Nine Recent English Translations

Translator Daisy Rockwell and Author Geetanjali Shree, winners of the 2022 International Booker Prize, photo credit © David Parry/PA

I always find literary translated works fascinating, not only because they offer us a spectacular window to look into different cultures around the globe and inspire us with fresh stories and insights crafted by the world’s literary masterminds, but also because the challenging translation process amazes me. It always appears impossible to me to translate novels and poetry. Not to mention the nuances of cultural differences and historical contexts that can add to the subtleties of meanings and complicate the translation, the text alone is tricky enough to tackle, since each language has its own system—different grammatical rules, various syntactic possibilities, unique sounds and rhythm … there are always untranslatable words that no exact English words to match the meaning with.

Given these challenges, most translators agree that direct translation may be impossible and the focus of translation should be on conveying the intention and meaning of the text. And make an effort to preserve (or recreate) the melody in the original work. As Frank Wynne, the award-winning literary translator and the chair of the 2022 International Booker Prize judging panel, put it, “… at a theoretical level, everything is impossible to translate, so it’s just a question of how to render the impossible … Meaning is crucial to all translations, but even the translation of very standard conversation involves rhythm and cadence …”

It is clear that the translator’s refined skill in both the original and target language is critical to the success of translation. While not always possible to capture everything in the author’s voice, style, and wordplay, seasoned translators aim to balance between staying faithful to the original work and creating something as unique and provoking as the original. Frank continued to explain, “There may be cultural references that are clear to the original reader but may not be clear to the target reader; you need to make a decision as to whether you need to gloss the reference, or simply leave it there and allow the reader to do the work, look it up, or whatever … If there is a hilariously funny passage in the original, it’s your job as a translator to make sure it’s hilariously funny in translation, and that will frequently mean changing every single word, because the chance that the same words will have the same effect in a different language is almost nil—even when they are related languages.”

Because of the sheer difficulty of translation (and the challenges to sell), few publishers are keen on pursuing translated works, but thankfully, we still have a group of publishers (often independent presses) and highly skilled translators who work hard on bringing in the best of best world literature to the English world. Without their dedication, we would be missing out so much! If you are also interested in reading about other cultures and see how the translators work their magic, here are a few recent titles that I would like to share with you:

Tomb of Sand Book Cover
Tomb of Sand Book Cover

Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree translated by Daisy Rockwell

Originally in Hindi, the winner of the 2022 International Booker Prize is about a depressed 80-year-old widow who tries to confront the unresolved trauma caused by her Partition Riots experience when she was a teenager. The powerful work deals with a heavy topic, but it stays fun and light. Author Geetanjali Shree plays on the very nature of Hindi as a language, and translator Daisy Rockwell recreates the magic by playing on the nature of a language that is not Hindi! Take a look at the following brilliant quotes from the book:

“Anything worth doing transcends borders.”

“Life exists because there’s death, and joy because there’s sorrow.”

“Once you’ve got women and a border, a story can write itself. Even women on their own are enough. Women are stories in themselves, full of stirrings and whisperings that float on the wind, that bend with each blade of grass.”

The Books of Jacob Book Cover
The Books of Jacob Book Cover

The Books of Jacob

Or, A Fantastic Journey Across Seven Borders, Five Languages, and Three Major Religions, Not Counting the Minor Sects. Told by the Dead, Supplemented by the Author, Drawing From A Range of Books, and Aided by Imagination, the Which Being the Greatest Natural Gift of Any Person. That the Wise Might Have It for A Record, That My Compatriots Reflect, Laypersons Gain Some Understanding, and Melancholy Souls Obtain Some Slight Enjoyment

by Olga Tokarczuk translated by Jennifer Croft

From that marvelous long subtitle, you can tell how ambitious this work is! Olga Tokarczuk, the Polish author and the 2018 Nobel Prize winner, once again proves her literary skills in this sweeping novel about a mysterious religious leader as blazes his way across the eighteenth-century Europe. Here are a couple of quotes from the book:

“A thing that is not talked about ceases to exist.”

“Everyone who seeks salvation must do three things: change his place of residence, change his name, and change his deeds.”

Seven Empty Houses Book Cover
Seven Empty Houses Book Cover

Seven Empty Houses by Samantha Schweblin translated by Megan McDowell

Translated from the Spanish, this story collection explores the universal desire for human connection with twists and turns. The seven stories center on a domestic dwelling, “exploring how the things that constitute our most intimate spaces are relational and interconnected, and therefore in many ways the most unstable.” (NYT)

Author Samanta Schweblin, the 2022 National Book Award winner, never takes expected path and is truly one of the most brilliant modern Latin American writers of our time. Here is a passage in the book to give a sense of the writing and the translation:

“For as long as I can remember, we’ve gone out to look at houses, removed unsuitable flowers and pots from their gardens. We’ve moved sprinklers, straightened mailboxes, relocated lawn ornaments that were too heavy for the grass. As soon as my feet reached the pedals, I started to take over driving, which gave my mother more freedom. Once, by herself, she moved a white wooden bench and put it in the yard of the house across the street. She unhooked hammocks. Yanked up malignant weeds. Three times she pulled off the name “Marilú 2” from a terribly cheesy sign.”

For more recent translated works, check out this list:

About Heather

Heather is the Librarian II, Literacy and Readers' Advisory, with the Vaughan Public Libraries. Her job is to connect leisure readers and aspiring writers with the endless space of imagination and creation through words in all forms.  |  Meet the team