Back in January I set myself the challenge of reading at least one book in translation a month for the rest of the year.
Following recommendations from all you lovely bloggers, I drew up a list of the books I planned to read – which, it has to be said, I have been particularly bad at sticking to!
However, I did manage to complete the challenge, although I didn’t review all the books. Here’s what I read:
January – Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Despentes, translated by Frank Wynne
Lullaby by Leila Slimani, translated by Sam Taylor
February – Her Father’s Daughter by Marie Sizun, translated by Adriana Hunter
March – Such Small Hands by Andres Barba, translated by Lisa Dillman
April – This Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets, translated by Valerie Miles
May – Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino, translated by Alexander O. Smith
June – Seeing Red by Lina Meruane, translated by Megan McDowell
July – The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault, translated by Liedewy Hawke
August – Life, A User’s Manual by Georges Perec, translated by David Bellos
September – Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag, translated by Srinath Perur
October – The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith
November – Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell
December – A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler, translated by Charlotte Collins
I really enjoyed by year of reading work in translation and it drove me to pick up books from that I otherwise might have overlooked. My favourites were the ones I started and ended my challenge with.
Vernon Subutex by Virginie Despentes was a riot of a novel – a brash, vivid journey around modern day Paris. It was highly enjoyable and expertly translated by Frank Wynne, who must have had a lot of fun with some of the more colourful language in the book!
I ended the year at the other end of the spectrum with the beautiful novella A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler. This is one of those quiet, thoughtful novels that seems to be about not very much but in fact contains everything about the human condition. Charlotte Collins translation is just as thoughtful, staying faithful to the ponderous, moving subject matter. I also had the pleasure of meeting both Frank and Charlotte when they came to HomePlace to take part in a fascinating panel discussion on the art of translation.
Not all my choices were successful. Salvation of a Saint was a distinctly unthrilling thriller that plodded along to its inevitable conclusion and I didn’t get on very well with Lina Meruane’s much lauded Seeing Red. Samanta Schweblin’s Mouthful of Birds was good in parts, but patchy and lacked focus.
Interestingly, a lot of these books were short, almost novella length reads and the best ones contained a lot of power, namely the wonderful Ghachar Ghochar, the terrifying Such Small Hands and the unforgettable The Vegetarian. It’s also interesting that as I read more books in translation, I am getting to know the work of the translators as well and I know that if I was to see a book translated by Frank Wynne, Megan McDowell, Deborah Smith or Charlotte Collins, I would have no hesitation in giving it a try.
I definitely plan to keep up this challenge into next year and to maybe get to a few of the books that were on my original list but that I didn’t get round to this year which were:
The Poor Mouth by Flann O’Brien
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors
Iza’s Ballad by Magda Szabó
Blindness by José Saramago
I really am not very good at sticking to lists!
Have you read any great books in translation this year that you would recommend I also line up for 2019? I’d love to hear your suggestions!
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!