Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Best Foreign Books You've Never Heard Of

NPR.com has a rather limited list of the best foreign books you've never heard of that are available in English translations. The piece cites the oft-quoted 3% statistic: "Only about 3 percent of all books published in the United States are works that have been translated ... . In terms of literary fiction, the number falls below 1 percent ... ." Such statistics spark comments about America's literary insularity like those made recently by Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy.

5 comments:

bermudaonion said...

Interesting piece. I'll have to investigate some foreign books.

Anna van Gelderen said...

Ha! Here at least are several books I've read: 

 I read Jonathan Coe's The House of Sleep several years ago, but liked the earlier What a Carve Up! better; The Rotters' Club is on my tbr pile

Ismail Kadare's The Three-Arched Bridge is rather unusual and very good. I bought another of his novels, The Dream Palace, a couple of months ago.

Imre Kertesz: purchased Liquidation recently. Maybe not as good as the two novels mentioned, but it was a very cheap and very nice-looking hardback copy. Hard to resist.

Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses is a very beautiful novel. I am now trying to decide which of his other novels I would like to read next: In Siberia or In the Wake.

Naguib Mahfouz, The Thief and the Dogs: definitely recommended

Haruki Murakami: hm, I read two of his novels, was intrigued, but somehow Haruki and I did not quite hit it off. I still might give him another try, though.

And finally a recommendation from the Netherlands (though I am not normally chauvinistic): The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi by Arthur Japin, a beautifully written, moving, sensitive and intelligent novel based upon the true story of two Ghanese princes who came to study at a Dutch university in the 19th century.

Sandra said...

Literature in translation, good translation, is my favourite reading. My LT catalogue lists 557 books in that category; I did not include my Latin or Greek classics.
It's a little more work to find out what's really good, the Nobels can be a good place to start, but it's really worth the effort.
I have enjoyed works by Kertesz, Petterson, Mafouz,and Murakami too, as mentioned by your previous commenter. There are so many treasures out there if people would try them. Thank you for writing about this.

Gwen Dawson said...

Sandra, have you checked into Open Letter Books? It's the University of Rochester's new press, and they're focused on great works in translation. The books are beautiful, and the subscription prices are cheap. I agree with you that works in translation are some of the best books we have access to.

Gwen

Matt said...

I've got one that I recommend to everyone: Shadow Without a Name by Ignacio Padilla. It's very convoluted story with four incarnations of an identity. It all begins on a train bound for the frontline in Austria. Two swapped names after a chess game.

Another that comes off to my head is The Egyptial by Miki Walteri.