8 great novels in translation


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If you’re looking to read more books from around the world, starting with translated novels makes a lot of sense. For reasons I don’t entirely understand, much of the fiction that is translated into English is short story length. Short story may be a more dominant form in other countries than in the United States, or it may be that shorter books are easier to translate and therefore easier to publish. Either way, there are plenty of wonderful translated short stories to choose from.

Personally, I love reading novels: they’re long enough to create the feeling of immersion in a story, but not so long that I, as a slow reader, feel bogged down. They’re also a great way to try out new authors and styles without a major time investment. If you like what you find, you can search for other books by this author or in this style.

Also, if you fall in love with a particular translated short story, you can search for other works from that country or region. The books in the list below are from Mexico, Palestine, Japan, Argentina, Switzerland, France, Colombia, and South Korea. Reading any of them might inspire you to learn more about the literary culture and traditions of that place.

You might also find a new favorite author. I have read and enjoyed the books on this list and have continued to search for more work by these writers. You might have the same experience!

The taiga syndrome by Cristina Rivera Garza, translated by Suzanne Levine and Aviva Kana

This short story blends fairy tales, detective novels, travel writing and translation theories into a wild and eerie reading experience. An ex-detective is hired for a mission to find a lost couple. To carry out her mission, she travels to the Far North with a translator. As they go deeper into the forest, what they discover becomes stranger and stranger. It’s a great book for those who like strange reads that keep you guessing and give you plenty to think about.

Cover of Minor Detail by Adriana Shibli

Minor detail by Adania Shibli, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette

The first part of this short story takes place in 1949. It tells the story of an Israeli officer who leads a group of soldiers on a mission to find and capture Palestinians in the Negev desert. They capture and then brutalize and kill a Palestinian teenager. Part two describes a woman in modern-day Ramallah who becomes obsessed with this murder and begins to research it. The subject matter is dark and difficult, so be prepared for that. The book takes a close look at violence, memory, and how the past shapes the present. Its two halves mirror each other in fascinating ways as well.

Territory of Light book cover by Yuko Tsushima

Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima, translated by Géraldine Harcourt

This short story tells the story of a woman in Tokyo who moves into a new apartment with her 3-year-old daughter. She and her husband recently separated. In a series of vignettes, Tsushima traces the ups and downs of this woman. She feels isolated and exhausted, but also exhilarated by her newfound freedom. Mother and daughter bask in the abundant light of their apartment, but also struggle to adapt to change and take on new challenges. The book is beautiful and thoughtful and also a sharp portrait of what it takes to survive as a single mother in a world that mostly offers disapproval.

Cover of The Wind that Ravages by Selva Almada

The wind that devastates by Selva Almada, translated by Chris Andrews

Two people, a preacher and his teenage daughter, find themselves stranded after their car breaks down. They find themselves on a rural road in Argentina and are driven to a mechanic who lives with a teenager. The wind that devastates chronicles the interactions of these four characters throughout a day as travelers wait for their cars, and it also fills in their stories. The characters spend a lot of time talking about God and religion, sharing ideas and experiences as a storm looms on the horizon. It is a beautiful novel that encourages reflection on questions of faith and meaning.

Cover of Sweet Days of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy

Sweet days of discipline by Fleur Jaeggy, translated by Tim Parks

This short story from 1989 takes place in a Swiss boarding school. The 14-year-old protagonist finds herself fascinated by a new student on the scene, Frédérique. Friendships and alliances change as Frédérique settles down. The book describes everyday life at school and the twists and turns of gossip and judgement. It’s a seemingly quiet story, but the darkness is never far away. The short story is a disturbing exploration of the images students project onto the world and the reality that lies beneath.

Cover of the book That Time of Year by Marie NDiaye

This time of year by Marie NDiaye, translated by Jordan Stump

In this 1994 novel, Herman and his family go one day beyond their summer vacation in the French countryside. That shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is: the world they knew on August 31st is completely transformed on September 1st. The weather turns rainy and cold, and then Herman cannot find his wife and child. He heads to the village to look for them, but no one has answers and no one seems concerned. The villagers ignore him and the officials are unable or unwilling to help. The story becomes increasingly surreal. Fans of literary horror will especially love this one.

book cover of The female dog Pilar Quintana

the female dog by Pilar Quintana, translated by Lisa Dillman

This short story tells the story of Damaris, a woman in her forties who adopts a puppy to ease her loneliness and unhappiness with her husband. She sees the puppy as a substitute for the children she never got to have. However, as the pup grows and becomes aware of the world, he runs away and his relationship with Damaris is never the same. The new beautifully captures the eerie and wild coast of Colombia, which is close to both jungle and ocean. Damaris’ combination of desire and hope is moving. Prepare for scenes of animal cruelty if you choose this one.

cover of b, Book and I Kim Sagwa

b, book and me by Kim Sagwa, translated by Sunhee Jeong

This short story tells the story of two best friends, Rank and b, left alone by their parents and ignored by their teachers. They are teenagers living in a South Korean city who struggle with poverty, loneliness and bullying. Together, they dream of escape. But then Rang unwittingly betrays B by writing about his dying sister, and their friendship falls apart. We follow their stories as they come back to each other. The new captures how dark life can be for teenagers and how difficult it can be for them to find their way.

After reading this list of novels in translation, you might be inspired to find even more books to check out. Book Riot has you covered! You can read this 2022 list of books in translation and this list of 2021 translations. We also have a list of 50 must-read short books in translation. You can also consult our translation archives.

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