The Translated Literature Book Tag

This tag was created by Diana over at Thoughts on Papyrus, and in the spirit of Women in Translation Month I figured I should do before the end of August!  I am not focusing only on female authors for this tag, though that would definitely be a fun spin to put on it.

I. A translated novel you would recommend to everyone:

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The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder.  Despite how niche its premise seems (math + baseball is a combination that would ordinarily cause me to run for the hills), I think this is one of the most universally appealing books I’ve read in a long time.  It’s sweet but not too saccharine, melancholy but not too depressing.  It’s just a nice, and short, story that I can imagine would appeal to most readers.

II. A recently read “old” translated novel you enjoyed:

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This is neither recently read nor very ‘old’, but whatever, in an effort to mix up my answers a bit and not talk about the Iliad for the billionth time: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind, translated from the German by John E. Woods – originally published in 1985.  I read this four or five years ago on the recommendation of a German friend who was suggesting some German lit for me to read and I thought it was brilliant.  Set in eighteenth century France, it follows a boy with an unnaturally keen sense of smell, and it has some of the most descriptive imagery I’ve ever read.  I’d highly recommend it, with the caveat that it’s incredibly dark and twisted and violent, and definitely not for everyone.

III. A translated novel you could not get into:

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The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated from the Spanish by Lucia Graves.  I desperately wanted to love this book, because Ruiz Zafón’s descriptions of Barcelona were written so gorgeously – the city itself was like a character in this book, which is something I love – but I could not get over the pervasive sexism (Clara’s narrative arc in particular horrified me) and how inexcusably predictable the plotting was.

IV. Your most anticipated translated novel release:

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The Teacher by Michal Ben-Naftali, translated from the Hebrew by Daniella Zamir.  This is publishing from Open Letter Books in January 2020, and the summary from their website says:

“No one knew the story of Elsa Weiss. She was a respected English teacher at a Tel Aviv high school, but she remained aloof and never tried to befriend her students. No one ever encountered her outside of school hours. She was a riddle, and yet the students sensed that they were all she had. When Elsa killed herself by jumping off the roof of her apartment building, she remained as unknown as she had been during her life. Thirty years later, the narrator of the novel, one of her students, decides to solve the riddle of Elsa Weiss. Expertly dovetailing explosive historical material with flights of imagination, the novel explores the impact of survivor’s guilt and traces the footprints of a Holocaust survivor who did her utmost to leave no trace.

Ben-Naftali’s The Teacher takes us through a keenly crafted, fictional biography for Elsa—from childhood through adolescence, from the Holocaust to her personal aftermath—and brings us face to face with one woman’s struggle in light of one of history’s great atrocities.”

V. A “foreign-language” author you would love to read more of:

Sofi Oksanen (Finnish-Estonian), Yoko Ogawa (Japanese), Mathias Énard (French); these are some titles that I’m looking forward to reading by each of them.

VI. A translated novel which you consider to be better than the film:

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Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, lol.  Better than its many, many film adaptations.  Also better than the musical, and I freaking LOVE the musical.

VII. A translated “philosophical” fiction book you recommend:

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Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko, translated from the Russian by Julia Meitov Hersey.  This is a hard book to explain – it’s essentially a fantasy novel set at a magical boarding school, but it isn’t interested in plot or characters as much as its central thesis: that the world is not as limited as we think it is.

VIII. A translated fiction book that has been on your TBR for far too long:

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A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous, translated from the German by Philip Boehm.  This is a compilation of diary entries kept by a woman in 1945 Berlin, in which she chronicles the sexual assault endured by German women after the occupation of Berlin by the Russians.  This sounds absolutely harrowing which is why I probably haven’t reached for it yet, but it’s been on my shelf for ages.  If I don’t read it by next August, it’s definitely going on my TBR for next year’s WIT Month.  (I only saw the ‘fiction’ part of this question after I’d already chosen this for an answer – it’s nonfiction!)

IX. A popular translated fiction book you have not yet read:

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My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein.  I know, this is bad.  I kind of have this mental block with Elena Ferrante because I like the idea of reading these books in the original Italian, and then I’m too lazy to actually do that?  So they just remain unread.  But I know that either way I do really need to remedy this.

X. A translated fiction book you have heard a lot about and would like to find more about or read:

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Disoriental by Négar Djavadi, translated from the French by Tina A. Kover.  There is something about this book’s summary that refuses to stick in my brain so I still have absolutely no idea what it’s actually about (it’s a family saga, maybe…?), but I have heard nothing but good things about it from those who have read it.  Plus, that cover!

Tagging: Hannah | Marija | Callum | Kristin | Laura

29 thoughts on “The Translated Literature Book Tag

  1. Great answers! Some seriously amazing books here. I don’t understand all the hype around “The Shadow of the Wind” either, and “The Teacher” sounds very good. I have just read the synopsis to “Compass” by Mathias Énard,…and I am in awe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So glad it’s not just me who thinks The Shadow of the Wind is grossly overrated. I understand the appeal but I also just found it insufferable.

      Did you read Tell Them of Battles, Kings & Elephants by Mathias Énard? Would HIGHLY recommend if you have not. Charlotte Mandell’s translation is just stunning. And it’s so much shorter than Compass! But Compass sounds brilliant and I really must get my hands on a copy.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been wanting to read Perfume for ages now; I had no idea it was a translated novel!

    OMG, that is such a shame to hear about The Shadow of the Wind! It’s such a universally beloved book.

    One day I will read Vita Nostra!! One day! I actually got it out of the library a few months ago and renewed it like three times but still never got around to reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perfume is SO GOOD – honestly I don’t even know if you’ll like it, it’s a bit…. I don’t even know, grotesque?? Well, it’s a lot grotesque tbh, but I can’t decide if it’ll be in a way you’ll like or not. But you definitely need to read it. I have a copy that I can lend you if you want.

      Ugh The Shadow of the Wind is one of the most relentlessly misogynistic books I’ve read – the (young) protagonist’s ‘mentor’ or whatever is one of those character who’s like I AM A LOVER OF WOMEN and then just treats them like trophies? It’s gross. I am very, very confident that you would hate it.

      YOU’VE GOTTA READ VN IT’S SO FUCKIN GOOD AND WEIRD

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for tagging me again! I’m very bad at reading translated literature (I have inherent frustrations with it that I know I should overcome) but I’ve probably read enough to cover one tag 🙂 I always forget Perfume was translated, but then I’ve only seen the film… Re. Ferrante, I actually struggled with My Brilliant Friend but very much enjoyed the other three books in the series, especially the second.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As always when I tag people, do not feel obligated! But I’d love to read your answers if you get around to it, obviously.

      In the past I have actively avoided translated lit as well – it’s only in the past few years that I’ve decided to get over that. My issue is that I would always prefer to read something in its original language (which isn’t to discredit the work translators do; it’s just my own personal hangup) and then when I’m not fluent enough or too lazy to do that I get frustrated at myself and just avoid the book altogether. (See: my avoidance of all Italian lit ever since graduating college.) I think I’ve only recently come to accept that I’m missing out on way too much by being stubborn about my own language skills.

      Liked by 1 person

      • This reflects many of my feelings! My other issue is that I’ve been making a real effort to read literature written in English from countries that aren’t Britain or the US e.g. Australia, NZ, Canada, Nigeria, Ghana, India etc, and so I’ve tended to focus more on that as a means of broadening my horizons.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a great point! I actually feel like non-US/UK/Irish English-language books are my huge weak spot – it’s probably worth making more of a concerted effort where those are involved.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. The Teacher looks so good!!

    I know what you mean about the Ferrante, I’ve been doing the same thing with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose work I think I will enjoy but want to try reading in Spanish- I know it’ll be a challenge so I keep putting it off…

    It sounds like I should take The Shadow of the Wind off my TBR. But thank you for the reminders about Vita Nostra and Les Mis, I really need to finally read them both as well!

    Liked by 1 person

    • DOESN’T IT? That summary is just amazing…

      Ahh you get me!!! I feel similarly about Marquez, actually; my Spanish is like… decent because I’ve had to read a lot of emails in Spanish for my last job, but the thought of reading a novel in Spanish exhausts me. But I also feel like I COULD, so reading them in English feels lazy? It’s so hard.

      The Shadow of the Wind is tricky, because it’s so beloved and I know a lot of people who adored it, but I could not get past the casual misogyny, and I think it would grate on you as well. But yes, VN and LM!!! The best!!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • That is my EXACT stance on reading in Spanish- minus the work emails for practice. I haven’t had much need to use Spanish in a practical way, but I really liked reading it in college and am somewhat ashamed that I’ve let that go.

        If my recent 2-star experience with Obioma was anything to go by, I’m sure reading more misogyny would bother me. I mainly wanted to read it because it was so beloved, but it’s been on my TBR for at least 5 years now, so removing it is no great loss.

        Liked by 1 person

      • This is one of the reasons I hate being American – our foreign language education is just so abysmal that even with our ‘second languages’ they’re often lost solely because there’s no necessity for us to actively practice them.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I’m really happy about the number of The Shadow of the Wind haters that I’m getting in the comments, lol. One of the most over-hyped books of all time. I do love musicals, especially Les Mis, but yes, the book is so much better!

      Like

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