Reading Translations: Some Recommendations

If you missed my earlier post about how to get into reading translated books, then I'll just leave a sneaky little link right HERE. Today I wanted to share some translated titles to pick up if you have no idea where to get started! I've tried to gather a diverse range of titles here and hope to do another one of these master posts as I continue to explore more translations myself. Some of these have been previously featured in discussion and review posts, so I've provided links where relevant.

1. The Thief Lord - Cornelia Funke, translated by Oliver Latsch (The Chicken House, 2003)
I find the easiest way to ease into translated fiction is to start young. I discovered German author Cornelia Funke when I was a kid when I first read The Thief Lord. Set in the romantic city of Venice, Italy, it features two orphaned brothers befriended by a gang of street kids and their mysterious leader the Thief Lord. Add to that a bumbling police detective and a magical secret and the Thief Lord is an astonishing piece of middle grade fiction.

2. Norwegian Wood - Haruki Murakami, translated by Jay Rubin (Vintage Books, 2000)
This was the book that brought me back to translated fiction after I read it in college. Meet Toru, a quiet, solitary, and overly serious young man attending college in Tokyo. After losing their mutual best friend in high school, Toru remains loyal to the beautiful Naoko. But as she slowly withdraws from life, Toru finds himself pulled in by a fiercely independent young woman. A story of coming of age and sexual awakening, Norwegian Wood is the perfect book to spark your interest in translated fiction.

3. The Vegetarian - Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith (Hogarth, 2015)
The winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize, The Vegetarian is a striking work of literary fiction. When Yeong-hye, a perfectly ordinary woman, suffers a nightmare and decides to stop eating meat, she throws her marriage and family into chaos. The object of her husband's disgust, her brother-in-law's lust, and her sister's pity, Yeong-hye is determined to regain control over her body even if that means giving up her own life. I read this earlier in the year and it still stands as one of my favorite books of the year so far. Fans of literary fiction will absolutely devour this tiny novel and I would especially recommend this to those particular to Haruki Murakami.
  > Read the review.

4. Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness - Kenzaburo Oe, translated by John Nathan (Grove Press, 1977)
The only short story collection on this list, Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness is full of the twisted and grotesque. In one story, an overweight man believes he's the only connection between his mentally disabled son and the real world. In another, a young man is hired to be the companion of a young composer whose constant companion is the ghost of his dead baby. Although not necessarily for the translation-newbie, these stories will appeal to a warped sense of humor, an interest in father-son relationships, the act of seclusion, or what we inherit when we are born.
  > Read the review.

5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson, translated by Reg Keeland (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2009)
If you're interested in trying translated fiction but are into the more literary stuff, crime fiction is an equally great place to start. Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist and magazine publisher, is riding out a libel conviction when he is approached by the head of one of Sweden's wealthiest families to look into a years old disappearance. Enter Lisbeth Salander, the pierced and tattooed lesbian hacker who Blomkvist hires as a research assistant. This is the first book in the world-famous Millennium Trilogy and if you like twisted, complicated plots set in the cold of the Swedish countryside, I can't imagine a better place to start with translated fiction.
  > Read the discussion.

6. Out - Natsuo Kirino, translated by Stephen Snyder (Vintage Books, 2005)
When a housewife and bento box factory worker snaps and strangles her husband to death while her children sleep in the next room, she turns to her colleagues for help. The women come together to help dispose of the body but as they sink deeper into Tokyo's gritty underbelly, the farther they drift apart. I just finished this book a few weeks ago and my first comment would be that this is not a book for the faint of heart, but a must-read for fans of gritty and slightly disturbing crime fiction.

7. The Lais of Marie de France, translated by Glyn S. Burgess and Keith Busby (Penguin Books, 1999)
This one might seem like an odd addition to the list, but bear with me. Marie de France is the earliest known female French poet who wrote her lais based on Breton tales of chivalry and romance. In "Lanval," she writes about a rather emasculated knight who surprisingly takes a fairy lover. In "Bisclavret," Marie offers her own take on one of the earliest stories associated with the werewolf myth. In short, if you're at all a fan of modern fantasy and want to see the origins of all of your favorite mythical creatures with a little knightly chivalry thrown in, I'd suggest checking this one out.

8. Candide, or Optimism - Voltaire, translated by Theo Cuffe (Penguin Books, 2005)
Part philosophical satire, part gallivanting adventure, Candide is like nothing else on this list. Candide has been taught by the ridiculous Dr. Pangloss that they live in the best of all possible worlds. The question is, can he hold onto that positive outlook on the world even when he begins experiencing loss and hardship for the first time? You might not think something written in the 18th century can be funny, but this one had me snorting with laughter in several places. The satire is spot on and still so relevant.

9. The Bookseller of Kabul - Asne Seierstad, translated by Ingrid Christophersen (Back Bay Books, 2004)
From a Norwegian reporter specializing in bringing us stories from the middle of war zones, The Bookseller of Kabul is an enlightening look at family life in violence-stricken Afghanistan. It tells the story of one man who risked his freedom and his family through three decades of repressive regimes to bring books to the people of Kabul. I think this is an important book to read in today's international climate, when we all think we know everything about the people of the Middle East.

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