot and the key characters. The God of Small Things is told through the eyes of a young woman Rahel as she looks back to the handful of days in 1969 during which her innocence was smashed by a mixture of adult passion and betrayal. At the heart of the story is the secret, disastrous love affair between Rahel’s divorced, middle-class, Christian mother and an “untouchable”, or dalit carpenter. But perhaps the emotional heart of the novel is Rahel’s relationship with her twin brother Estha.
This certainly makes the book both funny and moving.
Insert 4 – Extract from The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy read by Arundhati Roy
(Transcript is unavailable)
Gary: Arundhati Roy reading from her novel The God of Small Things.
In the World Book Club recording, readers wanted to know more about the twins, Estha and Rahel, and their creation.
Insert 5 – Arundhati Roy talking about the characters of Estha and Rahel (Transcript is unavailable)
Gary: At the end of the BBC World Book Club programme, Arundhati Roy explained that for her it’s more important that books make people think, than that writers win prizes.
Insert 6 – Arundhati Roy talking about the importance of books which make people think
(Transcript is unavailable)
Gary: Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things. Next time, we hear how reading classic English novels translated into your language can be the best introduction to the English originals! I hope you’ll join me then.
ANNOUNCER: And that brings us to the end of today’s programme. If you’d like to share your reading experiences, you can join our BBC Learning English group on Facebook. We’ll have topics on the Discussion board linked to the subjects covered in The Reading Group programmes. So, until next time, happy reading!
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