50 Outstanding Translations from the Last 50 Years

The Society of Authors has compiled a list of 50 Outstanding Translations from the Last 50 Years.  I won’t post the entire list (you can follow the link for that) but here are the Top Ten.

  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)

Interestingly, some well-known titles were ranked lower on the list than I would have expected.  For example: 100 Years of Solitude is twelfth. (I would have expected it to be a shoe-in for the Top Ten).  Other familiar titles found farther down are The Name of the Rose (21), The Unbearable Lightness of Being (23), Heaney’s translation of Beowulf (39) and Pamuk’s Snow (44).

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10 thoughts on “50 Outstanding Translations from the Last 50 Years

  1. How interesting, thanks for posting about this. How sad that I’ve read only two books from the list (and only one of the trilogy actually so not even the full Cairo Trilogy! – the other I’ve read is War and Peace). I’ve read a book or two by some of the others, but not the books listed.

    What also interests me about the list is the fact that there are so few women (4 at quick glance?), and that the list is so heavily weighted to European authors. Quite of the few non-European authors lived or live in either North America or in Europe too. And nothing South of say, Egypt?

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      1. Hi Amy –

        I can’t speak to the lack of women authors (I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t notice!). But I do have a theory regarding the surplus of Europeans.

        I think it’s just a matter of numbers. Because of our (and Britain’s) relationship to Europe we’ve been translating languages such as Russian, German, French and Spanish for centuries. But I’ve only recently noticed a push to translate Asian & Middle Eastern literature. And as for Africa – I may be wrong about this but doesn’t it seem as if most African authors write in English? Perhaps it’s a byproduct of colonialism?

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      2. I only noticed the lack of women when checking out the nationality of the authors if I’m honest 🙂 heh. And yes, definitely makes sense why more European authors are on the list, but still makes me sad! A lot of African works are written in Arabic, Afrikaans, and French in particular. The few on the list were translated from Arabic I believe. But the exclusion of South Africa and India from the list did surprise me most because they are countries that do have more of a tight connection with Europe and do end up with quite a lot of translated works compared to other countries in their areas.

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  2. Isn’t the order just the year of translation? I don’t think they ranked the translations within the list…

    Also: some pretty amazing books on this list. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. These lists always me sad. So few women writers and writers of color. Still, I like this one and might just put up with their bias :). I completely agree about The Leopard. I would add So Long A Letter by Mariama Ba, A Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih, The Passion According to G.H. by by Clarice Lispector, The Kingdom of this World by Alejo Carpentier. Thanks for the link.

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    1. More recommendations! 🙂

      I just found a used copy of The Leopard at a library book sale. Ever notice how a book jumps onto your radar and all of the sudden you’re hearing about it everywhere? Finding it was fortuitous, as I’ve heard so many good things recently.

      I think I’ve become desensitized to the under-representation of women & writers of color on these lists. Which is sad and wrong. I’m glad I have bloggers like you and Amy to keep reminding me.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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