Thursday, November 15, 2007

Editorial Ass's Top 3 Novels in Translation

This Top 3 was special-requested by Froog. I'm actually limiting myself to 3 here, this once. I promise. At least, I'm going to try really hard.

Please leave all your suggestions.

1) THE DEATH OF ARTEMIO CRUZ, by Carlos Fuentes, translated by Alfred MacAdam
A dying Mexican patriarch, filthy rich and despised by his own family, looks back on his life--the women he hurt, the lives he ruined... Or maybe he's looking at the wars that ruined his life, the women who hurt him, the way he quielty suffered slavery, war, racism, the death of his own children, the distortion of his own legacy. Artemio Cruz (the character) is a really heart-rending depiction of Mexico.

Make sure you get this translation, though. The other one is really clumsy.

2) INVISIBLE CITIES, by Italo Calvino (my copy's in storage and I can't for the life of me find a translator listed on Amazon--anyone want to fill in the blank? It's such a great translation)
Marco Polo entertains Kublai Khan with stories of all the other fantastic cities of the world. These cities are literally fantastic--the whole book is magical and thoughtful and wonderfully quick.

3) THE OXFORD BOOK OF JAPANESE SHORT STORIES, collected and partially translated by Theodore Goossen.
Don't mind the hideously boring cover.

See? I restrained myself and only put in one selection that was originally in Japanese. This is in part because Japanese translates into English (and, I gather, most other languages) really lousily. But in my inexpert opinion, the short story flourishes in Japanese the way the novel never will. Japanese is a language that is conducive of brief, vague but precise writing that is heavy in implication--everything we look for in a prize English-language short story. This was another book I received as a gift and planned to politely taste so I could honestly thank the giver, but instead ended up reading from cover to cover and then feeling sad about when I was done.

This collection is fantastic--you'll recognize a bunch of the contributors' names, even if you're not keen on Japanesey things, but you most likely won't recognize any of the selections, even if you're an avid Japanesey reader. The stories capture moments from across modern Japanese history, and the assortment of writers is diverse and comprehensive. Since I'm obsessed with World War II, the story that sticks out for me is a very short memory of a young soldier who fought in China, but because of the wide range of topics and authors there's something in here for everybody.


moonrat said...

who's going to be the first to point out that only one of these three books is really a novel?

[i win.]

Froog said...

Yes, you do.

I hope you've printed up a 'Robert the Publisher's Gem of the Day' T-shirt for yourself.

Nice of you to (try to) mention the translators. They are so often overlooked.

I'll definitely check out the Japanese short story collection.

I don't think there's any equivalent for China in that series yet. The only modern anthology of Chinese stories I've seen came out about 10 years or so ago (edited by the inevitable Howard Goldblatt), and was called 'Chairman Mao Would Not Approve'. Amusing cover art (Mao with pigtails), but the writing was mostly interesting rather than good.

Josephine Damian said...

At my now defunct book club we read "The Magic Mountain."

Silly me, I did not think to specify a specific translation. Everyone read an older, different translation and pretty much hated the book, whereas I read a later, better translation and loved it.

When we compared identical passages, it was as if it wasn't even the same book.

Hard lesson learned: translation matters.