Compiling the list of Best Translations was fascinating to me for a number of reasons. One of the first things that struck me is how paradoxical the situation regarding international literature is. Minutes after putting this first seeds of this list online, I started getting enthusiastic e-mails about books that should be included, along with a number of great comments. (This thread has been the most visited and most commented upon of all Three Percent undertakings.)
At the same time, there were a number of messages that fell into the “I haven’t read this, but I’ve heard it’s good” camp. In a way, trying to come up with a list of the “best” translations was at times an exercise in trying to think of books that were published in translation . . . (Which led to my Three Percent New Year Resolution)
Looking over the final list of 50 books, I can’t imagine anyone in the world having read all of these, which is sort of disturbing, but really a fact of life when you consider how many books there are and how little time there is in a year.
Anyway, after pulling this together, I thought it would be interesting to see how things broke down across language and publishing lines. Some of it’s too be expected, but still sort of curious.
Twenty-one languages are represented on the list, with French (11 books or 22%) being the most, Spanish (10, 20%) in second, and German (4), Russian (4), and Japanese (3) rounding out the top five. Two titles from both Arabic and Hebrew made the list, and the following languages each had one title: Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Flemish, Hungarian, Italian, Korean, Nepali, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Romanian, and Turkish. Overall, a pretty nice balance.
The publishing houses represented break down in an interesting way as well, with university presses and independent presses making up the bulk of the list (about 75%). The presses most represented are New Directions (6 titles), Dalkey Archive (4), Soft Skull (4), Harcourt (3), and New York Review Books (3). Archipelago, Columbia, HarperCollins, Melville House, Nan A. Talese, Other Press, and Princeton each had 2 titles on the list. The following each had 1 book: American University in Cairo, California, Dedalus, Ecco, Europa, Fordham, FSG, Graywolf, MIT, New Press, Overlook, Penguin, Shoemaker & Hoard, SUNY, Toby, and Ugly Duckling.
There were six poetry recommendations, and four essays, so fiction made up a whopping 80% of the long-list.
Four translators appear on the list more than once: Chris Andrews, Susan Bernofsky, and Charlotte Mandell, and Natasha Wimmer.
Although we (publishers and readers) bitch and moan about the state of translations all the time, it is encouraging to me to see such a diverse and interesting list of original translations, Now I just need to find the time to read all of them . . .
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .
Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .
There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in Morse, My Deaf Friend— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .
The Crimson Thread of Abandon is the first collection of short fiction available in English by the prolific Japanese writer and all-around avant-garde trickster Terayama Shūji, who died in 1983 at the age of 47. This collection would be important. . .