How lucky we are, in this isolated time, to have so many notable works of fiction and non-fiction to read. With English as my first (alright, my only) language, naturally I gravitate to English language books. But this week I’d like to celebrate works in translation that show a wonderful diversity of voices from afar.
Translated books are sensitive to language and culture. Other writers have different ways of telling stories and when we read them, we are not only seeing their culture through their stories, we are also learning their methods of storytelling. As a writer, this is important to me.
As a reader, translated literature expands our horizons and opens a window into other worlds. When you read a translated novel, you’re really reading two authors - that of the original and that of the translator.
Translators must give their authors a voice in English that accurately renders the original text and style. Translation is an art in and of itself.
Of course many of the classics were written in other languages - Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Camus, Kafka - but here is a roundup of some great translated books published more recently.
Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing by Maryla Szmyiczkowa
Translated from Polish by the author’s partner Piotr Tarczynski
Taking a page from the Queen of whodunnit, Agatha Christie, this charming turn-of-the-century mystery is filled with period characters confronting a range of issues from women’s rights to class prejudice. “An ingenious marriage of comedy and crime.”
That Time of Year by Marie NDiaye
Translated from French by Jordan Stump
A short novel of mystery exploring the theme of belonging. Nothing is as it seems in this Kafkaesque fable about insiders and outsiders. For those with a bent towards the fantastic, this haunting reinvention of the literary horror story will satisfy.
The Memory Mobster by Yishai Sarid
Translated from Hebrew by Yardenne Greenspan
A harrowing tale about a young historian who is consumed by the memory of the Holocaust. His job documenting Nazi methods of extermination at concentration camps, becomes an obsession until his connections with the living begin to deteriorate. Not for the faint of heart.
An Untouched House by Willem Frederik Hermans
Translated from Dutch by David Colmer
After his regiment commander commandeers a resort town, a Dutch soldier in WW2 wills himself to be the new owner of a house and forget the war. When the legal occupants return, problems ensue. The book explores the erosion of empathy in uncivil times.
Solitude & Company by Silvana Paternostro
Translated from Spanish by Edith Grossman
Fans of Gabriel Garcia Marquez will enjoy this account of how a boy from the provinces decided to become a writer, and how he survived his own creation. An outstanding work of journalism, it’s as if his old friends were gathered around a table to talk about him.
Happy Dreams by Jia Pingwa
Translated from Chinese by Nick Harman
A rural labourer leaves his home to find the recipient of his donated kidney. Equipped with his perpetually optimistic viewpoint, his best friend, and a pair of high-heels he hopes to fill with the woman of his dreams, he refuses to be dragged down by life in the industrialized city. A beautiful triumph of the human spirit.
Kasebier Takes Berlin by Gabriele Tergit
Translated from German by Sophie Duvernoy
Written in 1932, this novel is a biting critique of Berlin’s roaring 20’s. Only recently available in English, the author captured the city’s battle between fascism and communism, wild hedonism, poverty, and multiculturalism before the Nazis took control. A searing satire of the Weimar Republic.
Severina by Rodrigo Rey Rosa
Translated from Spanish by Chris Andrews
This short novel explores restlessness and compulsion when the narrator becomes obsessed with a young woman who steals from his own bookstore. A tale of love and forgiveness.
Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck
Translated from German by Susan Bernofsky
Set in the middle of Europe’s refugee crises, the novel explores what happens when a German pensioner’s life intersects with a group of African refugees. There are no simple answers here as the author asks the question, how willing are we to upend our own comforts to help a stranger.
Of course, it would be wonderful if we could read these books in their original language. But if you’re like me and have zero second language skills, reading in translation allows us a beautiful way to access other worlds. So, if you only ever read books written in English, why not give translations a try? Otherwise, you’re missing out.
Stay safe, my friends, and get whatever vaccine is available to you whenever it’s available.
In the meantime, happy reading.