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50 Works of Fiction in Translation That Every English Speaker Should Read

There’s an entire world of literature out there if you just look beyond what was written in your native tongue. Major works in other languages are being translated into English all the time, meaning that there’s no time like the present for you to enjoy books from places like Russia, Egypt, Mexico, and other nations around the globe.

If you’re looking to get your literary passport stamped, here are 50 destinations to start you off — but, by all means, don’t let these be the only translated books you read. There are plenty of other titles that could have gone on this list, whose main purpose is to help get you excited for literature originally written in different languages.

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Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes (Edith Grossman, translator)

Cervantes’ classic is one of the only books that can truly be considered required reading around the world, so you can’t lose with the great Grossman’s translation of the classic Spanish tale of Don Quixote’s original quixotic quest.

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Candide, Voltaire (Burton Raffel, translator)

Voltaire’s greatest written achievement, this satirical novel about the adventures, misadventures, and disillusionment of a young man named Candide is also one of the most important works from the Age of Enlightenment.

 

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Ambiguous Adventure, Cheikh Hamidou Kane (Katherine Woods)

It was truly a great day for American readers when Melville House made this book available again The story of a young, devout Muslim student who is sent away to learn philosophy, and to better understand the way his country is changing at the hands of French colonial forces, Chinua Achebe said Ambiguous Adventures was one of the best African novels ever written.

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The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas (Lord Sudley, translator)

It’s unacceptable if your only experience with the musketeers (and don’t forget d’Artagnan) involved either seeing the mostly awful film adaptations of this Romantic-era novel or eating the candy bars named after this Dumas classic, which is as exciting today as it was when it was originally serialized in the mid-19th century.

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Against Nature, Joris-Karl Huysmans (John Howard, translator)

Oscar Wilde considered this French book about an eccentric dandy his “Bible and bedside book.” If that blurb doesn’t sell you, we give up.

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Les Misérables, Victor Hugo (Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee, translators)

Since watching the latest film adaptation with Anne Hathaway and Wolverine will take you about as long as it would to just read Hugo’s massive historical saga, which culminates with 1832’s June Rebellion in Paris, why not do yourself the favor of reading one of the most important works of the entire 19th century instead of getting “Master of the House” stuck in your head again?

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Sultana’s Dream, Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain (Roushan Jahan, translator)

For the time being, you can only find this prime example of Bengalese feminist utopian sci-fi from the early 20th century in ebook form, but there’s got to be some enterprising publisher out there who wants to put out a proper anthology featuring Hussain and other fascinating science fiction writers like her.

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One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez (Gregory Rabassa, translator)

There are two kinds of Gabriel García Márquez fans: Love in the Time of Cholera types and those who will swear up and down that this landmark example of Latin American magical realism is the greatest work by the Colombian Nobel Prize winner.

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A Personal Matter, Kenzaburo Oë (John Nathan, translator)

This Nobel Prize winner’s 1964 novel follows a man who must come to grips with a child who is born with a brain hernia, and the life choices he must make to accept his son’s disability.

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Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, translators)

Maybe you’ve read Dostoyevsky’s brilliant 1886 work, but have you read it in Russian? If not, do the closest thing possible without learning the language and make this translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky — as well as their other translations of his other classics — a priority.

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Dead Souls, Nikolai Gogol (Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, translators)

From Philip Roth to Gary Shteyngart, Gogol’s genius and dark sense of humor resonates to this very day, and that’s why Dead Souls remains one of the pillars of not just Russian but global literature.

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Touch, Adania Shibli (Paula Haydar, translator)

This Palestinian author is one of the best new voices in Arabic literature, and her novella about a young girl just going about her business, learning to read, watching a funeral march past her, and fighting with her eight older siblings is a big reason why.

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Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert (Lydia Davis, translator)

As James Wood wrote of Flaubert’s masterpiece, one of the finest novels ever written, “Flaubert established for good or ill, what most readers think of as modern realist narration, and his influence is almost too familiar to be visible.”

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Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy (Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, translators)

Choosing between Anna Karenina and Tolstoy’s other masterpiece, War and Peace, isn’t easy; but if we absolutely have to pick one, we’d go with the tragic tale of Anna and Vronsky. 

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Oblomov, Ivan Goncharov (David Magarshack, translator)

Maybe you’ve read Pushkin, Tolstoy, Gogol, and Dostoyevsky, but what about Goncharov’s 1859 classic story of a slothful Russian nobleman who is content going through life without doing anything or making any decisions?

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Swann’s Way, Marcel Proust (Lydia Davis, translator)

This is a tricky one; Davis did a superb job of translating the first volume of Proust’s epic from French to English, but there are six volumes out there to read once you’ve finished this one. Does it truly matter that much if you go from one translator’s work to another? Some would say yes, but this edition is nonetheless a great place test of whether you want to keep going with the great undertaking that is In Search of Lost Time.

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The Trial, Franz Kafka (Breon Mitchell, translator)

Sure, nobody turns into a bug in this one, but The Trial is Kafka’s greatest (unfinished) work. Not reading it means that you’re forever banned from calling things “Kafkaesque.”

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The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann (John E. Woods, translator)

Most will tell you to start with the novella Death in Venice, but if you’re really looking to dive into German fiction, we suggest reading Mann’s 1924 novel first.

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The Book of Happiness, Nina Berberova (Marian Schwartz, translator)

A very autobiographical novel written about, and from the pen of, a Russian living in Paris after the country’s revolution. New Directions has translated several of the books by Nabokov’s fellow Russian expat, but this is a fine place to start.

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Bedtime Eyes, Amy Yamada (Yumi Gunji and Marc Jardine)

One of Japan’s most celebrated and controversial authors, her 1985 debut has drawn comparisons to everything from Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero to the works of Douglas Coupland.

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Climates, Andre Maurois (Adriana Hunter, translator)

This often-overlooked 1928 French classic is a perfect portrait of love, jealousy, and the type of pain both of those things can inflict upon a person. 

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After the Divorce, Grazia Deledda (Susan Ashe, translator)

It’s really a shame we don’t talk much about this 1926 Nobel Prize-winning Italian author, especially since her 1902 novel really has it all: love, false imprisonment, heartbreak, and a divorced couple’s forbidden affair.

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The Street of Crocodiles, Bruno Schulz (Celina Wieniewska, translator)

A book that has converted many nonbelievers, this Polish writer’s work is the strangest and most haunting 20th-century fiction this side of Kafka, and this book shows why.

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The Stranger, Albert Camus (Matthew Ward, translator)

The Nobel Prize winner’s classic tale of an Algerian man who could seem to care less about anything — including the death of his mother, the Arab man he murders, and the fate that awaits him for his crime — is a perfect existential allegory.

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Chess Story, Stefan Zweig (Joel Rotenberg, translator)

The publication of this Austrian-Jewish author’s works by New York Review of Books Classics have helped bring Zweig back into the limelight he knew during his lifetime. And while some might say that his other works deserve to be on this list more than this novella, this book, mailed off to his publishers days before he committed suicide while living as an exile in Brazil, is his most personal fiction, and a book that you will think about for days after finishing it.

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Invitation to a Beheading, Vladimir Nabokov (Dmitri Nabokov, translator)

Before Lolita, Nabokov wrote this novel, which earned him a few comparisons to Franz Kafka (who Nabokov said he had never heard of while writing it), in his native Russian. His son would translate it into English.

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The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov (Mirra Ginsburg, translator)

Not only did it influence the Rolling Stones to write one of their greatest songs, but this Russian novel about the devil visiting the Soviet Union — published in 1967, nearly 27 years after Bulgakov’s death — is a 20th-century masterpiece.

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Near to the Wild Heart, Clarice Lispector (Alison Entrekin, translator)

The literary world has been in the grips of Lispectormania for quite some time now, with critics comparing this Russian-born Brazilian writer with everybody from Kafka to Woolf. This, her earliest novel, is a good place to start your addiction.

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Selected Stories, Robert Walser (Christopher Middleton, translator)

Equally funny and strange, these collected stories are a good place to start reading the German author Susan Sontag called “a good-humored, sweet Beckett.”

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The Mandarins, Simone de Beauvoir (Leonard M. Friedman, translator)

Simone de Beauvoir will forever be known for her 1949 treatise The Second Sex, but don’t miss out on this 1954 roman à clef, where you’ll have fun trying to spot the thinly veiled caricatures of her fellow Existentialists.

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Labyrinths, Jorge Luis Borges (various translators)

While we could call the Argentinian author one of the 20th century’s great literary masters, we run into the problem that the place in literature that Borges occupies is totally his own, with no true contemporaries or successors. This collection of stories — you must get the one with the William Gibson introduction — shows exactly why that is.

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The Death of Artemio Cruz, Carlos Fuentes (Alfred MacAdam, translator)

One of the greatest books by Mexico’s greatest writer, this 1962 novel was one of the loudest bangs from the “Latin American Boom,” and is as perfect today as it was then.

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Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino (William Weaver, translator)

Calvino was one of those writers who existed on a whole other level. While all of his works are essential, his short story collection, Cosmicomics, might not be the best place to start, and you might not want to get wrapped up in all three books from the Our Ancestors trilogy. Start here, get hooked, and go from there.

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The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende (Magda Bogin, translator)

This Chilean writer has been a lightning rod for criticism from people like Harold Bloom and Giannina Braschi, who said of the bestselling author, “Isabel Allende is killing García Márquez a little more each day the same way Michael Jackson’s sisters are killing Michael Jackson.” But this book, which combines magical realism with tidbits from Allende’s own life story, has been translated into over 20 languages worldwide, winning fans across the globe. So it seems as if Mr. Bloom and Ms. Braschi might be acting a little snobbish towards this incredibly popular Spanish-language novel; hey, it wouldn’t be the first time.

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The Lover, Marguerite Duras (Barbara Bray, translator)

Duras drew on experiences from her own life to create this PEN Translation Prize winner about the affair between a teenage girl living in French colonial Vietnam and an older, wealthier Chinese man.

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Austerlitz, W. G. Sebald. (Anthea Bell, Translator)

It is incredibly difficult to pick just one work by this brilliant German writer, but it’s his final book that won him the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award, so you could do worse than starting here.

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The Land of Green Plums, Herta Müller (Michael Hofmann, translator)

The best-known work by this German Nobel Prize winner explores the lives of a quartet of characters living in the totalitarian police state under the Soviet-imposed communist dictatorship in Romania, and is as important a novel on the subject as you’re going to find.

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1Q84, Haruki Murakami (Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel, translators)

While some might protest that 1Q84 isn’t his greatest work, there’s no doubt that this epic turned Japan’s most popular writer into an international literary superstar with few contemporaries. 

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Women of Algiers in Their Apartment, Assia Djebar (Marjoli de de Jager and Clarisse Zimra, translators)

One of North Africa’s most important writers who isn’t as well known in America as she should be, Assia Djebar’s collection of stories takes a look at precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial women at different strata of Algerian society.

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Broken Glass, Alain Mabanckou (Helen Stevenson, translator)

Republic of Congo-born author Mabanckou’s uproarious 2005 comic novel will surely whet your appetite for contemporary African literature, but it should also be acknowledged as one of the finest novels by one of the best French-language authors writing today. 

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House of Day, House of Night, Olga Tokarczuk (Antonia Lloyd-Jones, translator)

This tale of a place, the people, and the stories that make it unique made Tokarczuk a literary star in Poland.

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My Name Is Red, Orhan Pamuk (Erdağ Göknar, translator)

Finding a bad book in the Nobel Prize-winning Turkish writer’s collection of works is a difficult task; this novel, which earned Pamuk comparisons to everybody from Kafka to Mann, might simply be the best place to start if you’re looking to dive in.

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The Nimrod Flipout, Etgar Keret (Miriam Shlesinger  Sondra Silverston, translators)

No matter what language you read this Israeli writer’s collection of stories in, Keret’s zaniness and imagination shine.

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Day of the Oprichnik, Vladimir Sorokin (translated by Jamey Gambrell)

It can’t be easy being considered one of the greatest living Russian writers, but Sorokin’s novel — originally published in Russia in 2006 — is a must-read in all its weird, violent, borderline nihilistic Clockwork Orange-esque glory.

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Dolly City, Orly Castel-Bloom (Dalya Bilu, translator)

The downright creepy and gruesome world of Doctor Dolly is chillingly brought to life in this Israeli novel that calls to mind Dr. Frankenstein as re-imagined by Franz Kafka.

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The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolaño (Natasha Wimmer)

There was a small portion of the population that got so swept up in the excitement around this Chilean author’s massive final book, 2666, that they didn’t devote enough time and attention to this sprawling work. If you made the same mistake, take this opportunity to fix it.

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The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, Alina Bronsky (Tim Mohr, translator)

In this 2011 Soviet Russia-era novel, Alina Bronsky introduces us to Rosa Achmetown, one of the greatest love-to-hate characters in all of literature.

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The Jokers, Albert Cossery (Anna Moschovakis, translator)

The Egyptian-born, French-language author’s comic novel satirizes an inept and corrupt Middle Eastern government that may not seem so foreign to American readers.

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Suite française, Irène Némirovsky (Sandra Smith, translator)

Yur parents have been bugging you to read this for the last few years, sure, but for once they’re right. The story behind this bestseller — not to mention its popularity around the world — makes it an intriguing and worthy addition to any conversation on essential translated literature.

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My Struggle, Karl Ove Knausgård (Don Bartlett, translator)

One of the great ongoing literary events is the translation of this Norwegian author’s six autobiographical books that, yes, share a name with a certain murderous dictator’s autobiography. Don’t let that unfortunate coincidence fool you into missing the first two books, which are already available in English.

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