Reading in Translation

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
I like to ring the changes, by reading foreign novels, so I was delighted to chance upon a best-selling debut novel The Wolf and the Watchman in my local library. Written by Swedish author Niklas Natt och Dag whose surname means Night and Day, it’s sure to be filmed.

The Wolf and the Watchman

I was attracted by the cover design featuring a black wolf and an unusual hand-written font.


Some of my favourite crime writers are Scandinavian, including Swedes Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, Åsa Larsson and Leif G. W. Persson, Norwegians Jo Nesbø and Karin Fossum, Finn Antti Tuomainen, Icelander Arnaldur Indriðason and Dane Jussi Adler-Olsson.

A crime writer I cherish is Andrea Camilleri, whose Inspector Montalbano series is set on his place of birth Sicily.

Other Italian crime writers I like are Antonio Manzini and Marco Vichi.

French authors Dominique Sylvain, Sophie Hénaff and Pierre Lemaître do a good job with the Gallic crime scene.

In the last few years, I’ve also read crime novels originally written in Japanese, which were peculiar as the social mores are so different. Kanae Minato, Seichō Matsumoto and Yōko Ogawa tales of murder in a society where saving face is of paramount importance wrong-foot the reader.

Away from Crime, I’ve enjoyed Dutch writer Peter de Smet’s two secret diaries of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old, Swede Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove and Swede Jonas Jonasson’s The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared.

If you’re a grumpy old man you’ll recognise yourself in these stories (who, me?) :rolleyes:

I chose Norwegian Lars Mytting’s The Sixteen Trees Of The Somme as one of my favourite reads of 2017.

Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami’s novels are long, challenging and strange.

Which books have you enjoyed in translation?

Paul, have you read The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning by Hallgimur Helgason. I think you might like it. Having said that, I'm not sure if the original was in Icelandic or if he wrote in English.

Peter Handke (an Austrian, i think) is great in German. I haven't read a translation yet.

Check out Max Frisch. He's Swiss.

Translating novels must be hard. I can't imagine trying to get someone's voice across. I'm bilingual. I wouldn't dare!
Thank you for the recommendations @Barbara. I've put The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning on my list of books to request at the library. It's an eye-catching title, which is half the battle. It reminded me of an unusual crime novel I enjoyed Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All, by Jonas Jonasson.

I investigated ways of getting my Cornish Detective series translated earlier this year when I was gearing up to self-publish using Amazon's Kindle Select. I uploaded a section of one novel to Google Translate translating it into Spanish, which looked OK from my limited comprehension. But then I put the translation into Day Translations to bring it back to English, which showed how poorly such free apps handle nuances.
I uploaded a section of one novel to Google Translate
Yeah, Google Translate isn't reliable at all. My other half occasionally uses it to talk to my mother in German. It's hilarious, the nonsense Google comes out with, but it makes for funny dinner conversation. I'm trilingual and I wouldn't use any computer translation tool for a novel. Ever. These things are fine when you're a tourist and lost in a souk, but to translate a literary work, you need a human.
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