Uncle Leo’s adventures in East Asia: A cultural perspective on translation
University of Haifa
The best-selling children’s book series Uncle Leo’s Adventures by Yannets Levi became a sensation in Israel when it was translated into several Asian languages including Korean, Chinese, English for the Indian sub-continent, and Japanese. More than just a simple story of cross-cultural exchange, the globalization of the series allows for a look into the ways editors and translators in different cultures handle translation as a cultural and economic opportunity. This article focuses on the Gordian knot that links translation to culturally specific preferences. Combining interviews with a comparative study of the different solutions to the translation of literary and visual elements used in Uncle Leo, it explores the relations between entrepreneurship and culture, the politics of culture, and the universality/cultural specificity of imagination and of being a child.
The Israeli children’s series Uncle Leo’s Adventures written by Yannets Levi started as a local phenomenon. Uncle Leo, the protagonist of the series, is a modern incarnation of Baron Munchausen who tells his nephew nonsensical stories that happened in formidable, imaginary places. Each book in the series is made up of several short stories. The target audience is primarily first- to third-grade children. The series is hugely successful in Israel in terms of both sales, having sold about 700,000 copies, and critical recognition. Statistically speaking, every Hebrew-speaking household in Israel with children in the target age range owns at least one book in the series. The first book in the series, published in 2007, won the Museum of Israel Award for the Illustrations of a Children’s Book in 2008 and the Public Library Award for Children’s Literature (probably the most important literary prize for children’s books in Israel) in 2010. The sixth and final book in the series was published in May 2014. The series (not necessarily all the books) was translated into Arabic, Czech, Korean, English (for the Indian subcontinent including India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Bhutan), Japanese, and Chinese. In this article I analyze the story of the series’ foray into East Asia (i.e., South Korea, China, and Japan) and the strategies adopted in the translation for each destination.
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