International Translation Day occurs every year on 30th September. It was established to celebrate the work of translators in publishing. In the UK the British Library is hosting a day of seminars on translation-related topics. Wish I could be there.
We need events that focus on books in translation because they do not form a very large part of our reading diet. Not much is published, not much is read. Only 4% of fiction published in the UK is in translation.
In a post in March, on this blog, called Books in Translation I said
Only 11% of my fiction reading was in translation last year. I need to do something.
When I checked the last 50 books read, ten were translations: that’s 20% and an improvement. Here are some recommendations to encourage you to read more in translation.
- The Man I became by Peter Verhelst published by Peirene Press
Translated from the Dutch by David Colmer.
A novella, a fable in which the gradual transition from ape to man brings insight into the human situation. Told in the voice of the main character, it explores how humans treat animals and other people whom they consider inferior. And it looks at how humans treat the world as a whole, and especially the belief that we can remake and exploit it and animals.
- Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila published by Jacaranda
Translated from the French by Roland Glasser
Winner of the Pen Translates Award from English Pen. Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2016.
Set in the DCR, kind of, the novel follows the fortunes of the writer Lucien who comes to the city to stay with his old friend Requiem and make his life and living as a writer. Requiem and Lucien are unlikely friends, indeed their relationship falls apart. Requiem is a crook and a wheeler-dealer; Lucien remains true to his wife and to his calling until the end. As he struggles to make his name, he meets a publisher, who sets up a disastrous first reading of his work in the bar called Tram 83, or simply Tram. Lucien has better success when the Diva organises a performance.
The society is hugely corrupt and poverty-stricken. The city is in the dying days of a gold rush. Violence, sex and greed are everywhere. Women appear to play very little part in the action in the city, until it is revealed that they have power (The Diva) and money (Lucien’s admirer Christelle) and promote good things.
The story is told with long sentences, much dialogue, repetition and lists. I liked its power to evoke jazz. It’s vivid, full of vitality and has what publishers like to call ‘edge’.
- A General Theory of Oblivion by Jose Eduardo Agualusa published by Vintage
Translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn.
Shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize.
As a young girl in Portugal, Ludovica was raped and became reclusive, looked after by her sister. When her sister marries Orlando, Ludo and Odete go to live with him in Angola, but almost immediately the war of liberation breaks out. Orlando and Odete disappear. Ludo barricades herself in their 11th floor flat and does not emerge for 28 years, viewing the changes in Luanda from her balcony. She lives off provisions already in the flat and her own ingenuity. For example, she attracts pigeons with diamonds that Orlando had hidden, but when she finds one with a message she lets it go.
We follow a number of characters whose stories come together with the discovery of Ludo by a young boy, the diamonds and the settlement of old scores. It’s a surreal story.
And more …
Translated from the French by Adriana Hunter
I’m reserving my comments for a themed exploration of post-war novels in November.
Vertigo by WG Sebald published by Vintage
Translated from the German by Michael Hulse.
Reviewed on this blog: this is the link
The Vegetarian by Han Kang published by Portobello
Translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith.
Reviewed on this blog back in April. Here is the link. This novel went on to win the Man Booker International Prize in 2016.
Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum
Translated from the German by Basil Creighton, included in a themed review of novels set in hotels.
The Empress and the Cake by Linda Stift
Translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch, featured on a post in August.
Translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix, the 22nd novel featured in my Older Women in Fiction series.
English PEN has been promoting translated writing for some time. You can find out what they do for writers in translation at the English Pen website.
Twitter-types will have enjoyed #WITMonth, women in translation month, in August, which revealed lots more books in translation by women.
Over to you
Tell us which s novels in translation would you recommend from your recent reading?
To receive email notifications of future posts please subscribe by entering your email address in the box.