Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Reading translated literature

This post is inspired by Dolce Bellezza's post on the reason to read international literature. For Americans, and other English speaking countries, it is surely not a necessity, considering the number of authors and books that are published in this world. However, for a small country like Sweden, we would be very poor if we did not read foreign literature. I think that if you live in a big country like the US you have most things around you and might not have to look abroad. For smaller countries it is a necessity. Since most of the European countries are now in the European Union, we can see ourselves as a bigger entity. However, the countries in Europe are definitely more different than the various states in the US. Each country has their own history and culture. Through history we were often at odds with each other, so it is really comforting to know that today we strive for a common goal.

When we Europeans go to another 'state' we have to use another language, respect the culture and traditions of this country, and that means that we can learn a lot from each other. Having been myself a 'nomad' for 31 years, moving around the world (living in communist, muslim and orthodox countries), I feel quite international and have adopted ideas from different countries that appeal to me. As J.P Hartley says: The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. They do, but with the global world that we live in today, we should accept that we are all different. It would be utterly boring should we all be the same.

Looking at the reading, I mostly read foreign literature. I have to admit that most of it is English speaking, and most of it from the US or the UK. Having blogger friends in Australia (Travellin' Penguin and Broona's Books and hopefully more) and Charlotte Brentwood (author) from New Zealand. I wish to read more from this part of the world.

In 2014 I actually read two books from New Zealand;  Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries and Charlotte Brentwood's The Vagabond Vicar. They both disappear into the 69 English speaking books I read. For the rest I read 16 Swedish books, 3 French ones, and one from Denmark, Russia and Germany respectively.

Having said that I will read mostly from my TBR shelves this year, let's see what I have there outside the English speaking world.

From Nigeria:
Chinua Achebe - A Man of the People
Chika Unigwe - On Black Sister's Street

From Spain:
Leopoldo Garcia-Alas y Urena (Clarin) - La Regenta (The Regent's Wife)

From Russia:
Anton Chekov - Five Great Short Stories
Nicolai Gogol - The Overcoat and other Short Stories
Maxim Gorky - My Childhood
Michail Sholokhov - And Quiet Flows the Don 1-4
Alexej Tolstoy - Ordeal 1-3
Leo Tolstoy - Anna Karenina

From Italy:
Umberto Eco - The Prague Cemetery
Tiziano Terzani - A Fortuneteller Told Me

From Norway:
Josetin Gaarder - Sophie's World

From Austria:
Elfriede Jelinek - Lust

From Germany:
Thomas Mann - Buddenbrooks
Bernard Schlink - Homecoming
Kurt Vonnelgut - Jailbird

From Colombia:
Gabriel Garcia Marques - One Hundred Years of Solitude

From China:
Yan Mo - The Red Field

From Israel:
Amos Oz - En berättelse om kärlek och mörker

From Portugal:
Fernando Pessoa - The Book of Disquiet

From Finland:
Johan Ludvig Runeberg - Fänrik Ståhls sägner

From Poland:
Henryk Sienkiewicz - Quo Vadis

From France:
Jules Verne - The World Around in 80 Days

That is 28 books out of 141 (excluding non-fiction). Not that many, but still...

How about you? Do you mostly read writer's from your own country or also books from other countries?


  1. I know exactly how you feel. It was the same growing up in Portugal, both for literature and other cultural goods: TV, cinema, theater, music, etc. It might seem like a disadvantage but it really isn't!

    1. I agree, I find it an advantage. Especially, since in our countries (I think it might be the same in Portugal) that we have sub-titles on our films, rather than have them dubbed. You get much more from a country when you also hear their language. I can never really get to terms with the dubbed films. For reading it is the same; we probably have access to more foreign books than people in the English speaking world. Please correct me if I am wrong!

  2. It is so true what you say about small countries. I hadn't thought of it before. I have only lived in USA and Australia so there is plenty to read. I have quite a bit of translated fiction on my TBR shelves and I am starting to look at it differently. There is so much interest in translated fiction and it is all quite exciting. I will have to see what I have on my own shelves. Maybe visit some of the European countries that are a bit smaller. :-)

  3. I totally understand you. I'm from Argentina and though we have a lot of great and diverse writers and books, we are a new country that has only been creating Literature for two centuries so we need to "fill" that space with european literature.

    1. It is good that we have the possibility to read translated literature. To read in the original language is always best, but since we can't read in all languages, the translations are great. Can you recommend a good writer from Argentina? Has to be someone that has been translated into English. I have only heard of Jorge Luis Borges, but not read any of his books. Any recommendations on him?