To celebrate the annual International Translation Day symposium, taking place tomorrow at King’s Place, London, Tasja Dorkofikis asks speakers to recommend their favourite books and writers in translation
Amanda Hopkinson, experienced translator, academic, and co-curator of Notes & Letters, recommends…
Raised from the Ground by Jose Saramago, trans. Margaret Jull Costa and published by Harvill Secker this month.
This early work by Portuguese Nobel Prizewinner Jose Saramago, translated by perhaps our most garlanded Portuguese literary translator Margaret Jull Costa, shows intellectual inventiveness and political militancy blended in a profound and humorous historical novel. The theme is the landless peasantry that were Saramago’s own immediate forebears and was written at a time when he was suffering persecution and then exile at the behest of the Salazar dictatorship. Raised from the Ground is at once a vivid depiction of rural poverty and a rallying cry for activism.
Slavery Inc: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking by Lydia Cacho, translated by Elizabeth Boburg and published by Portobello Books.
Lydia Cacho is a one-person expert/ investigator/reporter on that most confusing of crimes: human trafficking. She is categorical, and has the facts to back her, that this is globalised big business run by consortia of criminals, corrupt police and politicians. Women and children thus exploited may be deluded but are not willing victims of their own transportation and degradation. Rarely has a book had a more appropriate title than $laveryInc.
Briony Everroad, editor at Harvill Secker, recommends…
Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delise, translated by Helge Dascher and published by Jonathan Cape and Vintage.
I first came to love graphic novels, or perhaps I should say graphic memoirs in this context, when I read Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs. Then I was swept away by Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. So I was delighted to discover Guy Delisle a few years later through his graphic travelogue Pyongyang.
Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City is a powerful documentation of Guy Delisle’s year in Jerusalem with his family. His partner works for Médecins Sans Frontières and he tries to sketch and write, in between taking his kids to school. Delisle isn’t religious, so it comes across as even-handed observations of this most incredible and perplexing of places. He’s also strikingly honest, admitting when he doesn’t know the history behind certain zones and boundaries or the events that led to them, and so the reader learns as he learns. I work on (non-graphic) fiction for the most part, and speaking as someone who can’t even draw a stick figure, I am fascinated by the techniques he uses: the powerful wordless frames, the sparing but effective use of colour, his son’s speech bubbles crammed with letters which spill to the end of the frame. His writing style is direct and at times very moving, and Helge Dascher captures it perfectly in the translation. In Jerusalem Delisle offer a wonderful new perspective on a city which is so often the focus of the world’s attention.
Sarah Hesketh, Events and Publications Manager at the Poetry Translation Centre, recommends…
Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius, translated by Jamie Bulloch and published by Peirene.
It’s rare that I’m able to read a book in one sitting, but Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman is structured as just one, single, book-length sentence, and so it invites complete immersion for a few hours. It’s a book that happens in real time – it takes just the length of the narrator’s walk to church on a January afternoon in 1943, and it captures perfectly that suspension of time that a heavily pregnant woman feels when she is waiting to give birth, as well as the sense of a whole continent on the cusp.
Alexandra Buchler, Director of Literature Across Frontiers, recommends…
Dream of Ding Village by Yan Lianke, translated by Cindy Carter and published by Corsair.
I recommend this book because it is a must-read for anyone interested in China’s recent transformations and the corruption of a regime which did the unimaginable: fuse the political doctrine of communism with capitalist license, and because it is a such a powerful example of high-quality literature making a political statement. Like some of the masterpieces of 20th century literature this book is the opposite of a “good read”: it is sad and heavy, it speaks about a situation of surreal absurdity, conveying a truth that must be said and cannot be shirked.
Geraldine D’Amico, co-curator of Notes & Letters and curator of Folkestone Book Festival, recommends…
To the End of the Land by David Grossman, translated by Jessica Cohen and published by Vintage.
Grossman movingly captures the pain of a mother fearing for the life of her son but above all it is a book about the deep damage caused by war onto people and landscape alike. Lovers are destroyed, innocence is impossible, death is lurking everywhere. One woman alone tries to fight this, rekindle love, give birth to a father and keep her son alive through the magic of words. The fact Grossman’s son was killed as he was writing this book obviously makes it even more poignant but regardless of his personal tragedy, this is a true masterpiece.
Rosa Anderson, coordinator of Fiction Uncovered, recommends…
School for Patriots by Martin Kohan, translated by Nick Caistor and soon to be published by Serpent’s Tail.
Set in Argentina during the Falklands War, it’s an intriguing – and unsettling – investigation into the relationship between power and sex.
Sophie Lewis, editor-at-large at And Other Stories and translator from French, recommends…
Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector, translated from Brazilian Portuguese by Alison Entrekin and published by New Directions.
I read this book in a state of guilt at being settled in Rio for more than a year yet knowing so little of Lispector’s writing – she is considered one of the greatest 20th century Brazilian writers. Yet what I found in reading this book (and now others by her) was very little to tell me about Brazil and so much to think about, both bigger and smaller than this country,: mood, sensation, place vanishing into specks under the microscope, dialogue in a vortex of thought – genuinely transcendent writing.