The misunderstood

For the past several weeks in our household, weekend evenings have been spent watching the touching Turkish drama, Yunus Emre, on Netflix. It has become something of a family affair, to be keenly anticipated throughout the week. Some nights we watched episodes back to back for hours on end, hooked on the quaint storytelling. In the past week we finished the final episode, and now we mourn its passing.

Whereas I turn away from other historical dramas — everyone’s beloved Ertugrul included — this one had me hooked. Perhaps it was because it evoked memories of my journey up a mountain in 2005, and those yearnings of the heart.  Apart from one or two episodes in the second series that were just too slow and repetitive, we loved this unusual drama through and through, and the characters we engaged with along the way.

But can I recommend it to others? I would love to, but something spoilt it for me: the atrocious English language subtitles throughout. Even with my smattering of Turkish, I could tell that the translation was suspect from the start, and it only got worse as the series went on, to the point of being ridiculous at times: occasionally offensive as in the misspelling of an ancient prophet’s name; flippant in using informal English and slang to translate the Turkish equivalent of Shakespeare; and at times just completely wrong, conveying the complete opposite of what was actually said. I was fortunate to have my wife and children on hand to put right the worst of it.

Other reviewers, while acknowledging the deficiency of the subtitles, feel that the essence of the drama survives. I hope so. Puritanical believers might struggle with it, condemning the heresies wrought by mistranslation, ala Mullah Kasim. But for those willing to overlook subtitles that are mere indications, or interpretations, or faint renditions of what was really being said, perhaps it is time to set out on this journey with Yunus and Tapduk Emre. Yes, perhaps I will still recommend the drama to friends and family, with the caveat that the subtitles may lead to misunderstandings in places.

In a way, that incomprehension of all that one hears is a metaphor for the journey itself. Misunderstandings, interpretations and mistranslations are forever an obstacle on the path. We can only try our best. Onwards.

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