Everyone Should Read Translated Literature

Are you fed up with reading books by British authors? Has your school’s English curriculum ruined reading for you? If you answered yes to either of these questions, I have the perfect solution for you. 

After going to university, I fell into a huge slump with reading. All I did for my degree was read article after article of historical analysis and therefore, by the end of the day, the last thing I wanted to do was read more dense classical literature written by another old English writer. In my time of need, I turned to the colourful world of translated literature. Texts in translation were first introduced to me through my English classes in sixth form. A whole term of my classes was dedicated to studying translated texts such as The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami. It is safe to say that this was my favourite term ever. My eyes were opened to the magical world of translated literature that was unlike anything I had been forced to study before. I was able to learn about different cultures and explore the way language is used all across the world. 

If any of this appeals to you or you just do not know where to start with translated literature, here are a few of my favourite translated books to spark your interest.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami (Japan)

Whilst most people would suggest that Norwegian Wood is Murakami’s best work, I have to respectfully disagree. Normally I go for quite short books, considering my attention span isn’t the greatest, but this lengthy page-turner had me hooked from the start. Throughout the novel, the reader is introduced to a multitude of confusing characters that have their own stories to tell and somehow Murakami is able to connect them all through his main character, Toru Okada. If you like magical realism, sitting at the bottom of wells and compelling characters, then this book is for you.

The White Book – Han Kang (Korea)

The clue is in the name. The White Book is a semi-autobiographical almost poetry-esque novel about the colour white. My explanation most likely doesn’t do it justice but this book is heart-breaking and emotionally taxing. One particular section called Small White Pills resonated so strongly with me that I admit I did shed a tear. How someone is able to create an entire book based around the colour white that is this captivating I will never understand, but Han Kang does it perfectly. 

A Doll’s House – Henrik Ibsen (Norway)

This play from Ibsen does everything. Its use of props, dialogue and staging is immaculate. It tells the story of the broken marriage between Nora and her husband, Helmer. Appearances are everything in this play and how it is almost impossible to keep them up. As it progresses, the demons of Nora’s past slowly encroach on her seemingly perfect life and she is forced to face many hard truths. Whilst Ibsen is not a self-proclaimed feminist, the play does contain many ideas that promote female independence and identity. If you want a quick read with sensationalised characters, A Doll’s House is the right pick.

The Reader – Bernhard Schlink (Germany)

War guilt, inappropriate relationships and history are all things that have been packed into this thrilling novel. Following the second generation German, Michael, and his romantic relationship with a first generation German, Hanna, The Reader is an uncomfortable but necessary read. With all of the events occurring directly after the Second World War, this novel explores the guilt that hung so heavily over the children whose parents were either actively or passively involved in the persecution of minorities in Germany. Within this succinct novel, Schlink manages to unpack the complex emotions of the second generation using various symbols and motifs that follow Michael through his life. 

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 – Cho Namjoo (Korea)

I know that this is another recommendation from Korea but I could not do a translated lit article without mentioning this gem. This is the ultimate feminist novel. It follows the life of Kim Jiyoung, who is the embodiment of every woman. Even though it is set in Korea, any woman anywhere in the world will be able to relate to the events that mark Jiyoung’s life. I could not put this book down and my copy is now filled with notes and underlined quotations that have been engraved into my heart. I have written a full review of this book and you can read that here

These are my recommendations to help you get out of your reading slump and open your eyes to the brilliance of translated literature. I have so many more recommendations and translated books that are on my ‘to be read’ list so there may be a part two to this in the future. If you want to discuss any of these books or translated texts that you love, comment them down below!

Image courtesy of Eli Francis.

One comment

  1. Great article – I nearly wrote my dissertation on translated texts and this article has revived fond memories of reading translated texts! I really enjoyed A Doll’s House and The Reader too, would also recommend Before the Coffee Gets Cold which I loved!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s