What are some great books not originally in English?
May 17, 2009 2:00 AM   Subscribe

Summer Reading Filter: looking for great books NOT originally in English

Sorry to add to the swarm of summer reading posts, but this is a bit more specific.

Currently living in Spain, developing my summer reading list, and I have sapped all my English book resources dry.

Reading in Spanish is not a problem but for some reason it pains me to read books in Spanish that were originally in English (I always feel like I'm missing out in the translation).

So, looking for book recommendations that are NOT originally in English, Spanish being the best, but anything else is ok, too (as long as its not English). Fiction and nonfiction, but no short stories.

Stuff I like: Haruki Murakami !!!, Margaret Atwood, John Irving, Jonathan Saffron Foer, Zadie Smith, Vonnegut. I like a lot of contemporary North American lit so something that is similar in style would be great.

Also, a fan of narrative nonfiction.
posted by maca to Writing & Language (36 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I would probably recommend a lot of Latin American fiction in the vein of what they call "Magical Realism" (whoever they is).

That is to say, more or less everything Gabriel García Márquez has ever written (i'm partial to his shorter stuff, myself -- Chronicle of a Death Foretold/Crónica de una muerte anunciada, assorted short stories, etc., but 100 Years of Solitude/Cien años de soledad is generally considered his best, I think); as well as stuff by Isabel Allende (The House of the Spirits/La casa de los espíritus), Juan Rulfo (Pedro Paramo), and a number of others.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 2:16 AM on May 17, 2009

Yukio Mishima
posted by zippy at 2:20 AM on May 17, 2009

Enrique Vila-Matas - I'd recommend Bartleby y Compania to start

Javier Marias

Roberto Bolano - Los Detectives Salvajes. The English translation loses all the color and variety of Mexican swearing.

Fernando Del Paso - Palinuro de Mexico is one of those novels you want to read passages out loud to people. Bright and Funny.
posted by vacapinta at 2:28 AM on May 17, 2009

Try the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges. Ficciones and The Labyrinth, I think two of the collections were called. I'd love to know what they're like in the original language.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:59 AM on May 17, 2009

I think you might enjoy José Luis Peixoto, a young portuguese author (you know, hailed as the hot new thing, radical new style of writing and yet in the best literary tradition, that sort of thing) who has been translated to spanish.

Jose Luís Peixoto, una de las voces más interesantes del panorama actual de las letras portuguesas, nos habla en su última novela, "Nadie nos mira", de una sociedad tan cruel como humana. Una sociedad que existe sin saber la razón de su existencia. Y nos habla de ella con una belleza inmensa. En cada palabra, frase, párrafo, se siente su alma de poeta.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 3:02 AM on May 17, 2009

"Master and Margarita" by Mikhail Bulgakov. Interweaves a story of an alternate universe (well, alternate to the bible) Jesus, a love story involving a possibly mad man, and the devil wreaking havoc in contemporary Moscow with a bowler-wearing, pickle-eating, upright-walking, talking 6-foot cat named Behemoth. It was suppressed in Russia for many, many years, but that hasn't stopped it from being one of the most beloved books of the 20th century in the country.
posted by msbrauer at 3:38 AM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

La Sombra del Viento by Carl Ruiz Zafon
posted by Dukat at 3:39 AM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don Quixote?
posted by rongorongo at 3:45 AM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding 100 Years of Solitude (or anything else by Gabriel Garcia Marquez)...
posted by Chrysalis at 3:45 AM on May 17, 2009

Thirding anything by GGM, but especially Love in the Time of Cholera.
posted by Majorita at 3:54 AM on May 17, 2009

Jose Saramago.
posted by fire&wings at 5:00 AM on May 17, 2009

Snow Mountain by Gao Xingjian

Italo Calvino. Especially If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, although I also loved Invisible Cities.
posted by archofatlas at 5:07 AM on May 17, 2009

Arturo Perez-Reverte always makes me wish I read Spanish.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:17 AM on May 17, 2009

The Memory of fire trilogy by Eduardo Galeano. It's a history of the Americas told in a magic realism style, in a series of one- or two-paragraph vignettes.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:57 AM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you don't object to Sci-Fi (or math jokes), I highly recommend Stanislaw Lem, particularly The Cyberiad

Come, every frustrum longs to be a cone
And every vector dreams of matrices.
Hark to the gentle gradient of the breeze:
It whispers of a more ergodic zone.

posted by namewithoutwords at 6:05 AM on May 17, 2009

Dukat: "La Sombra del Viento by Carl Ruiz Zafon"

Was coming here to suggest that... Zafón's latest - El juego de ángel is pretty good too...
posted by benzo8 at 6:32 AM on May 17, 2009

La Familia De Pascual Duarte by Camilo Jose Cela.
Blow-Up and Other Stories by Julio Cortazar.
100 Years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I'll second Jorge Luis Borges also.
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 6:54 AM on May 17, 2009

Oops. Sorry about missing the no short stories part of the question. Borges and Cortazar both ply in that trade.
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 6:55 AM on May 17, 2009

2666 by Roberto Bolaño
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 7:11 AM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:42 AM on May 17, 2009

My dad reads a lot, always in spanish.
He keeps mentioning La reina del sur by Antonio Perez-Reverte as a book I should read.
I think he also said Laura Restrepo's books were good, except I don't know one in particular.
Arráncame la vida by Ángeles Mastretta got made into a movie last year, so the story should be good, although I haven't read it. Of Mastretta's, I've only read Mal de amores, which was ok, but I didn't enjoy it much because I'm not much into novels with a lot of romance (or the pain from the lack of it).

Anyway, I bet Perez-Reverte is pretty good, you can start from there and see where that takes you.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 8:23 AM on May 17, 2009

I bet it'd be great to read Isabel Allende and Laura Esquivel in their original Spanish. I'd start with Allende's The House of the Spirits/La casa de los espiritus and Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate/Como aqua para chocolate.

Nthing La somba del viento by Carl Ruiz Zafon, which was great in English so much be excellent in Spanish. It's set in Spain, and Zafon is Spanish.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:03 AM on May 17, 2009

Andreas Eschbach is a good science-fiction candidate, although I must confess having only read his one work translated into English: The Carpet Makers.
posted by EnsignLunchmeat at 10:49 AM on May 17, 2009

I'll third Arturo Perez-Reverte. He's one of the few authors who makes me want to read the original instead of the translation. He has both the Alatriste series and then stand alones (that do occasionally have the same cameo characters pop up.) My favorites are the Flanders Panel and the Club Dumas, followed then by Seville Communion and Queen of the South.
posted by librarianamy at 11:29 AM on May 17, 2009

Have you tried anything by Günter Grass (e.g. Krebsgang) or Heinrich Böll (e.g. Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum)?
posted by chicago2penn at 12:20 PM on May 17, 2009

This will be my fifth (5th) time recommending this book on Mefi, but it fits, I promise!

The book is Night Work, by Thomas Glavinic. It was originally written in German, but translated into a very staid, almost Hemingway-like, English prose. Like Atwood and Vonnegut's work, the plot is a sort of eerie sci-fi-esque tale interwoven with lots of philosophical and introspective musings. It deals with a Viennese man named Jonas who wakes up one day to find every living thing on Earth has vanished, and how he works through his anxieties and fears while searching for his missing loved ones. It really is genuinely creepy, and the cinematic quality of the descriptions help flesh out the horrors and make them feel real.

You can preview the book for free here.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:59 PM on May 17, 2009

My wife loved The Elegance of the Hedgehog and she also liked the authors on your list. She read it in English but it was originally french..
posted by srboisvert at 1:34 PM on May 17, 2009

You want Words Without Borders.
posted by mdonley at 2:48 PM on May 17, 2009

Ditto Jose Saramago.
posted by salvia at 3:22 PM on May 17, 2009

I've actually never read the English translation but I'll second Como agua para chocolate. I found it delightful in its original Spanish. It was especially useful for me since it involves a lot of food vocabulary, so I learned quite a bit from it. Since you're already in Spain you may not need that so much (and I believe that Esquivel is Mexican so some of the words might be different regardless, food vocabulary can be quite variable), but I thought I'd throw that benefit out there.

I wouldn't recommend the Quixote unless you bought one of the heavily annotated editions and worked through it. It would be work, even if it turned out to be enjoyable work. The Spanish is distant enough from modern Spanish that it's difficult for a modern speaker to understand a lot of the time, and some of the cultural context the novel was written in is not very clear from the novel itself. (Naturally, since Cervantes was writing for contemporary readers of a particular class rather than readers 400 years in the future.) I adore the book, but I don't think I'd feel the same way about it if I hadn't read it in a class with a professor who was excellent at teaching it.
posted by Kosh at 3:51 PM on May 17, 2009

Seconding Javier Marias. He is amazing.
posted by dizziest at 5:32 PM on May 17, 2009

Oh, as for narrative nonfiction, Ryszard Kapuscinski sets my heart aflutter. He was Poland's only foreign correspondent for 30 years, covering wars, strife, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and other subjects. While filing his boring wire reports, he wrote beautiful, poetic, intense accounts of what and how he was reporting. That wikipedia page quotes Salman Rushdie as saying "One Kapuściński is worth more than a thousand whimpering and fantasizing scribblers. His exceptional combination of journalism and art allows us to feel so close to what Kapuściński calls the inexpressible true image of war." His work was first recommended to me by a well-known war photographer who said Kapuscinski was the only war writer who "really gets it."
posted by msbrauer at 7:28 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Anything by Marguerite Duras.
posted by SisterHavana at 8:30 PM on May 17, 2009

Definitely Borges.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:19 PM on May 17, 2009

So many of my favorite authors I read in translation, this is almost like asking me to trot them all out...

Ditto Borges (despite your "no short stories"), Bolaño.
Adding Italo Calvino, Orhan Pamuk, Milorad Pavic, Julio Cortazar to the pile.
posted by juv3nal at 10:43 PM on May 17, 2009

Have you read Perfume by Patrick Süskind? Also good is The Summer Book by Tove Jansson.
posted by Miss Otis' Egrets at 10:56 PM on May 17, 2009

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