Winter in Madrid

CoverI’ve just finished reading Winter in Madrid by C. J. Sansom. It’s not about medical translation or Trados, so I’ll have to label it “uncategorised” in this blog, but elsewhere it could be classified as a thriller, political or historical novel. If you haven’t read it yet, put it on your reading list for 2015.

The story is set in 1940. Harry Brett, who was wounded at the Battle of Dunkirk, is sent on a spy mission to Madrid by the British Intelligence, although officially he is dispatched as a translator and interpreter at the Embassy.

Flashbacks to Brett’s public school upbringing help explain why his allegiances change as the plot develops.

Sansom paints a crude picture of Madrid in post-civil war times. Scenes of abject poverty, freezing conditions and brutal repression contrast with a select group of remorseless nationalists and expats living a life wrapped in fur stoles. Later, the terrible suffering at a concentration camp near Cuenca is accentuated by a priest’s race to save souls.

Corny as it may sound, the story was a page-turner for me. I recommend it.

Invierno en Madrid

A word of warning. Don’t read the Spanish translation. I bought it for my non-English speaking husband and read the first few chapters just out of interest. It was plagued with translation and cultural errors. Compiling a full list would be too time consuming, so here are just a few examples:

– [The British Battalion] had been issued with French steel helmets from the Great War
  [Sus fusiles] se habían fabricado a partir de cascos de acero franceses de la Primera           Guerra Mundial
– His father […] had been blown to pieces on the Somme
   Su padre […] había quedado destrozado en la batalla del Somme
– drying her hands on a tea towel
   secándose las manos en una servilleta de té
– The [school’s] House names reflected its naval past: Raleigh and Drake and Hawkins.
   Los apellidos de La Casa reflejaban su pasado naval: Raleigh, Drake y Hawkins.

Taking off my translator’s hat

In short, Winter in Madrid is a great book, but read it in English.

Opinions and Recommendations

If you’ve read Winter in Madrid, please leave your opinion in the comments below. I’d also love to have some recommendations of other books you’ve enjoyed recently. What should be on my reading list for 2015?

This entry was posted in Book reviews, Spanish-English translation and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Winter in Madrid

  1. Jason Willis-Lee says:

    Happy New Year Emma! That’s a good read by a Brum Uni PhD historian if I recall. I bought the Spanish version for my father-in-law whose education was truncated by the war and he pointed out a defect in the detail. There is one scene where Brett meets an Embassy official and orders hot chocolate. There was no such thing in civil war times he assured me! As for 2015 books I can recommend Standing Out by Andrew Morris (professional) and a book on the history of the English by a Cambridge historian (leisure). I’ll dig out the review from last week’s Economist and send it to you.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jason, and for pointing out the historical blunder. Looking forward to hearing more details about the history of the English, especially if it has a good storyline.
      Happy New Year to you too!

  2. Nicole says:

    Hi Emma, I read it in English a while ago and quite enjoyed it. Have you read “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak? Otherwise “Dime quién soy” by Julia Navarro (Spanish version, not sure if it’s available in English), was a reasonable read but very long. Happy New Year!

    • Hi Nicole. Thanks for your recommendations. I’ll definitely add “The Book Thief” to my reading list, and I’ve just downloaded a fragment of “Dime quién soy” on my Kindle, to see how I get on. Your “reasonable read” opinion doesn’t inspire quite so much confidence!

  3. It is sad how a good book can be ruined by bad translation. It is never bad to hire professional translators for books, just imagine the amount of readers eliminated just because the book cannot be read properly in a different language.

Comments are closed.