PEN Atlas, which showcases the very best international writers, recently asked our eight Fiction Uncovered 2012 selected writers to choose their favourite books in translation.
David Park’s most recent novel is The Light of Amsterdam, a Fiction Uncovered 2012 selection. He was the winner of the Authors’ Club First Novel Award, the Bass Ireland Arts Award for Literature, and three-time winner of the University of Ulster’s McCrea Literary Award. He has twice been shortlisted for the Irish Novel of the Year Award.
Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier, translated by Robin Buss (Penguin Classics).
“This novel by a writer who died tragically at the age of 27 in the First World War is one of my all-time favourite books and brilliantly portrays the universal human desire to find once more the happiness that has eluded us.”
Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky translated by Sandra Smith (Vintage).
“Only discovered by her daughter in the 1990s, this unfinished novel radiates with power and is given an added poignancy by the fact that the author perished in the Holocaust.”
The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker translated by David Colmer (Vintage)
“This is a delicate and subtle portrayal of loneliness and the struggle of a son to know his father.”
Cressida Connolly was born in 1960. She is an author, journalist and reviewer. She is the author of My Former Heart, a Fiction Uncovered 2012 selection, The Happiest Days and The Rare and the Beautiful: The Lives of the Garmans.
“I feel huge and unqualified gratitude to translators, who receive very little limelight in return for what amounts to a public service: making it possible to read wonderful things written in other languages. Without them I would never have been able to read some of the books I have loved and kept by me, the poems of Anna Akhmatova and Pablo Neruda, of the Chinese poets Li Po and Wang Wei, the Japanese Basho and of course the stories of my favourite writer, Anton Chekhov.
“There are lots of translations of Rilke, but the very best is that by Stephen Cohn, published by Carcanet. As well as the Duino Elegies, he translated the Sonnets to Orpheus along with Letters to A Young Poet. Anyone who wants to write should read these letters. Actually, anyone who wants to live – to live from the heart as much as the mind – should read them. Stephen Cohn, a man of gentle humour, intelligence and sweetness, died only weeks ago. His Rilke is his legacy.
“New Finnish Grammar, translated by Judith Landry from Diego Marani‘s original (Dedalus Books, 2011), is a fantastic novel. And I have been haunted by the strange atmosphere and beauty of Judith Hermann’s Alice (Clerkenwell Press, 2011), translated by Margot Bettauer Dembo.”
Susanna Jones grew up in Yorkshire and studied drama at London University. Her work has been translated into over twenty languages and has won the CWA John Creasey Dagger, a Betty Trask Award and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. When Nights Were Cold, a Fiction Uncovered 2012 selection, is published by Pan Macmillan.
The Lover by Marguerite Duras, translated by Barbara Bray (Flamingo, 1994).
“The prose is spare and the structure precise but this autobiographical novel of a young girl in French Indochina in the 1930s is charged with emotion and is uncompromising in its vision. One of my favourite novels.”
You Are Not Like Other Mothers by Angelika Schrobsdorff, translated by Steven Rendall (Europa Editions, 2012).
“The story of a Jewish woman (the writer’s mother), her many lovers, her children and life in Berlin through the roaring 20s, the rise of Nazism, the War, their exile to Bulgaria and struggle to survive. I found this compelling and devastating.”
The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, translated by Tyler Royall (Penguin Classics, 2003).
“Royall’s recent translation of this 1000-year-old novel of court life in medieval Japan is thorough and instructive but also captivating and a pleasure to read. (The other major translations, both excellent, are by Arthur Waley (1920s) and Edward Seidsticker (1976).)”
Dan Rhodes was born in 1972. He is the author of This is Life, a Fiction Uncovered 2012 selection, Anthropology, Don’t Tell Me the Truth About Love, Timoleon Vieta Come Home, Gold, Little Hands Clapping and, writing as Danuta de Rhodes, The Little White Car. In 2003 he was named by Granta magazine as one of their Twenty Best of Young British Novelists and in 2010 by the Daily Telegraph as one of their Best British Novelists Under Forty. He is the winner of many awards including the Author’s Club First Novel Award and the E.M. Forster Award.
Melog by Mihangel Morgan, translated by Christopher Meredith (Seren, 2005).
“Written in Welsh, this funny, strange and touching novel is an almost entirely undiscovered delight. Well worth seeking out.”
Zazie in the Metro by Raymond Queneau, translated by Barbara Wright (Penguin Classics 2001).
“Many years ago, reading this got me wanting to write daft Parisian romps. Queneau had a long association with Barbara Wright, and his linguistic playfulness survives the leap from language to language.”
Fear and Trembling by Amélie Nothomb translated by Adriana Hunter (Faber and Faber, 2004).
“Amélie Nothomb’s books are brilliant, and refreshingly short. If you’ve not read her yet, this tale of a young Belgian woman’s decline and fall within a Japanese company is a good place to start.”
Born in 1956, Peter Benson was educated in Ramsgate, Canterbury and Exeter. His first novel, The Levels, won the Guardian Fiction Prize. This was followed by A Lesser Dependency, winner of the Encore award, and The Other Occupant, which was awarded the Somerset Maugham Award. He has also published short stories, screenplays and poetry, some adapted for TV, radio and many translated into other languages. His most recent novel, Two Cows and a Vanful of Smoke, a Fiction Uncovered 2012 selection, is published by Alma Books.
The Discovery of Slowness by Sten Nadolny, translated from the German by Ralph Freedman, (Canongate, 2004).
“A paen to the philosophy of slowness, a novelization of an Arctic explorer’s life, a meditation, a love story; this novel is all these things and more, and Freedman takes the translator’s art to new heights of clarity.”
The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches by Matsuo Bashō, translated from the Japanese by Nobuyuki Yuasa, (Penguin, 2005).
“No one has combined travelogue, poetry and philosophical musings with such beauty; even though these pieces were written over 300 years ago, they are as fresh and contemporary as ever.”
Selected Poems by Anna Akhmatova, translated from the Russian by Richard McKane, (Bloodaxe, 1989).
“These luminous translations offer proof that the repression and vilification Akhmatova suffered were no match for the power, imagination and courage of her poetry.”
Doug Johnstone is the author of three novels: Hit and Run, a Fiction Uncovered 2012 selection, Smokeheads and The Ossians. Writer-in-residence at the University of Strathclyde, he is also a freelance journalist, a songwriter and musician, and has a PhD in nuclear physics. He lives in Edinburgh.
“My favourite classic book in translation is probably The Outsider by Albert Camus, translated from the French by Joseph Loredo. I immediately loved the deadpan prose style, the less-is-more, stripped-down approach to Mersault’s story – a short, sharp shock of psychological, existential genius.
“More recently I loved Jens Lapidus’s Easy Money, the first of his Stockholm trilogy, translated from Swedish by Astri von Arbin Ahlander (Macmillan). It’s a fantastic James Ellroy-esque thriller looking at the seedy underbelly of Stockholm life. Interestingly, I just did a book event with Jens, who said the original translation they commissioned had to be thrown out because, although it was grammatically correct, it failed to capture the rhythm and style of his original. The translation they went with is fantastic, full of bounce and street-sass.
“And I’ve really enjoyed all of Arnaldur Indridason’s crime novels, from Tainted Blood onwards (Harvill Secker). These were originally translated from the Icelandic by Bernard Scudder who sadly passed away, but they’ve found an able replacement in Victoria Cribb, who captures the dour, black humour of the Icelandic mindset brilliantly.”
Jill Dawson is the author of Trick of the Light, Magpie, Fred and Edie, which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel Award and the Orange Prize, Wild Boy, Watch Me Disappear, which was longlisted for the Orange Prize, The Great Lover, a Richard and Judy Summer Read in 2009, and Lucky Bunny, a Fiction Uncovered 2012 selection. In addition she has edited six anthologies of short stories and poetry. Born in Durham, Jill Dawson grew up in Yorkshire. She has held many fellowships, including the Creative Writing Fellowship at the University of East Anglia, where she taught on the MA in Creative Writing course. In 2006 she received an honorary doctorate in recognition of her work.
“In my twenties I read a lot of poetry, much of it translated. I loved Chinese folk poetry for its simplicity, attention to nature, and plainness of language; also a sort of deadpan tone. The poems I read were often translated by poet Kenneth Rexroth, and in retrospect I feel that the tone was perhaps not always there in the originals (how could I know since I don’t speak the language) but something Rexroth achieved by not striving for a false rhyme and by being faithful to meaning and to the vernacular voice. This early reading had a big influence on my own writing: I always prefer a plain word to a showy one and I listen for a cadence that I hear in my head and try and put on the page.
“Another favourite was Ana Blandiana’s The Hour of Sand translated by Peter Jay and Anca Cristofovici (Anvil Press) – I was given this book of poetry by Romanian poet, Ana Blandiana, by the first man I was ever in love with, and my copy still has his name inside in his fine handwriting. (‘Perhaps someone is dreaming me – that’s why my gestures are so soft and unfinished…’ Blandiana writes). Another occasion where a poet translated a poet (Peter Jay, based in Greenwich) – these are haunting and strange and fly me back immediately to that time in my life.
“Lastly there was Anna Swir – another vernacular poet translated from the Polish by Grazyna Baran and Margaret Marshment. Fat Like The Sun – this was a Women’s Press book that I adored, also during my formative writing years. The poem “Patriarchy” had an impact on me. I gave both my sons my own surname as a result, not their father’s surname! Anna Swir writes:
I gave days and nights by the thousand…
But my child bears
of a man.
Of course, actually my sons (who have different fathers) both have my father’s name – Dawson – but I think of it as mine. It’s a start.”