Monday, July 28, 2008

50 outstanding literary translations of the last 50 years

The Times (London) put together this list, which has made me very happy because I've read a number of books on it--and by that I mean 8. Which Chinese people would tell you is a highly auspicious number!

I've turned this into a snobby meme by boldfacing the ones I've read. (I love literature in translation, although I know it's not for everyone). Feel free to play if you like translations, too!

1. Raymond Queneau – Exercises in Style (Barbara Wright, 1958)
2. Primo Levi – If This is a Man (Stuart Woolf, 1959)
3. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa – The Leopard (Archibald Colquhoun, 1961)
4. Günter Grass – The Tin Drum (Ralph Manheim, 1962)
5. Jorge Luis Borges – Labyrinths (Donald Yates, James Irby, 1962)
6. Leonardo Sciascia – Day of the Owl (Archibald Colquhoun, 1963)
7. Alexander Solzhenitsyn – One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Ralph Parker, 1963)
8. Yukio Mishima – Death in Midsummer (Seidensticker, Keene, Morris, Sargent, 1965)
9. Heinrich Böll – The Clown (Leila Vennewitz, 1965)
10. Octavio Paz – Labyrinth of Solitude (Lysander Kemp, 1967)
11. Mikhail Bulgakov – The Master and Margarita (Michael Glenny, 1969)
12. Gabriel Garcia Marquez – 100 Years of Solitude (Gregory Rabassa, 1970)
13. Walter Benjamin – Illuminations (Harry Zohn, 1970)
14. Paul Celan – Poems (Michael Hamburger and Christopher Middleton, 1972)
15. Bertolt Brecht – Poems (John Willett, Ralph Manheim, Erich Fried, et al 1976)
16. Michel Foucault – Discipline and Punish (Alan Sheridan, 1977)
17. Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie - Montaillou (Barbara Bray, 1978)
18. Italo Calvino – If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller (William Weaver, 1981)
19. Roland Barthes – Camera Lucida (Richard Howard, 1981)
20. Christa Wolf – A Model Childhood (Ursule Molinaro, Hedwig Rappolt, 1982)
21. Umberto Eco – The Name of the Rose (William Weaver, 1983)
22. Mario Vargas Llosa – Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (Helen R. Lane, 1983)
23. Milan Kundera – The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Michael Henry Heim, 1984)
24. Marguerite Duras – The Lover (Barbara Bray, 1985)
25. Josef Skvorecky – The Engineer of Human Souls (Paul Wilson, 1985)
26. Per Olov Enquist – The March of the Musicians (Joan Tate, 1985)
27. Patrick Süskind – Perfume (John E. Woods, 1986)
28. Isabel Allende – The House of the Spirits (Magda Bodin, 1986)
29. Georges Perec – Life A User’s Manual (David Bellos, 1987)
30. Thomas Bernhard – Cutting Timber (Ewald Osers, 1988)
31. Czeslaw Milosz – Poems (Czeslaw Milosz, Robert Hass, 1988)
32. José Saramago – Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (Giovanni Pontiero, 1992)
33. Marcel Proust – In Search of Lost Time (Terence Kilmartin, 1992)
34. Roberto Calasso – The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony (Tim Parks, 1993)
35. Naguib Mahfouz – Cairo Trilogy (Olive E. Kenny, Lorne M. Kenny, Angela Botros Samaan, 1991-3)
36. Laura Esquivel – Like Water for Chocolate (Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen, 1993)
37. Bao Ninh – The Sorrow of War (Frank Palmos, Phan Thanh Hao, 1994)
38. Victor Klemperer – I Shall Bear Witness (Martin Chalmers, 1998)
39. Beowulf (Seamus Heaney, 1999)

40. Josef Brodsky – Collected Poems (Anthony Hecht et al, 2000)
41. Xingjian Gao – Soul Mountain (Mabel Lee, 2001)
42. Tahar Ben Jelloun – This Blinding Absence of Light (Linda Coverdale, 2002)
43. W.G. Sebald – Austerlitz (Anthea Bell, 2002)
44. Orhan Pamuk – Snow (Maureen Freely, 2004)
45. Amos Oz – A Tale of Love and Darkness (Nicholas de Lange, 2004)
46. Per Petterson – Out Stealing Horses (Ann Born, 2005)
47. Irène Némirovsky – Suite Française (Sandra Smith, 2006)
48. Vassily Grossman – Life and Fate (Robert Chandler, 2006)
49. Alaa Al Aswany – The Yacoubian Building (Humphrey Davies, 2007)
50. Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace (Richard Pevear, Larissa Volokhonsky, 2007)


ilyakogan said...

I've read the originals of 7, 11, 48, and 50. Would be interesting to compare the translations. I'll check it out. Thanks.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've only read 4. I actually enjoyed them though so I should try more. Does reading the Bible in english count as a translation?

How about Homer's Odyssey and Iliad? These seem like they might should have been on the list.

Charles Gramlich said...

Oh, I didn't think about the 50 year thing.

Susan said...

How mortifying! I haven't read a SINGLE ONE. I burst out laughing from embarassment.

I've read a few of the originals (three years of German Literature at university accomplished that much, at least), and a few translations that aren't the ones mentioned.

Seamus Heaney's Beowulf has been on my TBR list for some time, so I'll be sure to pick that one up soon.

So, off I go to Amazon to start pecking at the wish list...thanks for sharing the 50!

Mommy C said...

Well, I've read the translated version of "100 Years of Solitude" and the original of "Beowulf". I guess I have some reading to do. I wish I could add "All Quiet on the Western Front" to the list. I've read both versions and think the translation was great. It's on my top ten list.

Kaytie M. Lee said...

Most of the novels in translation I've read are not on this list.

I highly recommend novels by Naguib Mahfouz, especially Midaq Alley.

Precie said...

The only one I've read is Foucault's DISCIPLINE AND PUNISH, which I highly recommend. If that's any indication of the quality of the list, I have a lot of reading to catch up on. I've been meaning to read so many of those...

Bernita said...

I've read only three. Plus I had to do my own translation of Beowulf in post-grad - so I'm not touching Heaney's.

moonrat said...

Bernita, you win.

ChrisEldin said...

I've read these four, but I can't possibly go to Amazon for a while without causing marital strife.

7. Alexander Solzhenitsyn – One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Ralph Parker, 1963)

11. Mikhail Bulgakov – The Master and Margarita (Michael Glenny, 1969)

12. Gabriel Garcia Marquez – 100 Years of Solitude (Gregory Rabassa, 1970)

28. Isabel Allende – The House of the Spirits (Magda Bodin, 1986)

Usman said...

Read a few here.

I think Orhan Pamuk's MY NAME IS RED is better than Snow.

pacatrue said...

While I've read a bunch of stuff in translation, the only item on this list is Heaney's Beowulf. Liked it quite a bit.

Elizabeth Sinnreich said...

I recently read your post about Irène Némirovsky and wanted to let you know about an exciting new exhibition about her life, work, and legacy that will open on September 24, 2008 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage —A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City. Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française, which will run through the middle of March, will include powerful rare artifacts — the actual handwritten manuscript for Suite Française, the valise in which it was found, and many personal papers and family photos. The majority of these documents and artifacts have never been outside of France. For fans of her work, this exhibition is an opportunity to really “get to know” Irene. And for those who can’t visit, there will be a special website that will live on the Museum’s site
The Museum will host several public programs over the course of the exhibition’s run that will put Némirovsky’s work and life into historical and literary context. Book clubs and groups are invited to the Museum for tours and discussions in the exhibition’s adjacent Salon (by appointment). It is the Museum’s hope that the exhibit will engage visitors and promote dialogue about this extraordinary writer and the complex time in which she lived and died. To book a group tour, please contact Tracy Bradshaw at 646.437.4304 or Please visit our website at for up-to-date information about upcoming public programs or to join our e-bulletin list.
Thanks for sharing this info with your readers. Let me know if you need any more.

-Elizabeth Sinnreich (

moonrat said...

Usman--I haven't read My Name Is Red yet. I did just buy The Black Book. Any thoughts?

Julia said...

The Pevear/Volokhonsky translations RULE THE EARTH'S MOLTEN CORE. So good. Such a change from Constance Garnett.

I'm surprised there isn't more Gregory Barassa here. What a great translator he is. Also more William Weaver.

I'm going to check out the Barbara Wright translation of Queneau and the David Bellos translation of Perec--I read both of those books in French and they seemed completely untranslatable to me.

ChrisEldin said...

I want to sit next to Julia in class.

Usman said...


Seems we need to swap books. :)
I am yet to read The Black Book. It is on my urgent list.