Staff Display: Books in Translation


I love translated fiction. I love reading about people from places other than the United States. Reading translated literature makes me feel connected to the rest of the world. But I always feel that I am missing something. While words can be translated, the same is not always true for the background of culture and history. Often there is subtext that lies beneath the visible words. So when I read translations, I try to keep in mind that I may not be truly understanding what the author is telling me, because I really am not a member of the club. I am an interloper, observing from afar.

I love the different sensibilities that exist in literature from another culture.  However, it is very easy to make assumptions about a culture that seems similar to ours. Like France. I am quite fond of French novels. They frequently surprise me. On the surface, they often look like lovely little confections. However, appearances can be deceiving. They often end badly. Issues remain unresolved. Characters remain in hopeless situations. Nothing happens. This existential mind-set would never fly with most American readers. We always think a situation can be improved if we just put on our happy face, preferably with the use of some good old elbow grease and some bootstrap-pulling. Other cultures are more fatalistic.

The darker side of the Scandinavians appeals to me. I am not so fond of some of the quirky Scandinavian literature. I like quirk as well as anyone (preferably with a touch of satire), but lately it verges on the edge of twee. Ick.

HistoryofMoneySome books I recommend:

Days in the History of Silence, by Merethe Lindstrom

Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson (and everything else he has written)

Hunting and Gathering, by Anna Gavalda

Austerlitz, by W. G. Sebald

The Possibility of an Island, by Michel Houellenbecq

And a new one coming out this June that I am beyond excited about, by Alan Pauls, a South American author: A History of Money!!

Lysbeth Abrams

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