Nine must-read books in translation
From the familiar to the surreal, our hand pick of essential books from writers across the world

Each year, the National Centre for Writing works with writers and literary translators from all over the world to support the development of their craft and support new books in translation. We asked Associate Programme Director Kate Griffin and Programme Manager Sarah Bower to hand-pick a list of their must-read recommendations based loosely on the theme of ‘borders and travel’ – from old favourites to unique contemporary voices.


by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from Polish by Jennifer Crofts (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

Book cover for 'Flights' by Olga TokarczukI first came across Olga Tokarczuk at a European Short Story Festival in Zagreb in the early 2000s; feeling left out of conversations for not having read her work I subsequently tracked down her novel House of Day, House of Night, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones into English. It’s been wonderful to see so much more of her work translated into English and Olga Tokarczuk herself gaining such acclaim in recent years. Flights, which won the Man Booker International Prize, is about travel in its broadest sense, alongside an in-depth exploration of the human body. – Kate

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The Discomfort of Evening

by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, translated from Dutch by Michele Hutchison (Faber & Faber)

'The Discomfort of Evening' by Marieke Lucas RijneveldOn the shortlist for this year’s Booker International Prize, The Discomfort of Evening also delves into the human body, as part of an exploration of grief and trauma after the narrator Jas’s older brother drowns under the ice. It’s not a comfortable read, as Jas’s obsessions with sex, death and religion become ever more disturbing and transgressive, but the language in Michele Hutchison’s translation is both beautiful and brutal. – Kate

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The Futurist Cookbook

by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, translated from Italian by Suzanne Brill (Penguin Classics)

Book cover for 'The Futurist Cookbook.We’re all doing a lot more home cooking right now (and home science with our kids), so for sheer silliness, why not try Marinetti’s The Futurist Cookbook, translated by Suzanne Brill, and including such culinary delights as the Extremist Banquet, the Heroic Winter Dinner and Springtime Meal of the Word in Liberty? Marinetti was one of the founders of the early 20th-century Futurist movement which aimed to break down traditional barriers between art and technology. The Futurists wrote manifestos on everything from painting to the design of motor cars, and The Futurist Cookbook sets out its vision for cooking and dining, including such concepts as ‘sculpted meat’, ‘intuitive antipasto’ and ‘aerofood’ (a Futurist legacy we have been mercifully spared by the current limitations on air travel). Perhaps the Fog-Lifter cocktail to celebrate the end of lockdown when it comes? – Sarah

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Where The Wild Ladies Are

by Matsuda Aoko, translated from Japanese by Polly Barton (Tilted Axis Press)

Book cover for 'Where The Wild Ladies Are'The wild ladies in Matsuda Aoko’s witty short stories cross borders that are both physical and social, as she gives a contemporary feminist twist to a number of classic Japanese ghost stories. For those of us who are not familiar with the originals, talented translator Polly Barton has helpfully provided short introductions. The Guardian describes the stories as ‘funny, beautiful, surreal and relatable’. – Kate

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by Homer, translated from Greek by Emily Wilson (W. W. Norton & Company) or by Robert Fagles (Penguin)

Book cover for Homer’s OdysseyAt times like these, there is comfort in the familiar. A lot of us are enjoying re-watching old movies and TV shows and re-reading favourite books. So I’ve chosen two classics, one Greek, one Latin, so familiar to us we’re almost unaware that they are translations.  Homer’s Odyssey, which tells of the adventures of Odysseus as he tries to get home from the war at Troy, a journey which takes him ten years and involves getting outwitted by some very smart women, not least his wife. I’d recommend two modern translations, both in verse, by Emily Wilson, who gave the Sebald Lecture in 2019, and Robert Fagles. Emily Wilson’s is the first translation into English made by a woman. – Sarah

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by Ovid, translated from Latin by David Raeburn and Denis Feeney (Penguin Classics)

Ovid’s MetamorphosesOvid’s Metamorphoses are poems about transgression and transformation in all its forms. They are deeply embedded in the foundation myths of Western Europe. As well as being translated, they have been re-interpreted by poets as various as Shakespeare and Ted Hughes and re-written for children, for anyone looking around for the next home education project. The Penguin Classics edition, translated by David Raeburn and Denis Feeney, is as good a starting point as any. For younger readers, there is a lovely illustrated selection made by Michael Morpurgo called Changing Shapes. – Sarah

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Apple & Knife

by Intan Paramaditha, translated from Indonesian by Stephen J Epstein (Harvill Secker)

Book cover for 'Apple & Knife' by This collection of subversive feminist short stories is inspired by horror fiction, myths and macabre fairy tales, transposed to contemporary Indonesia. Although the revenge fantasies sometimes veer into melodrama, Intan Paramaditha’s collection is highly original in its exploration of power and the mistreatment of women in patriarchal Indonesian society. – Kate

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Abandon and The Yogini

by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, translated from Bengali by Arunava Sinha (Tilted Axis Press)

Book cover for 'Abandon and The Yogini'On its website, Tilted Axis Press states that it is ‘on a mission to shake up contemporary international literature’, publishing books ‘that might not otherwise make it into English, for the very reasons that make them exciting – artistic originality, radical vision, the sense that here is something new.’ These two subversive and uncompromising novels by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay are a good example, introducing us to women who are exploring their desires and sexuality and challenging their roles in middle-class Kolkata society. – Kate

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The Book of Questions

by Pablo Neruda, translated from Spanish by William O’Daly (Copper Canyon Press)

Book cover for 'The Book of Questions'My final choice is Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions, in a bilingual edition from Copper Canyon Press, the English text provided by William O’Daly. Ponder questions such as ‘Where is the centre of the sea?’ or ‘In which language does rain fall?’ while learning a new language. – Sarah

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Where can I buy?

Many of your favourite independent bookshops are continuing their business online or by phone and will deliver anywhere in the UK. Why not give them a shout?

Norwich – The Book Hive, Jarrold, Tombland Books, Bookbugs and Dragon Tales, Abstract Sprockett, Norfolk Children’s Book Centre

London – Burley Fisher Books, Daunt Books, Brick Lane Bookshop, Pages of Hackney, Dulwich Books, Stoke Newington Bookshop, South Kensington Books, Newham Bookshop, Pages of Cheshire Street, The All Good Bookshop, Pickled Pepper Books, Owl Bookshop, Persephone Books

Edinburgh – Golden Hare Books, Typewronger Books

Wadhurst – Barnetts Books

York – Ken Spelman Books

Petersfield – The Petersfield Bookshop

Stockton-on-Tees – Drake the Bookshop

Arundel and Chichester – Kim’s Bookshop

Nottingham – Five Leaves Bookshop

Hexham, Northumberland – Cogito Books

Explore The Bookseller’s list of independent bookshops and the services they can offer

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