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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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!
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