One book that I read in translation and particularly enjoyed was Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. Conceived as part of a five-part novel sequence, the first two sections that the author wrote before her death at Auschwitz in 1942 were only rediscovered and translated relatively recently. The characters that she has created are just wonderful and there are moments of humour, love and hope in among the most desperate of circumstances. I highly recommend it! Next on my list is The Eighth Life by Georgian novelist Nino Haratischvili, translated from the German by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin, another epic family saga.
My suggestion may be somewhat trite to a Russian palate, but I would, nevertheless, mention The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.
True, its relevance is diminished outside of the context of its setting, but this should not take away from the joyous experience of its narrative describing the Devil’s sojourn in Moscow of the late 1920s tinted by the Philistine views of its inhabitants and interspersed with flashbacks to Jerusalem in the early 30s AD. It is by turns funny and sad, exhilarating and melancholy but ultimately kind and reassuring with very little malice and a lot of hope.
Unfortunately, none of the English translations I’ve seen seem to do it justice. They all fail, in one way or another, to capture its mood and communicate the emotional tapestry of a nation living through the most tumultuous decades of its history. Still, maybe I missed that one gem that manages to transplant this heady story into the mind of the English speaker without losing any of its glory. I certainly recommend you have a look for yourself.
My favourite book is Der Vorleser, or The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink (English translation by Carol Brown Janeway). It was later adapted for the silver screen and the film, starring Kate Winslet, was released in 2008.
I first came across this German novel during my language studies and its narrative has stayed with me ever since. The book won several literary awards in Germany and was well received across the world, which led to it being translated into many different languages. In my opinion, it thoroughly deserves all the praise it has received! Feelings of love, guilt and betrayal from the protagonists feature heavily in this novel but what I particularly liked was Schlink’s ability to make you, as the reader, think introspectively.
The only books I can think of that I have read in their translated form are a few by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, including Love in the time of Cholera: “The world is divided into those who screw and those who do not. He distrusted those who did not—when they strayed from the straight and narrow it was something so unusual for them that they bragged about love as if they had just invented it.”
I read all of the Sophie Kinsella Shopaholic books (9 now – https://www.sophiekinsella.co.uk/book-series/shopaholic-series/) in Italian – they were actually written in English originally, but I didn’t know this when I was studying in Italy and I picked up the first one at Feltrinelli (Italian bookstore). I read it in Italian and just kept going as they are so light-hearted and easy to read, but keep my language skills ticking over!
For translations into English, the last one I read was Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s La Sombra Del Viento (Shadow of the Wind, translation by Lucia Graves) – it’s originally in Spanish and it was such a great translation that I didn’t realise that it was a translation until I found out later!
I would recommend the translated short stories by Saadat Hasan Manto, who was born in India and then migrated to Pakistan after partition (1947). His stories were originally in Urdu but several English translations exist. His writings are controversial and satirical and portray a very graphic image of the realities of the partition of India and Pakistan. They provide a window into the complex nature of the human mind through stories of the marginalised who didn’t make the news but were gravely affected by the 1947 tragedy.
A recent survey found that nearly one in three people are reading more during lockdown. In these difficult times, this wonderful habit is helping people stay engaged and entertained. If you too have read any inspiring books in translation recently, please do share your recommendations with us!