Reading in translation: getting a global perspective

Gaining insight into other cultures and perspectives is one of the things I most enjoy about reading. And, of course, books can be therapeutic too. Susan Chira’s recent New York Times article, In Trying Times, the Balm of Jane Austen, rings true.

Returning to old favourites and the reassuring stability of the classics can be just what you need when times are tough, so it isn’t surprising that bibliotherapy is growing in popularity. After all, many of us need some sort of escapism when the world seems to be getting more turbulent by the day.

7byaridy7lq-kate-williams-1Photo credit: Kate Williams

As we begin a new year, reading more books in translation and finding authors from different cultural backgrounds are two of my ongoing literary intentions.

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking” – Haruki Murakami.

Ice by Ulla-Lena Lundberg and Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue are among my favourite books of 2016, and they gave me an insight into two diverse cultures.

9erhhb8wwqi-les-anderson-1Photo credit: Les Anderson

Translated from Swedish, Ice tells the story of a young Lutheran priest and his wife who move to a remote island off the coast of Finland in 1947. I enjoyed Lundberg’s quietly atmospheric descriptions of the community and its seasonal way of life. The novel’s slow pace drew me into the rhythm of island life before reaching a heartrending conclusion.

Lundberg’s Finnish island community is a world away from the setting of Behold the Dreamers, in which Jende Jonga and his wife Neni emigrate from Cameroon to New York City in search of a better life for themselves and their young son.

6y6onwbkk-o-chris-li-1Photo credit: Chris Li

But it’s 2007 and Wall Street is on the verge of the financial crisis; the Jongas’ pursuit of the American Dream isn’t going to be easy. Mbue’s debut novel gives an insightful commentary on the immigrant experience in the US, while maintaining threads of warmth and humour that run throughout the book.

Which books were your favourites in 2016? Do you have literary goals or intentions (such as reading more of a certain genre or author, or reading books in translation)?

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16 thoughts on “Reading in translation: getting a global perspective

    • Yes, I do the same. It’s easy to get into a habit of only reading particular authors/genres/styles, especially when publishing really isn’t very diverse. But I do enjoy it when I make a conscious effort to seek out something a little different.

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      • Yeah. I’m not sure I don’t know much about the publishing industry. I think perhaps people not just of cultures but of different backgrounds as well. White , black , gay , straight manual , middle class , female male. These groups could live in the same country and experience it completely differently. I think I would find it difficult to relate to Jane Austen’s work for instance.

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  1. I haven’t heard of bibliotherapy yet, but it makes perfect sense. Translations are great in that they mediate what we couldn’t otherwise access due to language barriers, on the other hand, I’ve found that knowing English, I can’t read translations from English into my mother tongue anymore – they seem too artificial and I can’t help guessing what the original English wording was…

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  2. Usually I don’t have too many literary goals. Just the usual read whatever interests me. But I think reading books in translation would be cool too. Or reading books written in different perspectives would also be pretty great.

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  3. I read The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, which is a nonfiction book about the great migration of African Americans from the south of the US to other states. It was a whole hidden history I had not idea of. There was so much in there that I feel like I would need to reread it to understand it even further.

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  4. I read and enjoyed Behold the Dreamers in 2016 too. One book I’d recommend to you for 2017 is Robert Seethaler’s “A Whole Life.” It’s a beautiful short novel about a simple man’s life in the Austrian Alps. I read the English translation but have since gone on to read his other work in German.

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    • Thanks for the recommendation. I saw it on a bookstore display and one of my friends rated it highly, but I haven’t read it yet. One to add to my to-read list. 🙂 Currently reading ‘Sweet Caress’ by William Boyd, which is about a woman who becomes a professional photographer in the early twentieth century.

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