The 50 Best Literary Translations

Back in 2008, Times Online compiled a list of the 50 best literary translations. The list is quite old but I think it is very useful and, really, who can resist a list? This list includes both fiction and non-fiction.

  1. Raymond Queneau – Exercises in Style (Barbara Wright, 1958)
  2. Primo Levi – If This is a Man (Stuart Woolf, 1959)
  3. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa – The Leopard (Archibald Colquhoun, 1961)
  4. Günter Grass – The Tin Drum (Ralph Manheim, 1962)
  5. Jorge Luis Borges – Labyrinths (Donald Yates, James Irby, 1962)
  6. Leonardo Sciascia – Day of the Owl (Archibald Colquhoun, 1963)
  7. Alexander Solzhenitsyn – One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Ralph Parker, 1963)
  8. Yukio Mishima – Death in Midsummer (Seidensticker, Keene, Morris, Sargent, 1965)
  9. Heinrich Böll – The Clown (Leila Vennewitz, 1965)
  10. Octavio Paz – Labyrinth of Solitude (Lysander Kemp, 1967)
  11. Mikhail Bulgakov – The Master and Margarita (Michael Glenny, 1969)
  12. Gabriel Garcia Marquez – 100 Years of Solitude (Gregory Rabassa, 1970)
  13. Walter Benjamin – Illuminations (Harry Zohn, 1970)
  14. Paul Celan – Poems (Michael Hamburger and Christopher Middleton, 1972)
  15. Bertolt Brecht – Poems (John Willett, Ralph Manheim, Erich Fried, et al 1976)
  16. Michel Foucault – Discipline and Punish (Alan Sheridan, 1977)
  17. Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie – Montaillou (Barbara Bray, 1978)
  18. Italo Calvino – If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller (William Weaver, 1981)
  19. Roland Barthes – Camera Lucida (Richard Howard, 1981)
  20. Christa Wolf – A Model Childhood (Ursule Molinaro, Hedwig Rappolt, 1982)
  21. Umberto Eco – The Name of the Rose (William Weaver, 1983)
  22. Mario Vargas Llosa – Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (Helen R. Lane, 1983)
  23. Milan Kundera – The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Michael Henry Heim, 1984)
  24. Marguerite Duras – The Lover (Barbara Bray, 1985)
  25. Josef Skvorecky – The Engineer of Human Souls (Paul Wilson, 1985)
  26. Per Olov Enquist – The March of the Musicians (Joan Tate, 1985)
  27. Patrick Süskind – Perfume (John E. Woods, 1986)
  28. Isabel Allende – The House of the Spirits (Magda Bodin, 1986)
  29. Georges Perec – Life A User’s Manual (David Bellos, 1987)
  30. Thomas Bernhard – Cutting Timber (Ewald Osers, 1988)
  31. Czeslaw Milosz – Poems (Czeslaw Milosz, Robert Hass, 1988)
  32. José Saramago – Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (Giovanni Pontiero, 1992)
  33. Marcel Proust – In Search of Lost Time (Terence Kilmartin, 1992)
  34. Roberto Calasso – The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony (Tim Parks, 1993)
  35. Naguib Mahfouz – Cairo Trilogy (Olive E. Kenny, Lorne M. Kenny, Angela Botros Samaan, 1991-3)
  36. Laura Esquivel – Like Water for Chocolate (Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen, 1993)
  37. Bao Ninh – The Sorrow of War (Frank Palmos, Phan Thanh Hao, 1994)
  38. Victor Klemperer – I Shall Bear Witness (Martin Chalmers, 1998)
  39. Beowulf (Seamus Heaney, 1999)
  40. Josef Brodsky – Collected Poems (Anthony Hecht et al, 2000)
  41. Xingjian Gao – Soul Mountain (Mabel Lee, 2001)
  42. Tahar Ben Jelloun – This Blinding Absence of Light (Linda Coverdale, 2002)
  43. W.G. Sebald – Austerlitz (Anthea Bell, 2002)
  44. Orhan Pamuk – Snow (Maureen Freely, 2004)
  45. Amos Oz – A Tale of Love and Darkness (Nicholas de Lange, 2004)
  46. Per Petterson – Out Stealing Horses (Ann Born, 2005)
  47. Irène Némirovsky – Suite Française (Sandra Smith, 2006)
  48. Vassily Grossman – Life and Fate (Robert Chandler, 2006)
  49. Alaa Al Aswany – The Yacoubian Building (Humphrey Davies, 2007)
  50. Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace (Richard Pevear, Larissa Volokhonsky, 2007)

I have only read two titles from the list but I’m not sure which translation it was. It’s interesting to to see several collections of poetry on the list. I would have assumed they would be very difficult to translate but I suppose the translators must have done a stellar job. It’s a little strange to see War and Peace at 50 and no Anna Karenina or Crime and Punishment in sight given they’re generally the more popular translated texts. The list would have been a little more helpful if they had included the publisher details too. Regardless, the list gives me a few more international titles to pick from.

What do you think of the list? Are these really the best translations?

Dostoyevsky on a Tee

This is a nice little t-shirt that features Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man. There’s currently 15% off.


And here is a great link to the site’s collection of ‘Fine arts influenced by literature’. They’re so amazing.

Melbourne – UNESCO’s City of Literature

As a proud Melburnian and bibliophile I just thought I should point out that the city has become only the second (after Edinburgh) to be named a City of Literature. I think it’s an incredible declaration and I was extremely pleased when it was announced back in August coinciding with the Melbourne Writer’s Festival. Books are never far away and they are never difficult to find in this city. It is not only the massive chain stores, where there are very few here, but also the smatterings of second-hand bookstores, independent bookstores, hole-in-the-wall stores, and book cafes. Libraries also feature strongly around the city too and where ever I have lived, I always managed to have a library very close by. I’m very lucky at the moment to be able to count on having four libraries close by, However, it’s not just reading. Writing is a ferocious past time among us too.

Although I’m not quite sure what this means for the city, and what will change, this is one city appointment that I actually care about and which is extremely inspiring. One thing I do hope, however, is that we don’t become all selective, fussy and ‘high class’ about books and what constitutes as literature (which is still debatable anyway). The most important thing about books is that people are able to enjoy a story and to escape into another world.

A photo (not a very good one unfortunately) of the State Library of Victoria at night.

State Library of Victoria

State Library of Victoria