Skip to content
Give readers a window on the world. Click to donate.

10 Translated Books about Translators for International Translation Day

By Words Without Borders

Happy International Translation Day! To ensure that you're squeezing in as much translation as possible on this special day, we've made a list of ten great translated books that feature translator characters. From Japan, Denmark, Mexico, Lebanon, and more, these titles delve into the joys, challenges, and (sometimes life-and-death!) responsibilities that define the work of the translator. Though this list is by no means exhaustive, we hope it will serve as a starting point for your celebration of translators and their work this International Translation Day.


1. Revenge of the Translator by Brice Matthieussent, translated from French by Emma Ramadan

Brice Matthieussent's clever romp of a first novel follows Trad, a translator, as he makes increasingly significant changes to the book he's translating. At a certain point, the characters in the translation begin to rebel, pulling Trad into a struggle that blurs his own conception of reality. 


2. N.P. by Banana Yoshimoto, translated from Japanese by Ann Sherif

After a Japanese writer commits suicide, several translators attempt to bring his English-language story collection into Japanese, but each of them, too, takes their own life before they can complete the project. In N.P., award-winning novelist Banana Yoshimoto tells the story of Kazami, who sets out to understand the mysterious phenomenon behind the collection after her translator boyfriend falls victim to it.


3. The Literary Conference by César Aira, translated from Spanish by Katherine Silver

César is a translator—and a crazed scientist intent on taking over the world. The key to his plot? A literary conference attended by Mexican author Carlos Fuentes, who he hopes to clone for his own evil ends. Read an excerpt of César Aira's The Literary Conference on WWB.


4. Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors, translated from Danish by Misha Hoekstra

Shortlisted for the 2017 International Booker Prize, Dorthe Nors's Mirror, Shoulder, Signal takes as its protagonist a middle-aged woman named Sonja, who translates Swedish crime novels for a living. Plagued by attacks of vertigo and suddenly suffocated by Cophenhagen, Sonja begins to reevaluate her life.


5. The Translator's Bride by João Reis, self-translated from Portuguese

Written and translated by Portuguese author João Reis, this humorous novel follows the Translator as he wanders an unidentified city, attempting to earn enough money to buy a house, which he hopes will help him win back the bride who has abandoned him. 


6. Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli, translated from Spanish by Christina MacSweeney

In Faces in the Crowd, novelist and MacArthur Fellow Valeria Luiselli interweaves the storylines of three distinct characters: a young mother in Mexico City writing a semi-autobiographical novel; her book's protagonist, a New York-based translator seeking to translate the work of Mexican poet Gilberto Owen; and Owen himself, nearing the end of his life in 1950s Philadelphia.


7. Translation is a Love Affair by Jacques Poulin, translated from French by Sheila Fischman

In this quiet novel by Jacques Poulin, the discovery of a stray cat with an SOS attached to its collar draws a Quebecois novelist and his young translator into an unexpected mystery. 


8. Leg over Leg by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, translated from Arabic by Humphrey Davies

The first work by pioneering nineteenth-century Lebanese author Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq to appear in English, Leg over Leg narrates the life of "the Fariyaq," the author's alter ego, as he travels the Middle East and Europe, translating, writing, and meditating on the social and political issues of his time. 


9. The House on Moon Lake by Francesca Duranti, translated from Italian by Stephen Sartarelli

In this gripping novel, the down-on-his-luck translator Fabrizio searches for a long-lost Viennese novel, The House on Moon Lake, in the hopes that translating it will launch his literary career. But in the process of finding the book, Fabrizio stumbles into the ominous real-life story behind it.


10. Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa, translated from Japanese by Stephen Snyder

Mari, the teenage protagonist of this dark novel by Yoko Ogawa, helps her mother run their ramshackle seaside hotel. Her chance encounter with one of the hotel's guests, a translator who lives on a nearby island, develops into a full-fledged affair, which Mari attempts to hide from her mother even as it increasingly consumes her life. 


Related Reading:

36 Metaphors for Translation

11 Translated Books by Asian Women Writers to Read This #WITMonth

For International Translation Day: 15 Ways of Looking at Translation


Disclosure: Words Without Borders is an affiliate of and will earn a commission if you use the links above to make a purchase.

Published Sep 30, 2021   Copyright 2021 Words Without Borders

Leave Your Comment

comments powered by Disqus
Like what you read? Help WWB bring you the best new writing from around the world.