My 2018 Novels in Translation Challenge is complete!

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!

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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

FebruaryHer Father’s Daughter by Marie Sizun, translated by Adriana Hunter

MarchSuch Small Hands by Andres Barba, translated by Lisa Dillman

AprilThis Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets, translated by Valerie Miles

MaySalvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino, translated by Alexander O. Smith

JuneSeeing Red by Lina Meruane, translated by Megan McDowell

JulyThe Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault, translated by Liedewy Hawke

AugustLife, A User’s Manual by Georges Perec, translated by David Bellos

SeptemberGhachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag, translated by Srinath Perur

OctoberThe Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith

NovemberMouthful 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!

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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!

novels in translation The 746

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

41 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Well done! Such a good challenge! And of course I’m delighted you read the Perec… I’d highly recommend any Bulgakov, though I’d suggest avoiding the P/V translation of M&M. And Saramago’s “Death at Intervals” will be one of my favourites from 2018.

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  2. Well done with your aim of reading more books in translation, that’s an interesting selection of titles. A friend has just read The Vegetarian with her book group, a good choice for discussion – like you, she found it very striking.

    If you’re looking for more suggestions for the future, I can recommend Irmgard Keun, a German writer from the 1930s. She’s probably been my best discovery in translation in recent years. Oh and Francoise Sagan – she’s perfect for the summer.

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    • I’ve read Bonjour Tristesse Jacqui, for French A Level and I always meant to read more of her work. I’ve just done an internet search on Irmgard Keun and she sounds so interesting. The Artificial Silk Girl appeals to me. Thank you!

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  3. Well done on this challenge! Some great books in translation I’ve read this year are Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko, Revenge by Yoko Ogawa, Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, and Medea by Christa Wolf. All highly recommended. I’d also like to incorporate more works in translation into my 2019 reading. The Master and Margarita is one I have on my list too, we shall have to compare notes.

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  4. Congratulations, Cathy! You have a great list here 🙂 Now I am even more curious to read Vernon Subutex. As for your list for next year, I loved The Master and Margarita & Blindness, so I highly recommend those! And I also have Mirror, Shoulder, Signal & Iza’s Ballad on my TBR – I read other books by those authors & loved both 🙂

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    • I enjoyed Vernon a lot Juliana – it’s very full on and Despentes pulls no punches. I have Vernon 2 waiting to be read! I still plan to get to Mirror, Shoulder, Signal – I think it sounds intriguing.

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  5. Congrats on reaching your goal! The Vegetarian sounds wonderful; I’ll be sure to try to check it out next month, when I focus on works in translation. This year I enjoyed Négar Djavadi’s Disoriental and Hanne Ørstavik’s Love, which was a short but mesmerizing read.

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  6. Reading in translation has widened my world as well and I’m going to enjoy following up on some of your recommendations.

    As for some of my favourites, I thought Jenny Erpenbeck’s Go, Went, Gone outstanding. Another German writer I have just discovered is Eugen Ruge: I am enjoying In Times of Fading Light, a family saga set in the GDR during the Cold War.

    And last but by no means least a long term favourite of mine is the Thai classic The Path of The Tiger by Sila Komchai.

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  7. What a fantastic project! And even if you ended up choosing slightly different books, than you’d planned on from the outset, it seems like it was (overall) a success. Sometimes we just a plan to get us going and, then, we can wander a little along the way.

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  8. Congratulations! I really enjoy reading in translation and I do love a novella so you’ve given me plenty of tips here. I hope you get to Mirror Shoulder Signal next year – I thought it was a joy when I read it earlier this year.

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  9. Well done, it’s such a rich field, translated fiction, and my most consistent source of recommendations is Stu’s blog Winston’s Dad. I don’t think any of us could keep up with the amount of TF he reads, but his blog is a good place to find contemporary authors as well as the tried and true or high profile authors who get the most exposure. I did a year of Reading Russia before I went there on holiday, all based on his recommendations, and it was the best thing I ever did:)

    My recommendation, however, comes via Guy from His Futile Preoccupations. It’s called City Folk and Country Folk, by Sofia Khvoshchinskaya translated by Nora Seligman. I was attracted to it because it’s a gentle satire in the way of Jane Austen, only recently translated as is the way with so many women authors who write in languages other than English. My review is here, and there’s a link (in the first para) through to Guy’s review too: https://anzlitlovers.com/2018/08/22/city-folk-and-country-folk-by-sofia-khvoshchinskaya-translated-by-nora-seligman-favorov/

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  10. I’m so pleased to see Charlotte Collins on your list of translators to read, Cathy. I first came to her through the Seethaler and everything I’ve read that she’s worked on since I’ve loved. I do so wish that translators got the recognition they deserve here in the UK. I understand it’s different in France.

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  11. You did way better than I did this year with works in translation. It’s something I want to return to next year especially now I see your comments re the Seethaler of which I have a copy. As you say, a few of these are books I wouldn’t normally have picked up either but often I find them memorable (like the Vegetarian which haunts me)

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  12. I’m challenging myself to read more in translation next year, a good idea to set yourself a challenge! I haven’t read any on your list but the Flann O’Brian’s I have read have been amazing.

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  13. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the role of the translator in literature; they are really the unsung heroes of the book world. I must second the calls here for you to get to My Brilliant Friend – it was hands-down the best book in translation (heck, probably the best book full-stop) I read in 2018. Really looking forward to seeing where in the world this project takes you next! 😍

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