5 Books That We’d Pay to See Translated into English

5 Books That We'd Pay to See Translated into English

Shit. The title of this post is a bit misleading no? I mean, we’d absolutely love to see the books listed below get translated into the English language sooner rather than later, but full disclosure, we don’t exactly have the cash lying around to make this dream a reality. Let’s say instead that these are the 5 books we’re dying to read in translation that we can’t, because no one has tackled them yet. Any takers out there?

1. Tímakistan (The Casket of Time) by Andri Snær Magnason (Icelandic)

TimakistanBack in January of 2013, Magnason described what he was currently working on to us as follows:

I am just finishing a book that is kind of a fairytale closer to my novel LoveStar than the Blue Planet. It is a story on two levels. First, it’s about a king that has conquered the world, but thinks it’s unfair that he can’t conquer time. He doesn’t have time to enjoy all his riches, he will not grow older than others and his princess will age like any common person.

The other level takes place in our world after a magic box is invented that can seal people from time. We can choose what days we spend our lives on, instead of being forced to spend 1/7th of our life on Mondays like we do now. The streets are empty on rainy days, gloomy Februaries and Novembers, but then some economists come and predict a very bad year. People decide to use the boxes and skip the year with some interesting consequences.

The result of his efforts would be Tímakistan and once published it would go on to win the 2013 Icelandic Literary Award in the Children’s/Young Adult category. So why hasn’t it been translated yet? And while we’re talking Magnason, why has no one brought out Dreamland in this country? It’s a hell of a beautiful book, and it was a smash hit that 1 in every 16 people in Iceland bought back when it was original published there in 2006. It’s already been translated and is available in the UK, so let’s go ahead and make it available here please as well. People need to read it.


2. Hässelby by Johan Harstad (Norwegian)

HasselbyHarstad’s 2005 novel Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion? was adapted for television as a miniseries and its English language translation was longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award. His 2008 novel DARLAH (retitled 172 Hours on the Moon in translation) won him a Brage Prize for Children’s Literature. So, where then is the English translation of the novel that was published between these two works, 2007’s Hässelby? Your guess is as good as ours.

From what we can gather the novel is about the famous Swedish children’s book character Alfie Atkins and what he’d be like as an adult. The book supposedly has a very David Lynch-ish vibe to it, and poor Alfie, well he’s blamed for bringing about the end of the world. Hässelby supposedly starts off innocently enough in tone, covering familiar topics like father-son relationships and childhood friendships, but as things progress it gets much, much darker. Hey, no one said the end of the world would be a happy time, right? We loved Harstad’s Buzz Aldrin and 172 Hours and we’d love to love to this one as well, if only someone would give us the chance to do so in English.


3. La Vida en Las Ventanas (Life in the Windows) by Andres Neuman (Spanish)

La_Vida_En_Las_VentanasPushkin Press (UK) and Farrar, Straus and Giroux (US) have done a masterful job of getting Neuman’s newer works translated into English. Even though they are two very different books stylistically, we absolutely loved both Traveller of the Century and Talking to OurselvesIt’s frustrating to know that there are more novels by Neuman out there just waiting to be translated. Take for instance, La Vida en Las Ventanas.

From what we can gather it’s an epistolary novel, one told through letters and online communications between a college student and a mysterious man, and judging by the universally relatable topic it seems to address—how close we all are because of the advances in technology, yet how utterly alone we feel in spite of them—it seems ripe for success. So what gives? Where is it? Do publishers think that epistolary novels are a hard sell? Where’d You Go, Bernadette? anyone?

And about those other novels we mentioned, why not translate Una vez Argentina (Once Argentina) and Bariloche as well.


4. Soumission (Submission) by Michel Houellebecq (French)

SoumissionOkay, fine, we’re probably cheating a little bit by including this one on our list because 1.) it was just published in French in January b.) it’s Houellebecq (The Map and the Territory) so there’s no chance in Hell that it won’t be translated c.) there’s already a release date set in September for the UK publication of the translation and 4.) all the controversy around this one will sell books and that means we’ll see the translation published in the US (FSG I’m guessing?) fairly soon after as well.

Soumission takes place in the future, in 2022 to be exact. This happens to be the year that Mohammed Ben Abbes, leader of a Muslim brotherhood, is voted into power in France. As a result everything in the country turns Islamic. Woman abandon the workplace and the western wardrobe, teachers are forced to retire if they’re unwilling to convert to the beliefs of the ruling party. It’s a controversial novel to say the least—no surprise coming from the likes of Houellebecq—and it’s one that we cannot wait to read.


5. Het leven op aarde (Life on Earth) by Jan Jacob Slauerhoff (Dutch)

Het_Leven_Op_AardeTranslated by Paul Vincent, Slauerhoff’s The Forbidden Kingdom earned itself a most deserved spot on the Best Translated Book Award shortlist last year. We ran a feature on the historical science fiction romance adventure last year, and one of the things we noted was that we were surprised to learn that Slauerhoff had written sequel titled Life on Earth.

According to Jane Fenoulhet’s afterword in the The Forbidden Kingdom, in Life on Earth the twentieth century character from the first book is given a name, Cameron, and he carries out the planned trip to China that had been eluded to. After Slauerhoff’s death, papers revealed that he had plans for a third novel in the series as well.

We’ll obviously never get the chance to read that third book, but why not the second? Isn’t the fact that the first book in the series made it to the Best Translated Book Award finals enough to warrant a translation of the second? Reading The Forbidden Kingdom was an amazing experience, one that we’d like to repeat. Here’s hoping that someone grants us the opportunity to return to Slauerhoff’s highly inventive world soon.


Picking only 5 books was difficult, but there you have it! What titles are on your wish list for translation into English?

About Aaron Westerman

Aaron Westerman is the Manager of Web Architecture for a national human services organization. When he's not busy tearing sites apart and rebuilding them, he spends his ever shrinking free time trying to keep up with his twins, reading works of translated literature, and watching far too many Oscar nominated movies.

  • Kaija Straumanis

    I may be misremembering this, but think someone *is* actually publishing Andri’s TIME BOX… Don’t hold me to it, but if I can remember I’ll let you know!

    • http://www.typographicalera.com/ Typographical Era

      Excellent, though I was hoping you’d say that you guys were!

  • http://www.el-cordovez.com/ Juan Carlos Cordovez-Mantilla

    I have never read Neuman, but I’m very interested in translation in general, in both directions. I’m frustrated that I can’t share certain books with my mother because they haven’t been translated into Spanish. I’d like to take a stab at translating to/from English or Spanish, or from French ( I have read Soumision– it flags in the second half). Although Spanish is my native language, I’m not sure I can write it as well as English. What is the legality of translating something that hasn’t been translated and putting it out there? Is it considered an original work, even if it’s derivative? Can you put it “out there” if you are not making money from it? … things that make you go “hmmm”.