10 of my favourite books in translation

This week an article in The Guardian talked about readers’ favourite children’s books in translation. As a child I enjoyed Aesop’s Fables, Tintin and Asterix (although I never understood the latter’s wordplay e.g. Getafix until I was older!), but as an adult with an interest in international literature (see my blog post about that here) I also enjoy translated books.

A few statistics: out of 505 books that I’ve listed on Librarything, 335 were originally in English, 130 originally in French, and the 35 remaining* were in other languages which I don’t read, so were translations. I read 70% of all my listed books in English, and 30% in French.

Below are a few of my favourite books in translation:

Kleifarvatn, July 2012

  • L’Insoutenable Légèreté de l’être [The Unbearable Lightness of Being] by Milan Kundera, translated from Czech to French by François Kérel. This 1984 postmodern novel is about two women, two men, a dog and their lives in the Prague Spring period of Czechoslovak history in 1968.
  • Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong aka Lü Jiamin, translated from Chinese to English by Howard Goldblatt. This semi-autobiographical novel is about a young Beijing student who is sent to live among the nomadic herdsmen of Inner Mongolia. Caught between the advance of civilisation from the south and the wolves to the north, humans and animals, residents and invaders alike struggle to find their place in the world. Will be released as a film directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud in 2015.

Teaser poster for the film ‘Wolf Totem’

  • Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende, translated from Spanish to English by Margaret Sayers Peden. Spanning four decades and set in the sugar plantations of Saint-Domingue and the lavish parlours of New Orleans, this novel leaps between the social upheavals from the distant French Revolution to the Haitian slave rebellion, to a New Orleans fomenting with cultural change.
  • Woman At Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi translated from Arabic to English by Sherif Hetata (the writer’s husband). This novel is the first-person account of Firdaus, a murderess who has agreed to tell her life story before her execution.
  • Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, translated from Swedish to English by Reg Keeland aka Steven T. Murray. Is there any need to present this trilogy of crime novels?
  • The Swarm – a Novel of the Deep by Frank Schätzing, translated from German to English by Sally-Ann Spencer In this science-fiction novel full of twists, turns and cliffhangers, a team of scientists discovers a strange, intelligent life force that takes form in marine animals, using them to wreak havoc on humanity as revenge for our ecological abuses.
  • La vie rêvée des plantes [The Reverse Side of Life] by Seung-U Lee, translated from Korean to French by Mi-Kyung Choi and Jean-Noël Juttet. This highly acclaimed Korean novel reveals how the conflict of the secular and the divine manifests in the real world.
  • Who Ate Up All The Shinga? by Wan-Suh Park, translated from Korean to English by Young-Nan Yu and Stephen J. Epstein. In this ‘autobiographical novel’ Park, growing up in Korea, describes the characters and events that came to shape her life.
Shinga (Aconogonon alpinum)

Shinga (Aconogonon alpinum)

  • Night by Elie Wiesel, translated from the French by Marion Wiesel (the author’s wife). This work recounts the author’s experience with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–1945, at the height of the Holocaust and toward the end of the Second World War.

What about you? Please share your favourite translations in the comments.

* the total doesn’t equal 505 as a few books use two languages to a greater or lesser degree




4 responses

  1. All right… Did not read one of those books… So much to discover 🙂 The first on the list will be Isabel Allende book, I really liked her novels “La casa de les espiritus” & “La hija del destino”!

  2. Pingback: 10 of my favourite books in translation | Metag...

  3. Ufff… I’m surprised with the way you shortly described those books.. Seems all interesting! Gives a bit of something to discover, at least you know that writers are from different cultures, and so they maybe have different ideas…

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