The Translated Literature Book Tag

I saw a blog post this week on Portuguese reader Susana’s blog A Bag Full of Stories, and I enjoyed it so much that I decided to tag myself and take part. As you know, I am very opinionated when it comes to translations!

A translated novel you would recommend to everyone

Tove Jansson’s The True Deceiver (trans. Thomas Teal) is such a deceptively simple story of village life in winter and the friendship between two women, but it is full of undercurrents, ambiguity, darkness. Of course, if you haven’t read Tove Jansson at all, then I suggest you start with the Moomins, which are just as wonderful for grown-ups as they are for children.

A recently read “old” translated novel you enjoyed

The Strugatsky brothers’ Roadside Picnic, which was the inspiration for Tarkovsky’s film Stalker, was even better than I expected.

A translated book you could not get into

Everybody knows that my Achilles heel is The Brothers Karamazov, which is ironic, given that I love everything else that Dostoevsky wrote (and generally prefer him to Tolstoy). I have bought myself a new copy of it and will attempt it again (for the 5th time?).

Your most anticipated translated novel release

This is a little under the radar, but it sounds fascinating: Istros Books (one of my favourite publishers, for its brave championing of a part of Europe that is still woefully under-translated) is bringing out The Trap by Ludovic Bruckstein, a Romanian Jewish writer virtually unknown to me (because he emigrated in 1970 and was declared persona non grata in Romania). The book is made up of two novellas, offering, as the publisher blurb goes, ‘a fascinating depiction of rural life in the Carpathians around the time of the Second World War, tracing the chilling descent into disorder and fear of two cosmopolitan communities that had hitherto appeared to be havens of religious and racial acceptance’. The official launch will take place on 26th of September in London and you bet that I’ll be there!

A “foreign-language” author you would love to

I only discovered Argentinean author Cesar Aira in 2018, and he is so vastly prolific (and reasonably frequently translated) that I have quite a task ahead of me to catch up. His novels are exhilarating, slightly mad and, most importantly, quite short.

A translated novel which you consider to be better that the film

Movie still from Gigi.

Not many people will agree with me, but I prefer the very short novella Gigi by Colette to the famous musical version of it, starring Leslie Caron and Maurice Chevalier. The book’s ending is much more open to interpretation and makes you doubt the long-term happiness of young Gigi. It can be read as a satire and critique of the shallow world of Parisian society and the limited choices women had within it at the time.

A translated “philosophical” fiction book you recommend

Not sure I’ve read many of those! Reading biographies of philosophers or their actual work is more fun. The only example I can think of, and which I enjoyed at the time but haven’t reread in years, is Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder, transl. Paulette Moller.

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

Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall (trans. Shaun Whiteside) is a post-apocalyptic novel with a difference. I’ve been meaning to read this much praised novel forever, but in the original, so I finally bought it in Berlin last year… and still haven’t got around to reading it.

A popular translated fiction book you have not read yet

Korean fiction seems to be having a moment in the sun right now (thanks to a great influx of funding for translation and publication), especially the author Han Kang. I haven’t read the ever-popular The Vegetarian but her more recently translated one Human Acts (trans. Deborah Smith) sounds more on my wavelength, with its examination of policital dissent and its repercussions.

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

The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischwili, translated by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin is perhaps far too intimidatingly long (1000 pages) for me to read, but it sounds epic: six generations of a Georgian family living through the turbulent Soviet 20th century.

17 thoughts on “The Translated Literature Book Tag”

  1. Slightly disappointed to see that although I’ve read The Deceiver and four starred it, I didn’t write anything about it. Way too late now. Thank you for giving me a couple of things to put on my TRL – The Trap and The Wall. And the idea of doing one of these posts too!

  2. I knew you’d have some great ideas about this topic, Marina Sofia. And I think it’s really interesting how we can love one book (or even several) by an author, but not enjoy another. I have to admit, I suspected that you might mention Tove Jansson…

  3. The Haratischwili sounds fun, although as you say intimidatingly long.

    I smiled to see you mention the Gaarder as your nominee (so to speak) in the “philosophical” category), because it was the one I thought of immediately too. Embarrassingly, I bought a couple of his other novels on the strength of that one but have still to read them!

    1. A German author I’m friends with on Twitter had mentioned that book to me (it has been translated into German), so it was floating around somewhere in my semi-consciousness…

        1. Oh! You’re right — I’d misremembered. Mind you, it’s over a quarter of a century since I read it, so I’m not too troubled by this lapse!

    1. I mean, Gigi is only a very slight story without too many details in Colette’s version, while the film added all sorts of viewpoints and back stories, but just like with her novella La Chatte (The Cat), it works so much better when things are not spelled out too explicitly.

  4. Looking forward to your thoughts on The Wall. It’s one of the most impressive books I’ve read. It’s still so present although I read it as a teenager.

  5. Don’t be intimidated by The Eighth Life. I’m reading it now and it is marvellous. I’ll going to finish it faster than many a novel half its size.

  6. Great tag and such an interesting post! The True Deceiver is so good.

    I’ve not read Gigi but it’s in the TBR. I’m sure I’d agree with you because I really like Colette and I’m not keen on the film at all.

    I find big books intimidating – for some reason I think I’ll never finish them – and yet I’m very tempted by The Eighth Life…

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