Translate these books

The latest issue of The Quarterly Conversation includes a wonderful feature called “Translate This Book!” The editors talked to “some of the top translators into English working today,” to “publishers big and small,” to “agents, journalists, and foreign-language authors,” and then compiled their thoughts on “the best books that still aren’t in English.” It's a great list, with illuminating commentary from those surveyed. Here’s Enrique Vila-Matas on a book by Rodrigo Fresán (whose very funny conversation with Jonathan Lethem ran in PEN America 8: Making Histories, along with part of Fresán's novel Kensington Gardens):
In El fondo del cielo (The Bottom of the Sky), Fresán writes the book that will come immediately after the era of apocalyptic books—the era that began with the Bible and the Aeneid, and culminated with postmodern books about the end of all possible worlds. It’s the book of the future, the book that begins to write itself when everything has ended: the story of two young people in love with planets, and of a disturbingly beautiful girl. Between Bioy Casares and Philip K. Dick, but with a voice all its own, it is both powerful and artistic.
Check out the rest.

As the eagle-eyed (and long-memoried) M.A. Orthofer points out, we did something similar in PEN America 2: Home and Away, asking members of PEN “What great books have never been translated into English?” We got great responses from Ariel Dorfman, Lily Tuck, Harry Mathews, Geoffrey O’Brien, and many others. (Dorfman, by the way, managed to sneak in another recommendation in our latest forum: Ayer ya es maňana, or Yesterday Is Already Tomorrow, by Eduardo Vladimiroff).

That forum led to PEN Recommends, an updated feature on the PEN website which lists books not yet translated into English.

Orthofer also flagged a response to the same question by the translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky in an interview for The Millions by Anna Clark. Surprisingly, Pevear and Volokhonsky—best known for their translations of Anna Karenina and other Russian classics—did not focus on Russian writers in their reply, but Italian ones, singling out Alberto Savinio, Cristina Campo, and Guido Ceronetti.

And yet another reply appeared on the film blog that Richard Brody—who won the 2009 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography* for Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard—maintains for The New Yorker. In The Quarterly Conversation, Turkish writer Murat Nemet-Nejat suggested Jean-Luc Godard's Histoire(s) du Cinéma. Brody seconds that suggestion before adding:
...another Godard-related book is desperately in need of translation: “En Attendant Godard” (“Waiting for Godard”), the journalist, novelist, and (later) screenwriter and director Michel Vianey’s account of accompanying Godard through the production of “Masculine Feminine,” in 1965-66. It’s the most illuminating and evocative book about movie-making I know; it came out in 1967 and has never even been reissued in France. (The author, who became a close friend of mine, died last December at the age of seventy-eight.)

* The deadline to submit a book for the 2010 award is Monday. Deadlines for other PEN awards are mostly in January. More information

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