Colonel BlimpWhen I just started studying English, my first translations came back entirely red. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t convey the meaning of the original, or made many mistakes, the problem was that I diverted too much from the source text. I would interpret what the writer meant, and then find a nice way to say it in Dutch or English. I quickly learned that this, obviously, was not the right way to translate. Translators stay as close to the source text as possible, even if there are much nicer ways of putting something in the target language, that basically convey the same meaning.


With much gnashing of teeth, I incorporated these lessons into my translations to the extent that nowadays, when I don’t literally follow a source text, I get a guilty, nagging feeling about it. A guilty feeling that sometimes even plays up when I’m interpreting simultaneously; a process so complicated that not missing any sentence is already a feat, let alone trying to interpret almost literally.

Most satisfying translation

Therefore, translating some parts of my own book Officier in Afghanistan has been the most satisfying translation experience I have ever had. I don’t have to worry about what the source text literally says, because I know exactly what the writer wanted to convey. And if I find a way of expressing something in English that is much more nuanced and beautiful than the Dutch original, I can simply do it.

I don’t have to translate the Dutch chapter title ‘De Engelse kolonel’ with a boring ‘The English Colonel’, for example. Instead, I have chosen the name of a British cultural icon, not known by the Dutch, whose behavior is remarkably similar to my real English boss: cartoon character Colonel Blimp.

No gnashing of teeth, no guilty feeling: I find translating my own text the most liberating experience I have ever had as a translator.


Interested in reading the results? I have translated a short scene with some typical British humor from the chapter Mad Dogs and Englishmen and the chapter about my English boss: Colonel Blimp.

8 Responses to English Translation Officier in Afghanistan

  • Frank Ch. Eigler says:

    Great little stories, and native-quality translations. Bravo.

  • Clark Ward says:

    I very much enjoyed the glimpses of the English translation you’ve provided; I hope that the English edition will be available soon! Thanks :)

  • James says:

    Splendid verbal pictures. I’m sorry my Dutch is too poor to appreciate the original. Do you plan to translate the rest of the book for publication?

    • Esmeralda Kleinreesink says:

      Definitely, as soon as I have found an English-language literary agent. The idea of having someone else do the Dutch-English translation would somehow feel wrong.

  • Kim says:

    Oh, please, please, please translate the rest! Your storytelling is wonderful. Have you thought about putting each chapter up on Amazon as e-book downloads? Many writers have found publishers after initial chapters have found popularity.

    • Esmeralda Kleinreesink says:

      Thank you for your enthusiasm! I hadn’t thought about that option, it’s quite a good idea, I’ll definitely look into it.

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