Reading in #Translation, A Literary Revolution #WITMonth

Sometimes it’s interesting to pause and look back at a reading journey and observe the reading milestones that helped deliver us to where our preferences are today. As many of you who’ve been reading Word by Word for a while will know, I like to read around the world, across cultures and that has led me to read more literature in translation.

It has become easier to find more diverse literature than in the past, thanks to the wonderful community of readers/bloggers who write with passion about books and to initiatives like the annual August ‘Women in Translation’ #WITMonth, also lead by a passionate blogger, Meytal Radzinski who blogs at Biblibio.

Tilted Axis Press was founded in 2015 by Deborah Smith, translator of Korean literature, while she was completing a PhD in contemporary Korean literature. She translated both of Han Kang’s excellent books, which I’ve read and reviewed here, the incredible Human Acts (my personal favourite) and last years Man Booker International Prize winner The Vegetarian. They are a small, not for profit publisher of works that might not otherwise appear in English, books with

“artistic originality, radical vision, the sense that here is something new”

Recently they asked me for my thoughts on  reading literature in translation, and published my response on their website, which I’ve linked here. It also includes a list of some of my favourite novels in translation and some of the excellent bloggers I rely on to keep me informed. Click on the link below to read the article.

My Thoughts on

Reading in Translation, A Literary Revolution

I hope you enjoy it and find a good book to read in translation during August. Do you have a recent favourite book that you’ve read in translation to recommend? Please let me know in the comments below.

 

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26 thoughts on “Reading in #Translation, A Literary Revolution #WITMonth

  1. I also have the blogging world to thank for introducing me to many novels in translation, including you, Claire. My most recent favourite is Daniel Kehlmann’s gothic novella, You Should Have Left (translated by Ross Benjamin). I’ve yet to read a Kehlmann I’ve not enjoyed.

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  2. Hi,

    LOVED THIS BLOG….Really insightful both on your history of reading and contemporary approach to your today approach ….and that of course will change again.

    5% translation is deplorable in the English school of reading.

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  3. I read quite a lot of literature from other countries, and occasionally bemoan the lack of translations into English in my blog, but I count myself lucky that I can read French too, and so often come back from a trip to France with quite a few books translated from other languages into French… so my question is, why are relatively few books translated into English, compared with into French (and presumably other languages, too)? Because books don’t only get translated from English to French… is there someone out there deciding that there are enough English books and we don’t need any more from other countries? I do find this vexing…

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    • It’s a really good question and all I could offer would be provocative theories on cultural preferences. I love how incredibly diverse the number of countries and languages are translated into French and even when a title gets translated into English, I often find that the French are about 6 books ahead in their translations, which probably means they have stronger networks of readers, translators and possibly a lot more smaller presses that are able to survive because the country and its population are such consummate readers.

      I find it a little ironic that their reading tastes are a lot more diverse than their travel destinations, many French prefer to travel to destinations where French is spoken, although this is changing as they are becoming more adept at speaking English. There isn’t the same hunger/interest for stories from other cultures in the English speaking world, we are a small minority. I also noticed when I moved to France, that the English bookshop carried a lot more US authors than I’d ever seen in British bookstores, many names unknown to me previously, especially creative nonfiction titles, a genre I wasn’t even aware of.We have little idea of how our preferences are being moulded until we move elsewhere (or start following bloggers with particular interests) and find other sets of references completely outside that which we have been exposed to.

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  4. Claire, I loved reading the article you wrote! I can relate to so many pieces of it, beginning with the Scholastic leaflet which I yearned over. (My dear mother most often said, “We have a library, use that.” Which was true enough.) You discovered translated literature far before I did, though, even though I, too, found books so terribly narrow. (I still do; what’s up with all the lost women looking for a man or healing or both; boy wizards; mysteries all hinging around the same theme as Gone Girl?) Translated literature gives us such a world view, expands our minds and understanding and awareness that I don’t know how anyone can NOT read it. Thanks for your lovely thoughts, for including me with such highly esteemed bloggers. I am humbled and grateful.

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    • Thank you! I love keeping up with what’s being published in translation even if I can’t read everything and value your reading of the MBI long list, all that Japanese literature and more! I too feel like I’m only really at the beginning of discovering writers from other countries, which is exciting really, so much still to discover. Looking forward to some great titles in August, do you have a few titles to read for #WITMonth?

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  5. I always find Murakami’s works to be so incredibly beautiful in English that I can only wonder at how stunning they must be in the original Japanese. His fiction and his nonfiction both just flow so eloquently it makes me wish I could read Japanese.

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    • I love that when a work in translation can be so transcending even in English, I have such immense gratitude that that is possible. It reminds me too how I love to see VO (version original) films to hear the original language of a film, I remember watching one of Ang Lee’s films, I think it was Lust, Caution at the cinema here in Chinese with French subtitles, a unique experience but better than watching it being dubbed over in French, which is the alternative! Thanks for leaving a comment Geoff, nice to see you catching up on reading blogs 🙂

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    • Thanks Becca, I read one author from Bolivia last year and look forward to discovering more, Marcelo Figueras’ book Kamchatka is great too, inspired by some of his own childhood memories in Argentina. The Mati Hari novel sounds intriguing.

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  6. What a beautiful, thoughtful piece on the riches to be gained from reading literature in translation. I really enjoyed your reflections on this. And thank you so much for including me on your list of bloggers – that’s very gracious of you.

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    • Thank you Jacqui, for your words and for your reading, which always delights me in its expansiveness, so many translated delights remain on my wish list having been discovered via your thoughtful and comprehensive reviews. I look forward to trying to keep up, though that’s the fabulous thing about blogs, we can catch up later no problem after a busy period offline.

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  7. You always open my eyes to books I should pay attention to, and now I know even more about you and how your love of reading evolved. Am beginning #WITMonth with ‘Woman at Point Zero’ by Nawal El Saadawi, which has been sitting too long in that TBR pile. As to those already read, I count Agota Kristof’s trilogy (‘The Notebook,’ ‘The Proof,’ ‘The Third Lie’) and Valeria Luiselli’s ‘The Story of My Teeth’ among the more inventive works of fiction I’ve come across.

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  8. First of all, I was tickled to see your mention of Scholastic, and will be passing it on to Graham Beatty and another dear friend who worked there… they will be tickled too… Graham still writes a very influential book blog…
    Your article was as thoughtful, wide=ranging and erudite as your lovely reviews… and I’m going to be following up so many of your references, including the Gwang-do massacre ( sure I’ve got that wrong, and will have to go back to your article to get the spelling right)… which I’d never heard of – I feel ashamed to even write that…
    So glad your blog gets the appreciation it deserves…

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    • Oh yes those scholastic leaflets were better than Christmas, the joy in poring over them was a gift in itself and I’m sure the fact that it wasn’t often I was allowed to get one made it all the more precious. I shall have to find and follow Graham’s blog, thank you for that.

      Thank you for the kind comments on my article, it was fun to be asked and to write something that journeys back to the beginning and was always a kind of search and understanding of myself I guess, that desire to undo or open up my own conditioning and way of seeing to embrace alternative cultural and world views, through storytelling. We should not dwell on the shame of not knowing but celebrate that the opportunities to view another perspective and learn the significant events of the lives of others is opening a little wider all the time. Happy Reading and writing Valerie!

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  9. Hi Claire! I enjoyed reading about your beginnings with books, and some of the life experiences and travels which have made you such a highly-global reader. Reading reviews on your blog for the past few years has expanded my awareness of much more writing in english and in translation than I could have accessed on my own – even if I haven’t been able to read all the books and authors you recommend. Now I look forward to checking out some of the blogs you recommend in your piece for Tilted Axis Press 😊.

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  10. There are so many translated books that I have been enjoying. If you like mystery, The Flatey Enigma by Viktor Amar Ingolfs takes place in Iceland and revolves around an actual medieval manuscript. The author reveals, per chapter, a few lines from the manuscript and weaves a tale of murder occurring in 1960s Iceland. I like mythology, ancient texts, etc., so read the book twice. The translation is excellent, also 🙂

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    • Oh that sounds excellent, thank you so much, I’m adding that to my list of books to get hold of, a reread is high praise indeed! I’m discovering I like those references to ancient texts as well and I know so little about them, so it’s a wonderful opportunity to discover them, within the context of an absorbing novel.

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