23 December 2011

Reading list: "Translators" in fiction

Encouraged by friends' comments on a previous blog post, I decided to look for works of fiction with translators as protagonists. I posted the question in Goodreads and LibraryThing and was rewarded with a lot of suggestions and links.

The reading list below collects works of fiction featuring translators--for this list, I'm including interpreters--as major or minor characters. They are limited to books written in English or available in English translation. It's not a definitive list for sure but it may already contain a good chunk of what's out there. Some interesting books here already populated my wish list.


Leila Aboulela – The Translator
César Aira – The Literary Conference; La Princesa Primavera (untranslated)
Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq - Leg Over Leg
Rabih Alameddine – An Unnecessary Woman
Brian Aldiss – The Interpreter, aka Bow Down to Nul (science fiction)
Vassilis Alexakis – Foreign Words
Saud Alsanousi – The Bamboo Stalk
Gina Apostol – The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata; Insurrecto
Paul Auster – The Book of Illusions
Amadou Hampâté Bâ – The Fortunes of Wangrin
Ingeborg Bachmann – Three Paths to the Lake (see the story “Word for Word”)
Gerbrand Bakker – The Detour, aka Ten White Geese
L. Frank Baum – The Marvelous Land of Oz (see the 7th chapter, “His Majesty the Scarecrow”)
Katharine Beaman – The Translator
Mario Bellatin – Shiki Nagaoka: A Nose for Fiction
Salvador Benesdra – El traductor (untranslated)
Luciano Bianciardi – La Vita Agra (It’s a Hard Life)
Matt Bondurant – The Third Translation
Carmen Boullosa – Heavens on Earth (trans. Shelby Vincent)
Christine Brooke-Rose – Between
Kathleen Brooks – Forever Betrayed
Anita Brookner – Falling Slowly
Michel Butor – Passing Time (trans. Jean Stewart)
William F. Buckley Jr. – Nuremberg: The Reckoning
Italo Calvino – If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller
Rachel Cantor – Good on Paper
Cervantes – Don Quixote
Susan Choi – The Foreign Student
Copi – La Cité des rats (untranslated)
Julio Cortázar – 62: A Model Kit, trans. Gregory Rabassa
Mia Couto – The Last Flight of The Flamingo
John Crowley – The Translator
Susan Daitch – L.C.
Lydia Davis – The End of the Story
Maylis de Kerangal – Mend the Living (aka The Heart) (trans. Jessica Moore)
Dicey Deere – The Irish Manor House Murder
Samuel R. Delany – Babel-17 (science fiction)
Fyodor Dostoevsky – Crime and Punishment
Sarah Dunant – Transgressions
Francesca Duranti – House on Moon Lake
Jennie Erdal – The Missing Shade of Blue
Laura Esquivel – Malinche    
Sheila Finch – Guild of Xenolinguists (science fiction)
Jonathan Safran Foer – Everything Is Illuminated
Anatole France – The Queen Pedauque, aka At the Sign of the Reine Pedauque, aka At the Sign of the Queen Pedauque
Michael Frayn – The Russian Interpreter
Brian Friel – Translations (play)
Anna Gavalda – Someone I Loved
Suzanne Glass – The Interpreter
Terry Goodkind – Sword of Truth (series)
James Grady – Six Days of the Condor (spy thriller)
Graham Greene – Doctor Fischer of Geneva or The Bomb Party
Olga Grjasnowa – All Russians Love Birch Trees
Saleem Haddad – Guapa
Suzette Haden Elgin – Native Tongue; The Judas Rose (science fiction)
Peter Handke – The Left-Handed Woman
Daoud Hari – The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur
Todd Hasak-Lowy – The Task of This Translator
Donald A. Herron – The Misadventures of Interpreter Sam
JT Hine – Lockhart series
Russell Hoban – Riddley Walker
Sheri Holman – A Stolen Tongue (historical fiction)
Nancy Horan – Loving Frank
Uwe Johnson – Anniversaries: From the Life of Gesine Cresspahl
Susanna Jones – The Earthquake Bird (thriller)
Gabriel Josipovici – The Cemetery in Barnes
Ward Just – The Translator
James Kelman - Translated Accounts
Suki Kim – The Interpreter
India Knight – Don’t You Want Me
Dezső Kosztolányi – Kornél Esti
Ahmadou Kourouma – Monnew
Nicole Krauss – The History of Love
Julia Kristeva – Possessions
Jaan Kross – Treading Air (see Chapter 33)
Jean Kwok – Girl in Translation
Jhumpa Lahiri – Interpreter of Maladies (see titular story)
Wally Lamb – I Know This Much Is True
John le Carré – The Mission Song; A Perfect Spy; The Russia House
Hervé Le Tellier – Eléctrico W
Ben Lerner – Leaving the Atocha Station
Doris Lessing – The Summer Before the Dark
Gwyneth Lewis – Keeping Mum (poetry)
Cathie Linz – Private Account (Candlelight Ecstasy Romance, #242)
David Lodge – Small World
Valeria Luiselli – Faces in the Crowd (trans. Christina MacSweeney); Lost Children Archive
Thomas Mann – Doctor Faustus (minor character as translator)
Peter Manseau – Songs for the Butcher’s Daughter
Diego Marani – New Finnish Grammar; The Last of the Vostyachs; The Interpreter; The Celestial City
Javier Marías – All Souls; Dark Back of Time; Bad Nature; A Heart So White; Your Face Tomorrow (3 vols.)
Vanina Marsot – Foreign Tongue
Harry Mathews – The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium; The Human Country: New and Collected Stories (see “The Dialect of the Tribe” and “Remarks of the Scholar Graduate”)
Brice Matthieussent – Revenge of the Translator (trans. Emma Ramadan)
Colum McCann – Dancer
Aaron Megged – The Flying Camel and the Golden Hump
Pascal Mercier – Night Train to Lisbon; Perlmann's Silence
Anne Michaels – Fugitive Pieces
Andrew Miller – Oxygen
Ursule Molinaro – Fat Skeletons
Nicole Mones – Lost in Translation
Robert Moss – The Interpreter (historical fiction)
Antonio Muñoz Molina – El jinete polaco (untranslated)
Haruki Murakami – Pinball, 1973
Iris Murdoch – Under the Net
Andrés Neuman – Traveller of the Century
Dorthe Nors – Mirror, Shoulder, Signal (trans. Misha Hoekstra)
Idra Novey – Ways to Disappear
Joyce Carol Oates – The Tattooed Girl
Yoko Ogawa – Hotel Iris
Pola Oloixarac – Mona (trans. Adam Morris)
Park Hyoung-su – Arpan
Ann Patchett – Bel Canto
Alan Pauls – The Past
Matthew Pearl – The Dante Club
Sergio Pitol – The Art of Flight (volume 1 of Trilogy of Memory)
Jacques Poulin – Translation Is a Love Affair
E. S. Purnell – The Mistress
David Quantick – The Mule
Piers Paul Read – A Season in the West
João Reis – The Translator's Bride, translated by João Reis
Gerard Reve – Parents Worry, translated by Richard Huijing
Cristina Rivera Garza – The Taiga Syndrome (trans. Suzanne Jill Levine and Aviva Kana)
Michael Robertson – The Baker Street Translation
Gord Rollo – The Translators
Juan José Saer – Scars
Arno Schmidt – Bottom’s Dream
Nina Schuyler – The Translator
Carol Shields – Unless
Mikhail Shishkin – Maidenhair
Marivi Soliven – The Mango Bride
José Carlos Somoza – The Athenian Murders
Antal Szerb – Oliver VII
Adam Thirlwell – The Delighted States: A Book of Novels, Romances, and Their Unknown Translators, Containing Ten Languages, Set on Four Continents, and Accompanied by Maps, Portraits, Squiggles, Illustrations, and a Variety of Helpful Indexes, aka Miss Herbert
James Thurber – The Thurber Carnival (see “The Black Magic of Barney Haller” and “What Do You Mean It Was Brillig?”)
Rose Tremain – The Way I Found Her
Ludmila Ulitskaya – Daniel Stein, Interpreter
Lara Vapnyar – Still Here
Mario Vargas Llosa – The Bad Girl
Luís Fernando Veríssimo – Borges and the Eternal Orang-utans (trans. Margaret Jull Costa)
Boris Vian/Vernon Sullivan – I Spit on Your Graves; The Dead All Have the Same Skin
Paolo Volponi – Last Act in Urbino
Peter Waterhouse – Language Death Night Outside: Poem. Novel
Barbara Wilson – Cassandra Reilly Mystery series
Jeannete Winterson – Written on the Body
A. B. Yehoshua – The Liberated Bride
Banana Yoshimoto – NP

ProZ.com WikiProZ.com; Brave New Words; Biblit; Conference on Fictional Translators in Literature and Film - Vienna, 2011

Happy Christmas to all readers of in lieu of a field guide!


  1. P.S. The following books are also about translators and interpreters, but they're nonfiction.

    Benjawan Poomsan Becker – The Interpreter’s Journal (memoir)
    Valentin M. Berezhkov – At Stalin’s Side: His Interpreter's Memoirs From the October Revolution to the Fall of the Dictator's Empire (memoir)
    Roger Dingman – Deciphering the Rising Sun: Navy and Marine Corps Codebreakers, Translators and Interpreters in the Pacific War
    Eugen Dollmann – The Interpreter: Memoirs of Doktor Eugen Dollmann
    Daoud Hari – The Translator (memoir)
    Alice Kaplan – The Interpreter (history)
    Frances Karttunen – Between Worlds: Interpreters, Guides, and Survivors (biographies)
    Harry Obst – White House Interpreter: The Art of Interpretation (memoir)
    M. O. Skarsten – George Drouillard: Hunter and Interpreter for Lewis and Clark and Fur Trader, 1807-1810 (biography)
    Marvin Woods – Custer's Arikara Indian Interpreter (Frederick Francis Gerard) (history)
    Rachel Lung – Interpreters in Early Imperial China (monograph)

  2. How about Gregory Rabassa's If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents, David Bellos's Is That a Fish in Your Ear?
    Translation and the Meaning of Everything,The Three Percent Problem: Rants and Responses on Publishing, Translation, and the Future of Reading by Chad W. Post, although these are more to do with translation as is my favourite George Steiner's After Babel.

  3. Those too, Gary, will be formidable additions to the nonfiction list. Here’s an expanded one (the bottommost list).

  4. Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker would also fit nicely into this list. There is a wonderful sequence where a piece of 'old' writing is interpreted. The whole book involves the reader in a task of interpretation and much of the interest in the book lies in how the language has changed over the imagined era between now and the now of the book.

  5. I've added it to the list. Thanks for the suggestion, Séamus. Incidentally it became available in BookMooch and I requested for it. So a copy is wending its way to me.

  6. You should add Suzette Haden Elgin's Native Tongue and Judas Rose to this list.

  7. Thanks, Jodie, for bringing these books to my attention. They're now on the list.

  8. What a great compilation. I have a few more to add if there's still room:

    Harry Mathews' "The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium"

    Cesar Aira's "La Princesa Primavera" (not yet available in English, but with a translator as protagonist)

    Some of James Thurber's short stories also play with the pitfalls of translation and misinterpretation, such as "The Black Magic of Barney Haller" or "What do You Mean it was Brillig?"

  9. Thanks, Scott. I've added them plus another book by Mathews.

  10. Not a trans Fiction, but you may find it interesting it's a PDF essay by poet & translator
    Harry Guest(French and Japanese) it's called - Translation Both Ways.

  11. Thanks for the link, Gary. Downloading it now.

  12. Hi, Thanks for this great list! I wanted to give you a couple of other titles in case you'd like to add them. One is my own translation - Heavens on Earth, by Carmen Boullosa, published by Deep Vellum (2017). The second one is another one due out this August also from Deep Vellum - Revenge of the Translator, by Brice Matthieussent, translated by Emma Ramadan.

    1. Thank you for sharing two wonderful translated titles, Shelby. I added them to the list. (Which reminds me that I need to edit the list and add the names of translators to many titles.)

    2. Thanks so much for adding the titles (and editing to include the translators)!