Fantasy Friday with Wyrd & Wonder – Fantasy in Translation
Welcome to Fantasy Friday!
We decided that we’d take the challenge a step further on Fridays, and post about the prompts in a little more detail.
This week, the prompt is fantasy in translation – we’re focusing on books that weren’t originally written in English!
Check the links below for more Fantasy Fridays:
Underlined book titles in bold contain links to reviews on this site.
A HUGE thank you to Jonathan for listing so many presses and translators that readers can follow up on!
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, translated into English by Lucia Graves.
This is one of the most beautifully prosaic books I’ve ever read. The story follows Daniel Sempere from a young boy, as he first enters the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and chances upon a novel written by Julien Carax. He then embarks upon a journey throughout the years to uncover the truth about the author. I may be cheating a little here as the book borders more on historical crime fiction than fantasy, but I’d argue there is a strong magical feel throughout, there is a touch of the supernatural, the unknown, which makes this a truly special read. Zafon expertly makes the city of Barcelona come to life with such vivid imagery, and the city becomes a perfect gothic backdrop to the narrative.
The Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski, translated into English by David French.
I’ve only read three or four of the novels in this series so far but I’ve enjoyed them. The first two feature much monster slaying and Witcher magic, and then in the following books the series delves into the political intrigue realms. I wouldn’t say they will appeal to everyone, especially as the prose is quite simplistic and the narrative may feel outdated to a modern reader, but personally I always feel quite comforted when reading a classic fantasy tale.
INKHEART by CORNELIA FUNKE – first published in German.
THE NEVERENDING STORY by MICHAEL ENDE – first published in German.
Krabat (and the Sorcerer’s Mill) by Otfried Preussler also published as Satanic Mill by Preußler (German)
Krabat is a fantasy classic in Germany, and was first published in 1971. It has a couple of different titles in English, it’s always the same story though! It is a retelling of a rather dark retelling of a Sorbian Folktale, but still reads as well today as it ever did. The main character apprentices at a miller, only to find out what he is supposed to learn isn’t milling, but black magic. While it is the classical good versus evil in a way, it is so much more than that. I love the prose, the setting, the style the story is told in, and to make it short: I simply adore the whole book.
I haven’t read many translated works, but there are three authors in particular I can think of. I absolutely love Haruki Murakami’s books. His work is more literary fiction, but I’d say Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World has a distinct fantasy feel to it, which is probably why it’s my favourite. My edition is translated from the Japanese by Alfred Birnbaum.
Isabel Allende’s debut magical realism novel The House of the Spirits is originally written in Spanish, and follows four generations of a particular family through the upheavals of post-colonialist Chile.
Finally, Dadeni by Ifan Morgan Jones is a Welsh-language fantasy set in modern-day Wales in which characters from Y Mabinogi (Welsh mythology) are brought to life in a story which is very much American Gods (Gaiman) meets The Da Vinci Code (Brown). As yet not translated into English.
They call it “the three percent problem”. Three percent of books published in English are in translation.
Think of the size of the non-English speaking world and let that sink in, how much awesome stuff we are missing out on simply because it doesn’t get translated into English. The good news is that awareness of this disparity is growing, and there are some incredible people out there helping to redress this balance, which is really exciting.
Honford Star is a publisher that specialises in translating and publishing East Asian literature in English, and they have recently branched out into the world of SF/F/Horror, with the marvellous Tower by Bae Myung-hoon (translated by Sung Ryu), To The Warm Horizon by Choi Jin-Young (translated by Soje) and Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung (translated by Anton Hur) all being translated from Korean into English this year.
Ken Liu is an incredible author of both novels and short stories, but he also does amazing work translating Chinese SFF for an English audience. His sensitive and thoughtful translation of Liu Cixin’s The Three Body Problem did much to help the novel gain popularity in the English speaking world, and he has edited anthologies of Chinese science fiction Invisible Stars and Broken Stars, having translated the stories he selected into English.
Francesco Verso is another wonderful writer who has contributed much to breaking down the language barriers in SFF. His publishing house Future Fiction specialises in short story collections by international authors, and he has translated much Italian SF into English and English SF into Italian. His own excellent novels Bloodbusters (Luna Press) and Nexhuman (Apex) have been translated into English by Sally McCorry.
Haikasoru, an imprint of Viz media, specialises in translating Japanese SF, Fantasy and Horror into English. Since 2009 they have brought a truly spectacular range of Japanese genre fiction to an English speaking audience, some 50 titles including the cyberpunk nightmare of Tow Ubukata’s Mardock Scramble, Taiyo Fujii’s biopunk Gene Mapper, and the original novel Battle Royale by Koshoun Takami, the inspiration for the infamous film. Unfortunately they have now gone into hiatus, but one hopes they will be able to return to the incredible job they’ve been doing soon.
Archipelago Books are a nonprofit publisher dedicated to publishing translations of classic and contemporary literature, and have released a number of genre fiction titles, including a new edition of the Brothers Grimm’s tales.
Two Line Press, the publishing arm of the Center for the Art of Translation in San Francisco, has also been known to dabble in the speculative, with books such as Slipping by Mohamed Kheir, translated from the Arabic by Robin Moger, being released in June this year.
Marian Womack is another talented writer of genre fiction who does amazing translation work. Her small press Calque Press published An Invite To Eternity, edited by Womack and Gary Budden, which brings together English and non-English writers responding to climate change.
The neglect with which fiction in translation has been historically treated in genre extends to the classics – many works by writers such as Jules Verne, Stanislaw Lem and Arkady and Boris Strugatsky have been circulating for decades in poor translations, sometimes translated through multiple languages before they reach English. Fortunately this is improving, and sensitive new translations of Strugatsky masterpieces The Inhabited Island, Roadside Picnic, The Snail on the Slope and Hard To Be A God have seen publication over the last five or so years, thanks to the work of translators Andrew Bromfield, Maya Vinokour and Olena Bormashenko and publisher Chicago Review Press.
Wakefield Press is doing amazing work translating Jean Ray’s seminal Weird fiction into English.
So while there is still plenty of work to be done, we can all be grateful for everyone who is working so hard to bring more genre fiction into translation in English.
Next week will be our last Fantasy Friday for this Wyrd & Wonder, and we’re looking at independent or small press fantasy reads.