10 Works of Translated Literature That Might Surprise You

By Sara Grochowski

For some, the label “translated literature” sounds intimidating or too like the tired classics assigned in high schools across the U.S. We’ve rounded up 10 titles that you may already have on your to-be read list that offer an accessible entry to the world of translated fiction.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

This international publishing sensation, which follows crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist and pierced and tattooed punk prodigy Lisbeth Salander investigating the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, a daughter of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families, who has been missing for over 40 years, was originally published in Swedish. It’s original title: Män som hatar kvinnor, which translates to Men Who Hate Women.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Originally published in German, this novel written by German veteran of World War I is perhaps best known by its movie adaptation. The volume depicts the German soldiers’ extreme physical and mental stress during the first World War, and the detachment from civilian life felt by many soldiers upon returning home. The sequel, The Road Back, was among the books banned and burned in Nazi Germany.

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani

Inspired by the real-life 2012 murder of children by their nanny in New York, Slimani’s novel was originally published in French as The Lullaby. Nominated for an Edgar Award in the U.S., the novel is a story of a couple and their seemingly perfect nanny as jealousy, resentment, and suspicions mount.

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

A children’s fantasy favorite, this first in a trilogy from Funke follows 12-year old Meggie, an avid reader, and her father Mo, who both have the magical ability to read characters to life, bringing them into the real world. Originally published in German, the book was adapted for the screen in 2008 in the UK and 2009 in the US.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

This story of murder, magic, madness, and doomed love is set in 1945 Barcelona, where a boy is initiated into the secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library tended by Barcelona’s guild of rare-book dealers as repository for books forgotten by the world, spurring an epic and mysterious adventure. The beloved novel by Zafon was originally written in his native Spanish.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lundgren

A children’s classic, the iconic Pippi is a red-haired, freckled, and completely unpredictable dynamo who the author said represents her own “longing for a person who has power but does not abuse it.” First printed in Swedish, the 9-year old has fans worldwide and, as of 2009, has been translated into 64 languages.

The Dinner by Herman Koch

Making its debut in Dutch, The Dinner went on to be an international bestseller and has been adapted into three films. The novel centers on the titular dinner, at which narrator Paul Lohman, a former history teacher; his wife Claire; his elder brother Serge, a prominent politician and Dutch Prime Minister contender; and Serge’s wife Babette, discuss how to handle a violent crime committed by their teenage sons.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

This graphic autobiography by Satrapi depicts her childhood through early adult years in Iran during and after the Islamic Revolution. Originally published in French, the title is a reference to the ancient capital of the Persian Empire, Persepolis. In the U.S., controversy surrounding the novel’s graphic language and images has landed it on the American Library Association’s most challenged books list.

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

Four years before being published in English, this cult favorite was published in German. The story follows a boy whose discovery and theft of a book called The Neverending Story, a magical tome in which he finds himself the hero. In the early 2000s, German publishing house AVAinternational published six novels by different authors in a series called Legends of Fantastica, each using parts of the original plot and characters to compose an entirely new storyline.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

This story about a curmudgeonly old man whose cranky exterior hides a story and a sadness and whose life is turned upside down when a chatty young couple and their chatty young daughters move in next door. Originally published in Swedish, this book club favorite spent 42 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list.

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Article originally Published in the October/November 2019 Issue “Read Global”

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