I love to read because it makes my world a bigger and smaller place at the same time. Bigger because it broadens my horizons, takes me to places both real and imagined that I never knew existed. And smaller because it introduces me to the ways that people other than myself think, feel, act, dream, and hope, by allowing me inside the lives and minds.
I also love that this process challenges my view on the way the world works. Have you ever caught yourself looking at a situation at school or work and seeing parallels from a story you have read? Or wondering how a fictional character would have reacted? Or even drawing strength from how a character handled something? I definitely have, sometimes more than once in a day – and if I’m honest more than one of those situations was me drawing on some wise advice from Dumbledore. All of these scenarios are ways that the stories you have read have become part of who you are.
“But Tamsien,” I hear you say, “what’s this got to do with translated literature?”
Well, it has been said that “Readers live a thousand lives before they die”, so wouldn’t you like to spend those thousand lives living as people who are different from yourself? Sure, I love reading comfortable stories that reflect the experiences I had growing up, and have now as an adult. But if I have a thousand lives to live before I die where’s the fun in spending them all on exploring places I already know?
That’s where translated literature comes in. There are lots of great books written by writers from English speaking countries about the experiences of people of different races, religions, classes and sexualities. These are usually referred to in shorthand as ‘diverse’ which is a topic for another blog altogether. What’s different in my eyes about translated literature is, as an English native speaker, I am not the intended audience.
There is so much that you can learn about the world, and about yourself by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. But how can you even begin to try that when you don’t know what their shoes look like, or that that person even exists? One of the most delightful discoveries of the lives I have managed to live so far (between the pages of books, remember) is that by reading stories from all over the world I can start to trace the shadows at the edges of some of those shoes. A single novel, or story, of course cannot show you the whole shoe, but sometimes it can show you where you might just want to look a little bit harder.
“But Tamsien, I don’t know where to start!” I hear you say. Well, I promised I would help, and I will. A few years ago I followed a wonderful blogger on her mission to read her way around the world in a single year. You can find her reading list here, and she still reviews a translated novel each month on her blog.
With Ann as our inspiration, I’d like you to come on a journey with me. As continue to spend some of my thousand lives reading from the perspectives of writers around the world, I hope that I’ll broaden my horizons further, and make my world smaller still as I stand in thousands of shoes. Perhaps we’ll find we are not so very different after-all.
To get you started here are 6 suggestions from around the world:
Title: The Alchemist (O Alquimista)
Author: Paulo Coelho
Translator: Various – My edition: Alan R. Clarke
In a sentence: A reflective tale of finding yourself and your purpose.
Title: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler (Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore)
Author: Italo Calvino
Translator: William Weaver
Genre: Literary/Experimental/Magical Realism
In a sentence: A layered exploration of how and why we read.
Title: We (Мы)
Author: Yevgeny Zamyatin
Translator: Various – My edition: Natasha Randall
Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia
In a sentence: One of the first ‘dystopian’ novels & the inspiration for Orwell’s 1984.
Title: Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in)
Author: John Ajvide Lindqvist
Translator: Ebba Sergerberg
In a sentence: A terrifying, blood-chilling take on vampires.
Title: The Sound of Waves (潮騒 / Shiosai)
Author: Yukio Mishima
Translator: Meredith Weatherby
In a sentence: A sweet, poetic love story set to the sound of waves on the shore.
Author: Herman Hesse
Translator: Susan Bernofsky
In a sentence: A story of spiritual self-discovery set in ancient India.