Sunday Salon: Reading books in translation?



I read translations very rarely. I’ve never been satisfied with the books I have read, so have always been disappointed with the ones I have picked up.

I only completed Papillion by Henri Charrière because it was a book club reading, and I hated every minute of it. I know other people who adore it….

The Antiquarian by Gustavo Faveron Patriau – couldn’t finish it in the end. It had a good premise, but got bogged down in paragraphs, even sentences that lasted more than a page. I could appreciate the words being used, but it was just so tiring reading it.  

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco – another book I thought I’d love, just couldn’t penetrate the language.  I never wrote a review for this one. I have no idea whether the film matched the book.

On the other hand – I loved Anna Karenina to the point where I’ve read it several times, and plan to read again. My “problem” with the Russians is not the translation but the cast of thousands, where I can’t keep track of everyone’s multiple names. I’ll have to try War and Peace again, whenever I work out how to track the cast.

I’ve enjoyed reading books such as The Tattoo Murder Case by Akimitsu Takagi, “Out” by Natsuo Kirino, both of which are Japanese. I read quite a few books set in India and the far east, but actually don’t know if they are written in English or not!

Since I originally wrote this post, I have also read – and enjoyed – The Winemaker Detective books which have been written in French and read in English (so well done Le French Book as the publishers and their translators!). I have also read a few of the Inspector Montalbano books, which have been translated from the Sicilian (an apparently difficult version of Italian that’s notorious to understand the nuances, even by the Italians)

I think it boils down to the way the book is written and with how it’s translated. The three books above are very meandering, with The Antiquarian going for page long paragraphs with nary a full stop to be seen. I get bored quickly, I can’t tolerate having to go well over a page before finding out where I can take a metaphorical breath. Some people love this kind of narration – I don’t.

So what about you, dear reader – Do you read books in translation?  Tell me about three that you have read? What are the last 3 books in translation you read?



19 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: Reading books in translation?

  1. I think the last three translations that I read were HHhH by Laurent Binet, The Hen who dreamed she could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang and Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch.


  2. Hmm. Last three books in translation:
    -The Dinner: Very good, very interesting. It read naturally, no problem with the translation at all.
    -The Alchemist: Fantastic. I bought this in an english bookstore in Korea, but it was originally written in Portuguese. It was beautiful.
    -Anna Karenina: I’m reading this right now, and so far, so good. I’m a sucker for doomed romances.


  3. Do I read books in translation – yes, far more in the last two years than ever before. I think you’ve just had bad luck with the ones you mention and they weren’t your preferred style. Three I would recommend:
    – After the Banquet by Yukio Mishima
    – Either Germinal or L’Assommoir by Emile Zola
    – Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert


  4. I do, though I try to make an effort to read it in the original language if it’s a language I’m reasonably fluent in. Good books (and good translations) I’ve read somewhat recently are:

    Your Republic is Calling You by Kim Young-Ha (translated from Korean)
    Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami (translated from Japanese)
    Piercing by Ryu Murakami (translated from Japanese) (unrelated, as far as I know)

    Books I’ve read in English and then in their original language:

    Le Petit Prince (French)
    Doktor Glas (Swedish)


    • I have to read in translation as even my french isnt good enough for Le Petit Prince (my 7 yo nephew is great at reading it in English)

      Thanks for the suggestions!


  5. I do typically read books in translation, but this year I haven’t at all. It’s been a year of lighter, more comfort type reads for me, and a lot of the books in translation I read are more intense.

    The last three I read were:
    Roberto Bolano’s By Night in Chile, which was a reread. Very good.
    Herta Müller’s The Land of Green Plums. Similar to a lot of eastern bloc literature I’ve read. Recommended.
    Gao Xingjiang, Buying a Fishing Rod for my Grandfather. Short story collection. A couple were good, the others…not so much.


  6. I’m trying to read more books in translation this year. I just finished Le Grand Meaulnes (review to come)…in this case I did feel that the translation was a problem. I did not get the magical, transported feeling from the rather staid, formal English language that I imagine might be more possible in French. Anna Karenina is one on my TBR list, and I’m looking forward to that.


  7. I do read in translation, though I seem to have read fewer this year. My favourites are probably:
    Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
    The Book of Proper Names by Amélie Nothomb
    The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
    but I also love Colette, Blaise Cendrars, Yann Martel… There are so many great books out there written in other languages. I highly recommend anything published by Peirene Press or & Other Stories, which both specialise in translated fiction and have fantastic selections.


    • thanks for the recommendations – from the comments recently, I’m realising that 1) there are some great books out there 2) that I’ve read more of them than I realise! (am lazy and assume that most books are written in English no matter what)


  8. I read Inkheart in translation which was pretty awesome 🙂 and John Ajvide Lindqvist (Scandi-horror) as well as the pre-requisite scandi-noir. And Alexandre Dumas. He’s so awesome.

    I recently read a Roald Dahl book in Welsh (Roald Dahl was Welsh but not a Welsh-speaker,) – Moddion Rhyfeddol George (George’s Marvellous Medicine) and I was surprised at how awesome it was! I’m trying to improve my Welsh so found it handy to have a story I already knew. Although… George’s grandmother is freaking scary when yelling at him in Welsh!


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