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Ten Great Translated Books

5th August 2023

Ten Great Translated Books. Fiction is frequently translated into languages other than the original. And the translator is often the unsung hero of ensuring success. The best translators work closely with the author to adapt the words for a new market. They are co-creators.

Here are ten of our favourites translated books. You may even find that you didn’t realise some of them were not originally written in English!

Grey Bees by Andrey Kurkov and Boris Dralyuk (translator) – UKRAINE

Little Starhorodivka, a village of three streets, lies in Ukraine’s Grey Zone, the no-man’s-land between loyalist and separatist forces. Thanks to the lukewarm war of sporadic violence and constant propaganda that has been dragging on for years, only two residents remain: retired safety inspector turned beekeeper Sergey Sergeyich and Pashka, a “frenemy” from his schooldays.

With little food and no electricity, under ever-present threat of bombardment, Sergeyich’s one remaining pleasure is his bees. As spring approaches, he knows he must take them far from the Grey Zone so they can collect their pollen in peace. This simple mission on their behalf introduces him to combatants and civilians on both sides of the battle lines: loyalists, separatists, Russian occupiers and Crimean Tatars. Wherever he goes, Sergeyich’s childlike simplicity and strong moral compass disarm everyone he meets.

But could these qualities be manipulated to serve an unworthy cause, spelling disaster for him, his bees and his country?

Grey Bees is as timely as the author’s Ukraine Diaries were in 2014, but treats the unfolding crisis in a more imaginative way, with a pinch of Kurkov’s signature humour. Who better than Ukraine’s most famous novelist – who writes in Russian – to illuminate and present a balanced portrait of this most bewildering of modern conflicts?

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Salzburg, City of Culture by Hubert Nowak and Peter Lewis (translator) – SALZBURG

Situated in the shadow of the Eastern Alps, Salzburg is known for its majestic baroque architecture, music, cathedrals, gardens. The city grew in power and wealth as the seat of prince-bishops, found international fame as the birthplace of the beloved composer Mozart, and expanded to become a global destination for travel as a festival city. With all its stunning sights and rich history, Salzburg has become Austria’s second most visited city, drawing visitors from around the world.

Hubert Nowak sets out to reveal the lesser-known side to Salzburg, a small town with international renown. Leaving the famed festival district, he plunges into in the narrow façade-lined streets of the old quarter, creating one of the most extensive accounts of the city published in English. Through the stories of those who visited and lived in the city over the centuries, he gives the reader a fresh perspective and gives the old city new life.

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The Bleeding by Johana Gustawsson and David Warriner (translator) – QUÉBEC, PARIS

Queen of French Noir, Johana Gustawsson returns with a spell-binding, dazzlingly dark gothic thriller that swings from Belle Époque France to 21st-century Quebec,with an extraordinary mystery at its heart… FIRST in a bewitching new series

The Bleeding begins with a truly macabre and ritualistic crime that leads back to mysteries in Belle Époque Paris, and 1949 Post-War Quebec. Intriguingly dark and vivid, and so cleverly told through three different time frames’ Essie Fox

‘A wonderfully dark, intricately woven historical thriller spanning three generations … it will have you hooked from the very first page’ B A Paris

‘Wonderfully dark and creepy, with a superb twist in its tail!’ James Oswald

_________________________________________

1899, Belle Époque Paris. Lucienne’s two daughters are believed dead when her mansion burns to the ground, but she is certain that her girls are still alive and embarks on a journey into the depths of the spiritualist community to find them.

1949, Post-War Québec. Teenager Lina’s father has died in the French Resistance, and as she struggles to fit in at school, her mother introduces her to an elderly woman at the asylum where she works, changing Lina’s life in the darkest way imaginable.

2002, Quebec. A former schoolteacher is accused of brutally stabbing her husband – a famous university professor – to death. Detective Maxine Grant, who has recently lost her own husband and is parenting a teenager and a new baby single-handedly, takes on the investigation.

Under enormous personal pressure, Maxine makes a series of macabre discoveries that link directly to historical cases involving black magic and murder, secret societies and spiritism … and women at breaking point, who will stop at nothing to protect the ones they love…

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The Lazarus Solution by Kjell Ola Dahl and Don Bartlett (translator) – SWEDEN, NORWAY

Summer, 1943. Daniel Berkåk, who works as a courier for the Press and Military Office in Sweden, is killed on his last cross-border mission to Norway.

Demobbed sailor Kai Fredly escapes from occupied Norway into Sweden, but finds that the murder of his Nazi-sympathiser brother is drawing the attention of the authorities on both sides of the border.

The Norwegian government, currently exiled in London, wants to know what happened to their courier, and the job goes to writer Jomar Kraby, whose first suspect is a Norwegian refugee living in Sweden … a refugee with a past as horrifying as the events still to come … a refugee named Kai Fredly…
Both classic crime and a stunning exposé of Norwegian agents in Stockholm during the Second World War, The Lazarus Solution is a compulsive, complex and dazzling historical thriller from one of the genre’s finest writers.

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Farewell Fountain Street by Selçuk Altun, Mel Keene (translator) and Nilgün Dungan (translator) – ISTANBUL, GENEVA

Ziya Bey has six months left to live. From his mansion on Farewell Fountain Street, the Ottoman aristocrat plans to tie up some questionable business affairs and say goodbye to the people he cherishes. He hires Artvin, a disillusioned professor with a troubled past, to assist him. Intrigued by his employer’s mysterious household, Artvin spends the days uncovering Ziya Bey’s turbulent life story.

The two men become bound together as they reveal dark elements from their pasts. But when Ziya Bey releases Artvin from his duties sooner than expected, Artvin inherits a spiral of violence he cannot control.

In this gripping ride through the streets of Istanbul, two men learn one another’s secrets. But can either of them learn to live with themselves?

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Blue Night by Simone Buchholz and Rachel Ward (translator) – HAMBURG

After convicting a superior for corruption and shooting off a gangster’s crown jewels, the career of Hamburg’s most hard-bitten state prosecutor, Chastity Riley, has taken a nose dive: she has been transferred to the tedium of witness protection to prevent her making any more trouble. However, when she is assigned to the case of an anonymous man lying under police guard in hospital – almost every bone in his body broken, a finger cut off, and refusing to speak in anything other than riddles – Chastity’s instinct for the big, exciting case kicks in.

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Diary of a Country Prosecutor by Tawfik Al-Hakim and Abba Eban (translator) – EGYPT

Who shot Kamar al-Dawla Alwan? Was it a crime of passion? What was the role of the beautiful peasant girl called Rim? Is the mysterious Sheikh Asfur as crazy as he seems? First published in 1937, Tawfik al-Hakim’s partly autobiographical novel is written as the journal of a young, stress-ridden prosecutor deployed by Cairo to investigate a number of serious crimes in a rural village. Imbued with the ideals of a European education, he encounters a world of poverty and disarray, where an imported legal system is both alien and incomprehensible. Both a comedy of errors and a trenchant social satire, Diary of a Country Prosecutor takes aim at wily peasants, clueless bureaucrats, a self-interested ruling class and, of course, our hapless public servant. Hilarious, wry and true, this classic of Egyptian literature has lost none of its bite.

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Whale by Cheon Myeong-Kwan and Chi-Young Kim (translator) – SOUTH KOREA

A woman sells her daughter to a passing beekeeper for two jars of honey. A baby weighing fifteen pounds is born in the depths of winter but named “Girl of Spring.” A storm brings down the roof of a ramshackle restaurant to reveal a hidden fortune. These are just a few of the events that set Myeong-kwan Cheon’s beautifully crafted, wild world in motion.

Whale, set in a remote village in South Korea, follows the lives of many linked characters, including Geumbok, an extremely ambitious woman who has been chasing an indescribable thrill ever since she first saw a whale crest in the ocean; her mute daughter, Chunhui, who communicates with elephants; and a one-eyed woman who controls honeybees with a whistle.

Brimming with surprises and wicked humour, Whale is an adventure-satire of epic proportions by one of the most original voices in international literature.

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Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight by Riku Onda and Alison Watts (translator) – TOKYO

The WSJ commented: “Part psychological thriller, part murder mystery-it is audacious in conception and brilliant in execution.” The Globe and Mail said the book was “emerging as one of the most praised novels of the year.” Set in a Tokyo flat over the course of one night, Aki and Hiro spend one last night together before going their separate ways. Each believes the other to be a murderer and is determined to extract a confession before the night is over. Who has been killed and why? Which one is the killer? In an intense battle of wills over the course of a night, the true nature of the pair’s relationship and the chain of events leading up to this night are gradually revealed in this gripping psychological thriller that keeps the reader in suspense to the very end.

The thriller–buried in a literary whodunit–explores the mysteries of romantic love, memory and attaining self-knowledge. Like the best Japanese crime writing, it is an unflinching foray into the darker recesses of the soul, quietly suspenseful and elegantly constructed.

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Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano and Virginia Jewiss (translator) – NAPLES

Published to coincide with the eponymous blockbuster film, Roberto Saviano’s groundbreaking and utterly compelling book is a major international bestseller and has to date sold 750,000 copies in Italy alone. Since publishing his searing expose of their criminal activities, the author has received so many death threats from the Camorra that he has been assigned police protection. Known by insiders as ‘the System’, the Camorra, an organized crime network with a global reach and large stakes in construction, high fashion, illicit drugs and toxic-waste disposal, exerts a malign grip on cities and villages along the Neapolitan coast is the deciding factor in why Campania has the highest murder rate in all of Europe and why cancer levels there have skyrocketed in recent years.

In pursuit of his subject, Saviano worked as an assistant at a Chinese textile manufacturer and on a construction site, both controlled by ‘the System’, and as a waiter at a Camorra wedding. Born in Naples, he recalls seeing his first murder at the age of fourteen, and how his own father, a doctor, suffered a brutal beating for trying to help an eighteen-year-old victim, left for dead in the street.

Gomorrah is both a bold and engrossing piece of investigative writing and one heroic young man’s impassioned story of a place under the rule of a murderous organisation.

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Enjoy our selection of Great Translated Books!

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