Found in Translation
July 3, 2020 1:32 PM   Subscribe

Looking for recommendations for good English language translations of novels. Will happily take recommendations for non-English films and TV shows with English subtitles as well. Particularly fond of mysteries/thrillers and comedies. Looking for more recent examples within the past 20 years. Very curious to hear about people's favorites. Thanks all!

I loved Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama. It was an excellent addition to the mystery/thriller genre. I remember Confessions by Kanae Minato being difficult to put down, especially the beginning chapters. I had heard that Natsuo Kirino was also a popular Japanese mystery writer, although my read of Out has been somewhat slow-going. Having also read some Scandinavian noir (with mixed results), I found The Silence of the Sea by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir to have a very cinematic quality. Some of Sigurðardóttir's earlier thrillers were too violent for my taste, however. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-joo is on my to-read list. More recs like these novels would be very welcome!

One of my favorite Japanese films is Linda Linda Linda, about a group of high school girls who form a rock band. I would love more recs for Japanese movies, but not for anime. Recently, like most of the world after seeing Parasite, I have been on a Korean film kick. A few I have already seen include Train to Busan, The Host, and Memories of Murder. I'm also particularly interested in recs for Spanish language films - I've already seen Pan's Labyrinth.

I have watched a number of mystery series over the years and can't recall the names of all of them, but have seen a few French, Swedish, and Danish language series that were fairly entertaining. More recently, I loved the Korean detective drama Signal. I have seen a fair number of Korean TV series, but not as many of the very recent programs. I also enjoyed When the Camellia Blooms.

Thank you all for your recommendations! I look forward to reading about your favorite novels, films, and/or tv shows in translation.
posted by panther of the pyrenees to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
For TV, there have been two incredible German shows that got widespread attention in the past few years: Babylon Berlin and Dark. Babylon Berlin is an interwar-period detective noir, and Dark is a complex time travel mystery spanning multiple time periods but initially set in the present day. I'm evangelical about both of these.

It's hard to track down, but I loved what I could find of Rejseholdet (called Unit One internationally), a Danish cop procedural which was one of Mads Mikkelsen's projects before he got into American film and TV.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:50 PM on July 3, 2020

The Michael Kandel translation of The Cyberiad is not only a good comedic read but also is one of the most impressive translations I’ve ever seen.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:09 PM on July 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

Last year, I sorted the titles from the translation database originally compiled at Three Percent by a combination of ratings and readership numbers at Goodreads and kept just the top 20 from each year to yield a list of ~11 years of popular translated books. It's a pretty eclectic mix, but maybe that's what you're aiming at. For films--particularly the non-anime Japanese films you mention an interest in--I'd suggest subscribing to the Criterion Channel, because they have a ton.
posted by cpound at 2:16 PM on July 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

The French series Les Revenants was really, really good. It had an... unfortunate US remake but, if you didn't see that (hell, even if you did) it's well worth your time. It's a supernatural mystery series with an excellent soundtrack from Mogwai.
posted by deeker at 2:52 PM on July 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

El Orfanato is an excellent Spanish supernatural horror film.

For literature, I know several people who have enjoyed the English translations of Andrea Camilleri’s ‘Commissario Montalbano’ series.
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 3:39 PM on July 3, 2020

Seconding Babylon Berlin and Dark.

We recently watched the Korean drama Stranger (aka Forest of Secrets). It is a mystery/thriller about corruption in the justice system and is really, really good.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, by Olga Tokarczuk, is a very well translated Polish mystery about an older woman who is trying to convince the local police that a series of murders in her rural community are the result of revenge by animals. The police dismiss her and write her off as mentally unstable, prone to imagining things. Tokarczuk won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2018. The book was adapted into a film called Spoor by Agnieszka Holland which I have not seen so I can't vouch for it.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:16 PM on July 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Go, Went, Gone is a masterpiece translated from the German. It’s about a retired professor in the former East Germany who gets involved with African refugees.
posted by FencingGal at 4:43 PM on July 3, 2020

I highly, highly recommend Bong Joon Ho's Mother. Since you like mysteries/thrillers, it's a perfect pick - and an incredible film.
posted by thebots at 8:24 PM on July 3, 2020

Oh yeah, and I absolutely have to recommend all of Elena Ferrante's novels (particularly the Neapolitan novels). The translations are amazing.
posted by thebots at 8:25 PM on July 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm very fond of Fred Vargas, any of her books. Her Adamsberg series of crime novels are great imo. Her Four Evangelist novels are very good too.
posted by Rufous-headed Towhee heehee at 11:32 PM on July 3, 2020

Look for anything translated by William Weaver. He was really really good at what he did, which it seems gave him the luxury of always working with really good source material.
posted by flabdablet at 2:02 AM on July 4, 2020

Have you read Keigo Higashino? I went on a binge recently and read almost everything he's written.

I'd also recommend A True Novel. It is long but gave me something of that expansive feel that Six Four gave me, of actually entering a Japanese world.

Check out also Pushkin's Vertigo series. It is all translated thrillers/detective and all quite good. I can recommend Leo Perutz's Master of the day of Judgement.

And a film I try to push on anyone is Hukkle, a Hungarian mystery film with very little dialog. Watch carefully what is going on on the screen in front of you.

Another favorite film is Johnnie To's Mad Detective, a wild, under-rated film.
posted by vacapinta at 4:50 AM on July 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Came in to recommend Keigo Higashino too. Fantastic writer, excellent translations.

Moving on to Scandinavian fiction, I read all of Yrsa Sigurðardóttir's Thóra Gudmundsdóttir novels, and each time I settled into one, I remembered that I hadn't really enjoyed the others... however, as it happens, the one I got on with the best was The Silence of the Sea. My reasons for bouncing off them are not the same as yours, so take these with a pinch of salt, but:

Arnaldur Indriðason's Erlendur series was my introduction to Icelandic fiction, and to the concept of life in a hostile climate - blizzards that can kill are an alien notion, when you live in a land where an inch of snow stops the trains.

1222 is my favourite of Anne Holt's Hanne Wilhelmsen series (also the first to have been translated into English, so don't worry about the fact that it's not chronologically the first). I remember it as being clever and satisfying, and as something that couldn't have been set anywhere other than the Norwegian mountains.

You might also give Ragnar Jónasson a try - what I remember from his books is the atmosphere and the sense of place (Iceland again) rather than any of the details of the murders. Snowblind would be the place to start.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 8:54 AM on July 5, 2020

Thanks for all of the intriguing suggestions, everyone!
posted by panther of the pyrenees at 2:36 PM on July 5, 2020

Japanese movies you might like: Swing Girls, Ping Pong, Summer Time Machine Blues, We Make Antiques
posted by emmling at 2:49 AM on July 6, 2020

LAWRENCE ELLSWORTH's translation of Dumas' Three Musketeers

From the Forward:
"I felt my most important task was to identify Dumas’s genuine voice and bring it to current-day readers of English, so they can meet the man on his own terms and really appreciate what he has to offer.
Not least important, I’ve also kept in all the jokes. Dumas was a very funny man, and I have no patience with translators who note that a gag “is a Gallicism that cannot be properly rendered into English.” Weak! Dumas wasn’t above stooping to make a terrible French pun, in which case I considered it my solemn obligation to provide some matching wordplay in English. Because literary translation is a noble calling, and sometimes your sacred duty to the reader requires you to make a terrible, terrible pun."
posted by ohshenandoah at 5:30 PM on July 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

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