Saturday, January 2, 2010

Reading (Real) International Fiction

By Nick Daniels

It is said that the late Argentinean writer, Jorge Luis Borges, learned English so he could read Shakespeare and other English classics in their original language. He probably believed in the Italian proverb, "Traduttore, traditore" (Translator, traitor). In other words, every translation is a treason.

But what else can we do? Unless we spend our lives unraveling the mysteries of Babel, we would miss on so much rich literature. I confess to be an accomplice of treason by reading Russian (my favorite is Dostoievsky) and French authors, German and Portuguese novelists. Yes, they were all translations, but I still enjoyed them.

If I can read the language, I would get the original, of course, as it was the case recently with Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind, of which I bought the original Spanish version, La Sombra del Viento.

Growing up in South America, I spent most of my teen years devouring books by Latin American writers, and have some favorites that you may or may not be familiar with. Here's a list of recommendations for you (you're allowed to read a translation if you can't read Spanish):
  • Cien Años de Soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) by Gabriel García Márquez -- I re-read this book every couple of years. It's the climax of Magical Realism.
  • Rayuela (Hopscotch) by Julio Cortázar -- Not your typical novel, it's an intellectual adventure that will challenge and amaze you.
  • El Aleph (The Aleph and Other Stories) by Jorge Luis Borges -- a delightful collection of short stories.
  • Sobre Heroes y Tumbas (On Heroes and Tombs) by Ernesto Sabato -- a bit dark and weird, but fascinating.
  • La tejedora de coronas (The Crown Weaver) by Germán Espinosa -- mind-boggling, especially because he only uses periods at the end of the chapters--the rest is just commas. Sadly, there's no English translation.
There are many more that I'm leaving out, of course, but this is a good start. What about you? What are your favorite non-English novels?

Nick Daniels is a Christian suspense novelist, an avid reader and audiobook listener, and he loves chocolate ice cream and smooth jazz. Nick is deeply in love with Jesus. Check out the trailer of his novel here.


  1. Nick, I admire your ability to enjoy fiction in Spanish. I have reasonably fluent conversational Portuguese, but when I tried reading an award winning YA novel, it was way beyond me. Not just the vocabulary, but the nuances. I was reminded of a Brazilian friend with fluent English who watched "A Room with a View" and didn't get it. In that movie virtually every speaker means the opposite of what they say. There is so much more than vocabulary to communication.

    Pippi Longstocking is one of my favorite non-English books--read in translation, I assure you.

  2. I have to admit that I normally stick to USA writers. I should branch out a bit.

    BTW, loved the trailer to your book!

  3. What a talented person you are are, Nick - both as a writer and reader! Afraid even my few attempts to learn those few necessary words when visiting another country is pathetic. Back in the 1990's I had a couple of romance books translated into Spanish etc which was very exciting but still makes me feel very inferior where another language is concerned. It is even hard at times to remember that I need to check English words from different countries that have different meanings. e.g. a 'lift' here in Australia means either to pick something or someone up but also what is called an 'elevator' in the U.S. and other places. Of course the 'bad' one to get wrong is 'thong' when we mean a 'flip-flop.' Learnt that one the hard way - but that's another story.