Book Review: LOST IN TRANSLATION: AN ILLUSTRATED COMPENDIUM OF UNTRANSLATABLE WORDS FROM AROUND THE WORLD by Ella Frances Sanders

LostInTranslation
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Released: September 16, 2014
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Rating: ★★★★½


An artistic collection of more than 50 drawings featuring unique, funny, and poignant foreign words that have no direct translation into English.

Did you know that the Japanese language has a word to express the way sunlight filters through the leaves of trees? Or that there’s a Finnish word for the distance a reindeer can travel before needing to rest?

Lost in Translation brings to life more than fifty words that don’t have direct English translations with charming illustrations of their tender, poignant, and humorous definitions. Often these words provide insight into the cultures they come from, such as the Brazilian Portuguese word for running your fingers through a lover’s hair, the Italian word for being moved to tears by a story, or the Swedish word for a third cup of coffee.

In this clever and beautifully rendered exploration of the subtleties of communication, you’ll find new ways to express yourself while getting lost in the artistry of imperfect translation.


LOST IN TRANSLATION is a lovely little book that defines and illustrates many words that do not have a precise English equivalent. The collection includes words that are funny, practical, and touching. With every turn of the page, I was smiling or thinking “Ah, ha!” A couple of my favorites:

  • The Swedish verb fika, which is a “gathering together to talk and take a break from everyday routines, usually drinking coffee and eating pastries…often for hours on end.” Sounds great to me!
  • The German noun kabelsalat, which is a “mess of very tangled cables, literally a cable-salad.” Yep, seen that.

I found all the words interesting and most of them relatable, even though there is not a clear translation. There’s a German word for the extra pounds you put on from emotional eating. *nods* There’s a Malay word for the time needed to eat a banana (huh!), and the list goes on.

The presentation was set up with the word, drawing, and definition on a page, and the author’s take on the word on the facing page. The illustrations in this book were fun and fanciful. I guess my only complaint was that the font used for definitions was sometimes hard to read, but otherwise I loved the book. Definitely one for my keeper shelf!

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through the Blogging For Books program in exchange for an honest review.

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