Last night the fiction finalists for the Best Translated Book Awards were announced at Idlewild Books in New York City. The awards are sponsored by Three Percent, a program at the University of Rochester (the name comes from the fact that only ~3% of books published in the United States are works in translation). Of the finalists, original languages range from Hebrew to Norwegian. View the complete list here.
The awards caught my attention because two of the most recent books I’ve read have been in translation. I loved the simple, lyrical language in The Solitude of Prime Numbers (originally written in Italian), and I hope future reviews note the work of English translator Shaun Whiteside. I’ve read Isabel Allende in Spanish and in English, and I’ve always been impressed by the English translations—Magda Bogin’s work in The House of the Spirits was especially notable, capturing the author’s flowing prose and mystical imagery. Island of the Sea (translated by Margaret Sayers Peden) is no exception.
If you’re unable to read a work in the original language, it’s hard to tell if a translation is great—although I think it’s clear if one is bad, based on clunky transitions, imagery and diction. What translated works would you recommend? Any you’d avoid?