Booksellers' Favorite Translations - 2019

February 20th, 2020


Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino 

This book is like tumbling through a lovely, vivid dream. Each city is gorgeous and thought-provoking and tantalizingly ephemeral. Read this book to dance among the stars while curled up in your chair.

Life of Galileo, Bertolt Brecht

Brecht's words dazzle and enthrall but also deeply affect in this play about faith and science. Galileo the man is made familiar and human as he resists the silencing hand of the Catholic church, pleading with them to see the extraordinary beauty of the solar system.

Adam B

Ema The Captive, César Aira (translation by Chris Andrews)

In addition to having one of the most gorgeous covers, Ema The Captive is a book that is definitely best enjoyed outdoors. It manages to be both beautifully pastoral and shockingly, brutally violent at the same time (a fitting reflection of nature itself). I also thoroughly enjoyed his more lighthearted The Seamstress and the Wind.

The Plotters, Un-su Kim (translation by Sora Kim-Russell)

A speculative assassin thriller taking place in a recently reunited Korean peninsula -- however, some of the more problematic ex-leaders and bureaucrats still need dealing with. The Plotters exhibits the touches of nihilism and deep cynicism that are mainstays of Korean literature without totally grinding you into existential muck.

Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants, Mathias Enard (translation by Charlotte Mandell)

Enard provides a fictionalized recreation of Michelangelo's time in Constantinople, having been commissioned to design a bridge after Da Vinci's design proved impossible to engineer. This intoxicating blending of East and West is filled with gorgeous prose.  I recently picked up the Co-op's copy of his other novel, Zone, that I'm eagerly looking forward to getting to.


A Sorrow Beyond Dreams: A Life StoryPeter Handke (translation by Ralph Manheim)

This is a haunting, affecting book about memory and the act of writing. It concerns the life of Handke's mother, a deeply broken yet equally sympathetic woman whose end -- suicide at the age of 51 -- begins the book. But Handke's project is not strictly biographical: the portrait he paints of his mother has the entire pre-war European world swirling around her, and remembering the details of her life causes him to reflect upon the problems inherent in memory and turns the act of writing into a struggle against oblivion.


Le Petit PrinceAntoine de Saint-Exupéry

is a perennial favorite of many, and with good reason. Like all good children's books, it transcends childhood matters and speaks to pursuing happiness, finding love, and making choices.  For me, as lovely as traditional English translations can be, there is nothing like the original spare French to truly break your heart.

Des InconnuesPatrick Modiano

Patrick Modiano's Des Inconnues consists of three stories of women, unnamed and unknown (Des Inconnues), often grappling with political or physical violence. It touches on anti-Algerian prejudice, femininity, and unreliable identity, and is one of my favorites by this often-overlooked Nobel Prize winner.

The Shadow of the WindCarlos Ruiz Zafon (translation by Lucia Graves)

Poetic, melancholic, and deeply steeped in bibliomania, the first book traces one reclusive novelist and his inspiring--and destructive--masterpiece throughout Barcelona.  Each successive book is centered around a different linked character from the original novel, adding nuance and color to an already-fascinating world. When a story opens with a visit to the Cemetery of Lost Books, can one really ask for more?

Inferno: A New Verse Translation, Dante Alighieri (translation by Michael Palma)

Michael Palma's translation of Dante's Inferno is perfection. While it’s not word-for-word exact, the poetic soul is right. Palma keeps Dante’s terza rima (including the linking rhyme), so the rhythm and rhyme pull your reading forward. It has some clunky moments, but overall, I adore it. Plus, facing translation pages let me pretend my Italian is better than it is!

War Music: An Account of Homer's Iliad, Christopher Logue

Christopher Logue's retelling of The Iliad, War Music, is one of my favorite pieces of poetry of all time. Logue's spare style fits the militaristic narrative; yet, he somehow makes the narrative fresh and modern, so when a god suddenly appears, it's almost as shocking for the modern reader as it is for the Greeks and Trojans. A deceptively easy read with some real depth to its underpinnings.


Heartbreak Tango, Manuel Puig (translated by Suzanne Jill Levine)

The reader becomes a detective from the 1930s: the narration consists of letters sent (and not sent) between characters, newspaper articles, and shifting narrators. With tango as theme and mood, this story of passion and deceit exposes class divisions and racism, becoming a portrait of Argentine society that still rings true. Also find the original Spanish version, Boquitas Pintadas, in our Untranslated section.

The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry, edited by Ilan Stavans

A very lovely book, which I didn't read this year but which I treasure. It's a great introduction to poetry of Latin America and it's bilingual with side-by-side text and translation in English.


Black Shack Alley, Joseph Zobel (translated by Translated by Charly Verstraet and Jeffrey Landon Allen)

With great detail and powerful imagery, Black Shack Alley captures the semi-autobiographical story of a boy growing up on a plantation in post-slavery Martinique. It portrays the people who inhabit little José's life in full depth, as well as the sugarcane fields, schools, and tightly packed neighborhoods which form his surroundings. As he matures, he makes more and more social observations about his world, coming to understand (and resist) his predetermined place in an economically and racially stratified society. You can also find the original French version, La rue Cases Negrès, in our Untranslated section.

For Bread Alone, Mohamed Choukri (translated by Paul Bowles)

For Bread Alone is the first part of writer Mohamed Choukri's autobiography, which covers his childhood in Northern Morocco. Having left his family, he undertakes whatever necessary to feed himself and stay safe. Meanwhile, Spanish colonial violence is escalating in turn with the growing spirit of Moroccan independence. Choukri's story is intense and harrowing, although, to be honest, I've heard that Paul Bowles' translation at times changes the spirit of Choukri's text, so also check it out in the original Arabic if you are able, or read Tahar Ben Jelloun's French translation from the Arabic, Le Pain Nu.

2666, Roberto Bolaño (translation by Natasha Wimmer)
A kind of political education as well as a literary one

10 Billion Days & 100 Billion Nights, Ryu Mitsuse (translation by Alexander O. Smith)
A really bizarre science fiction novel that is interesting to view through the lens of postwar history and Japan's economic prosperity built on its status as a linchpin of American military presence.
Noli Me TángereJosé Rizal
The late Benedict Anderson taught himself to read Spanish by taking a dictionary to this novel, which he had read in translation. Noli Me Tángere is a great read with a really interesting backstory, having been first published in Berlin while Rizal was studying there -- he was later executed by the Spanish authorities in his home country. 
Der Abenteuerliche Simpliccissimus, Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen
A long Baroque picaresque novel that begins in the Thirty Years' War and moves through all spheres of a collapsing feudal order, as well as to the center of the earth, which is aqueous and inhabited by merpeople.
Stretches the last eighteen hours of Virgil's life into 400 pages of alternately bawdy and hallucinatory prose
The work of W. G. Sebald, but especially his totally sui generis prose poem, Nach der Natur, and Die Ringe des Saturn


Die, My Love, Ariana Harwicz (translated by Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff)

Head-to-Toe Portrait of Suzanne, Roland Topor (translated by Andrew Hodgson)

Happiness as Such, Natalia Ginzburg (translated by Minna Zallman Proctor)


The Days of Abandonment, Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein)

A Philosophy of Loneliness, Lars Svendsen (translated by Kerri Pierce)

The Book of the City of Ladies, Christine de Pizan (translated by Rosalind Brown-Grant)

Go, Went, Gone, Jenny Erpenbeck (translated by Susan Bernofsky)

Self-confidence: A Philosophy, Charles Pépin (translated by Willard Wood)

The Lais of Marie de France, Marie de France (translated by Glyn S. Burgess and Keith Busby)

La Terre, Émile Zola (translated by Henry Vizetelly)

The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir (translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier)


Harbart, Nabarun Bhattacharya (translated by Sunandini Banerjee)

Malina, Ingeborg Bachmann (translated by Philip Boehm)

Altazor, Vicente Huidobro (translated by Eliot Weinberger)

The Book of Monelle, Marcel Schwob (translated by Kit Schluter)

A Dead Rose, Aurora Cáceres (translated by Laura Kanost)


The Passion According to G.H., Clarice Lispector (translation by Idra Novey)

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, Olga Tokarczuk (translation by Antonia Lloyd-Jones)

The Last Wolf, László Krasznahorkai (translation by George Szirtes)

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, James Hogg

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