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 . . .
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .