Diana created this excellent tag post a couple of months ago and I immediately made a mental note to try it at some point! Then Callum helped me out by tagging me shortly after! To be honest, I’ve been putting this off a few weeks because I know my list of translated readings is not very substantial yet, and I’ve recently become more invested in trying to turn that around- but my life is so busy right now that I know I won’t be able to pick up all of the great translated titles on my TBR immediately just to do justice to this tag, so I’m going to try the tag now, and make a note to myself to return to it in a year or so and see how my answers have changed! These look like such interesting and versatile prompts that could be filled with so many different titles every time you try it (including some you haven’t read yet), and I think it’s important to any reader’s world perspective to keep picking up translated lit from countries and languages other than your own, so I don’t mind promoting a tag like this twice! I highly recommend checking out both Diana’s and Callum’s posts, and searching for others who’ve posted this tag as well, if you’re looking for some great translation recommendations!
And here’s my contribution:
1 – A translated novel you would recommend to everyone:
Here are two, from the same author: The Vegetarian, and/or Human Acts by Han Kang, translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith. I recommend them cautiously because they’re both experimental in style and deal with very difficult subject matter, but I think for anyone who is interested in learning about other cultures or pieces of world history these novels are absolutely worth the challenge. The Vegetarian, on the surface, is about a Korean woman who decides she will no longer eat meat; her family and friends cannot accept her decision. Thematically, I’d say it’s a more universal look at how society judges a choice that’s uncommon or hard to understand in cultural context. Human Acts depicts a student uprising in 1980s Korea and its tragic aftermath. Thematically, it’s an exploration of the cruelty and vulnerability inherent in human nature. Both are brilliant, eye-opening, gut-wrenching books, and I’m eager to read more from Kang!
2 – A recently read “old” translated novel you enjoyed:
I’m going with the very old, and very classic, The Iliad and The Odyssey. Though I had to read big excerpts from both books for high school and college classes and was already fully familiar with the plot and themes of both, I only read The Iliad in full for the first time last summer, and The Odyssey this past winter. I liked the characters, plot, and story arc of the former better, but found the latter much more engaging and immediately entertaining to read. Though I appreciated both, I do not recommend this translation (by Samuel Butler, from the Greek); it resorts to prose rather than trying for anything close to Homer’s epic poems, and generally sticks to such a literal translation that any artistic flare is quite lost. I’m planning to try other editions of both at some point.
3 – A translated book you could not get into:
I don’t think this is a bad series at all, but I have to go with The Emigrants (and the entire Settlers series) by Vilhelm Moberg, translated from the Swedish by Gustaf Lannestock. The only reason I was able to stay invested in this series is that the story of a Swedish farming family emigrating to the US in the mid-1800s and establishing a new family farm in the American Midwest is also a chapter of my own family history. Even with that connection, I really struggled to stick with the writing style, which I found rather dry, and the characters themselves are not the most engaging. It was fascinating to me to see some of the challenges faced by Swedish emigrants, but there’s really not a lot of plot here and I can’t imagine anyone without a Swedish farming background finding this series very readable.
4 – Your most anticipated translated novel release:
Technically this book is already released now, but I’m still anticipating reading it: Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (and longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize earlier this year). I’ve been so eager to get my hands on a copy of this strange little mystery ever since I first heard that brilliant title- I had the first hold in at my library before the official US release date, but it took so long for the library to get the book into circulation that I just got it recently. It’s either going to be my next or second-next read, and I can’t wait to see about this reclusive woman and her dying neighbors! (Could there be a more perfect time of year for this content?)
5 – A “foregin-language” author you would love to read more of:
I read my first novel by Haruki Murakami earlier this year: Norwegian Wood, translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin. I thought the writing was excellent and the story of love, loss, and grief quite moving, and I know Murakami’s other works tend a bit more toward the magical, which sounds potentially wonderful. After finishing this first book, I immediately added The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle to my TBR, and have also since picked up a copy of After Dark from a convenient secondhand shop. I’m sure I’ll want to read more as well, but I’m looking forward to continuing with these two next!
6 – A translated novel which you consider to be better than the film:
I’m not sure I can answer this one properly. I don’t watch a ton of films in general, and can’t at the moment think of a single translated novel I’ve even seen an adaptation for! Perhaps I’d say that The Iliad is a better book than Troy is as a movie, but I actually thought Troy was a very interesting adaptation, though not perfect.
7 – A translated “philosophical” book you recommend:
I actually don’t like reading philosophy very much, but I did appreciate Albert Camus’s Create Dangerously, translated from the French by Justin O’Brien. Perhaps I appreciate it even more in retrospect than I did while reading- a common trend for me with philosophy (I appreciate the logic of it, but struggle with the circular nature and myriad loopholes). I think I’ll need to reread this one at some point because I think I can take more from it if I put more time into focusing on all of its points, but I do remember fondly some of Camus’s arguments about how and why we create art, and the need to fight for one’s freedoms, even the freedoms we’ve already won. There are three little speeches in this small volume, all worth the read.
8 – A translated fiction book that has been on your TBR for far too long:
I think The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland, is the translated novel that’s been on my TBR the longest. I started reading it in 2012, but I picked it up right before I graduated from high school, and didn’t get far enough into the story to be excited about picking it back up that summer… so I never did. Since I own a copy, and am too stubborn to admit defeat, I’ll definitely try again at some point; I am currently more interested in reading this book because it’s firmly in my mind as an “unfinished project” than because I am excited about the story. In fact, I don’t remember anything about the story. Seven years is a long time to pause a book.
9 – A popular translated fiction book you have not read:
One novel I’m interested in that I see mentioned quite often and can’t believe I haven’t gotten around to reading yet is Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman, translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takamori. This is such a short book (just over 150 pages!) and focuses on one woman’s sense of identity and non-conformity. In theory, it sounds like something I would adore, and even if not, it would be nice to finally be able to weigh in on a title it seems like everyone but I have read!
10 – A translated fiction book you have heard a lot about and would like to find more about or read:
Specifically, I’m going to mention The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa here, translated from the Japanese (I didn’t realize there would be so many authors from Japan on this list!) by Stephen Snyder. This is a brand new (to the US at least) dystopian release in which the “memory police” can make anything disappear; the MC is trying to save her editor and career. This one’s been getting some buzz lately and I would love to jump on board, partially because I’m very interested in this author in general; I have several of Ogawa’s books on my TBR now and still haven’t read a single one- an issue I certainly need to remedy!
Since I’ve done a few tags this month and have already tagged quite a few friends, I’m not going to list anyone specific to continue this tag- but I really hope that anyone who sees it and reads translated fiction will decide to take part! I love finding translation recs through these posts. 🙂
Have you read any of these books? What’s your favorite translated novel of all time?
The Literary Elephant