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On the 186th birthday of Johanna Spyri

News on 17.06.2013

On 12 June 1827 the Swiss national Johanna Spyri was born in the Canton of Zurich. She later became one of the most well-known authors and predominantly wrote children's and youth literature. One of her most famous characters is "Heidi" from the works of "Heidis Lehr- und Wanderjahre" (Heidi, her years of wandering and learning) in 1880, and "Heidi kann brauchen, was es gelernt hat" ("Heidi makes use of what she has learned") from 1881.

Johanna Spyri was born as the fourth of six children to a doctor and a poet. At the age of 15 years, she moved to Zurich to live with her aunt where she also went to school. At the time of her schooling, she also lived in Yverdon for two years where she visited a boarding school. It was here that she was able to improves her languages skills in French.

In 1851, Johanna Spyri married the lawyer and editor Bernhard Spyri from Zurich. Her marriage was not a particularly happy one. During her pregnancy with her only child, Bernhard Diethelm, Johanna Spyri was plagued with severe depression.

Spyri published her first narrative in 1871. It was the story of Heidi that granted her the first great breakthrough in 1880. In two volumes Spyri tells of the experiences of an orphan girl Heidi who was sent to her solitary grandfather who lived in the mountain pastures. The stories about Heidi, Peter and his goats, and her grandfather, have enthused millions of children and adults worldwide.

Spyri's books were published worldwide in more than fifty languages, and continue to shape the image of modern-day Switzerland in other countries today. The romanticised, ideal image of the Swiss landscape created by her has made its way across the world in the form of numerous translations. Heidi is, above all, very popular in Japan - this has seen the start of the myth of Heidi.

The particular challenge with the translation of children's literature, for example into Japanese, is due to the different cultural circles. The translation must evoke images and terms that are familiar to the children of the respective culture. So, for example, the Norwegian versions of the books and stories often contain references to trolls, whereby these are not really familiar to children from Japan or Morocco. In addition, translations for children and youths must be easy to read, but without losing the suspense of the plot.