Skip to Content

Support MinnPost

Ordway Center for the Performing Arts generously supports MinnPost's Arts & Culture coverage.

Ten novels in translation you should know

The finalists for the 2011 Best Translated Book Award -- sponsored by the Three Percent weblog -- have been announced. The winning works of fiction selected were translated from German, Spanish, Afrikaans, Czech, French and Swedish. To read these books is to travel the globe in extraordinary style. - Monitor staff

1. "The Literary Conference," by César Aira (translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver)

Blending comedy with science fiction, "The Literary Conference" tells the story of César, a mad scientist with a plan to take over the world. But first, he must clone Mexican author Carlos Fuentes.

2. "The Golden Age," by Michal Ajvaz (translated from the Czech by Andrew Oakland)

Somewhere in the Atlantic lies a tiny island whose inhabitants spend their time writing, rewriting, and amending an enormous collective novel. "The Golden Age" tells the story of the voyager who discovers the islanders and their project.

3. "A Life on Paper: Stories," by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud (translated from the French by Edward Gauvin)

Châteaureynaud has sometimes been called the Kurt Vonnegut of France. However, this collection of 22 of Châteaureynaud's stories -- which are often other-worldly and not infrequently unsettling -- may speak to some readers more directly of Kafka.

4. "The Jokers," by Albert Cossery (translated from the French by Anna Moschovakis)

Egyptian-born French author Cossery sets this comic novel about an incompetent government meeting an equally incompetent rebel force in a nameless Middle Eastern city.

5. "Visitation," by Jenny Erpenbeck (translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky)

From the Weimar Republic to present-day Germany, "Visitation" tells the story of a house on a lake outside Berlin and the 12 people who live in it, even as they move through a rapidly changing century of German history. "Erpenbeck will get under your skin," promises a Washington Post critic.

6. "Hocus Bogus," by Romain Gary writing as Émile Ajar, (translated by David Bellos)

Okay, the pedigree on this one is a little complicated, but here goes. In the 1970s, French novelist Romain Gary tired of his celebrity and began writing books as Émile Ajar. When the second Ajar book won the Prix Goncourt, Gary was outed and in response wrote "Pseudo" -- a fake confessional in which "Paul Pawlovitch" confesses to being Émile Ajar. "Hocus Bogus" is the first English translation of "Pseudo."

7. The True Deceiver, by Tove Jansson (translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal)

In a remote village in rural Finland, local pariah Katri Kling finds her way into the life of Anna Aemelin, an aging children's book author. Katri's only interest in life is the welfare of her younger brother Mats, while Anna's world has been shrinking in around herself. The coming together of these two odd personalities creates an eerie psychological drama.

8. "On Elegance While Sleeping," by Emilio Lascano Tegui (translated from the Spanish by Idra Novey)

This is the first English translation of this provocative novel by Argentinian writer Emilio Lascano Tegui (who died in 1966.) "On Elegance While Sleeping" is a novel written as the diary of a French soldier, a man who is falling to pieces even as he longs for a more elegant world.

9. "Agaat," by Marlene Van Niekerk (translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns)

Two women -- an elderly white woman and her black maid -- are living on a farm in South Africa even as their country is convulsing around them. The complexities of the relationships on the farm make for stirring political commentary as well as disturbing personal drama.

10. "Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer," by Ernst Weiss (translated from the German by Joel Rotenberg)

"Georg Letham" is the fictitious first-person account of a murderous scientist exiled to a remote island for his crime. Weiss, born in Austria in 1882, committed suicide in 1940 when German troops entered Paris.

Get MinnPost's top stories in your inbox