Suppose my Chinese translator comes across this joke in my novel – “A wood termite walks into a pub and says, ‘Hey! Where’s the bar-tender?’.” Here a faithful translation into Chinese would kill the pun, stink of a clunky translation and pop the bubble of fiction. What my able friend in Shanghai does here is to substitute my joke for a completely different word-joke which works in Chinese, perhaps retaining only the bar-scenario. Function trumps fidelity. Similarly, in no way do I consider the changes made by the directors of Cloud Atlas to be travesties that have resulted in a ‘non-canonical’ version of my book; any more than I consider the Chinese translation of Cloud Atlas to be a rival of the English original. It’s a variation, a translation from prose into film – and to my mind, it’s a beautiful one.
- David Mitchell on adapting his book Cloud Atlas to film