Why you should be reading translated fiction

Why you should be reading translated fiction

Although sales of translated fiction in the UK are on the rise, it represented only 5% of all print fiction sales in 2015.  This poor figure only reminds us of the wealth of foreign ideas, stories and cultures we’re missing out on when we stick to reading solely English language literature. With Brexit and the fact that the UK lacks people who can speak a language other than English, it sometimes feels as if Britain is turning inward on itself and away from the rest of the world. We can ensure that we read widely by choosing books that have been translated from foreign languages. Here’s how this can make a difference.

Break the stereotype that foreign literature is intimidating

So many people avoid translated literature because they believe it’s elitist, philosophical, boring or over-complicated. This is the case for some books, but its also true of some British literature. By reading and talking about translated fiction, we can spread the  word that reading foreign literature is just as enjoyable as reading books that come from our own countries. There are some great stories out there, and feeling apprehensive shouldn’t stop us from discovering them.

Share in the narratives of people from different cultures
Reading translated literature allows us to broaden our cultural horizons, exposing us to songs, war, art, religions and history of different nations. It adds diversity to our reading and gives us access to stories we would never find in our own cultures.

Challenge your mind and educate yourself
Reading translated books is enriching for the mind and soul. Think of how many reading experiences we’d miss out on if we only read books by English speaking authors! We wouldn’t know War and Peace, Les Misérables or A Story of a Soul. There’d be no The Little Prince, Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl or The Iliad. Not only this, but translated literature presents ideas in ways we’re not used to, using words, syntax and style in different ways than our mother-tongue does. If you’re a writer, reading it could even enhance your own writing.

Help promote recognition for translators
Books receive plenty of reviews, but when it comes to translated literature, translators are rarely mentioned. By reading and talking about translated books, we can help promote recognition for translators. If you speak two languages, read a book in its original language and then the translation, and compare. It will give you new found respect for the work translators do to bring literature to new audiences, and you can make sure other people know, too!

Help generate demand for translated fiction and appreciation of its authors, especially female. 

The task of translating, publishing and then promoting translated literature is expensive, and funding is poor. There are few prizes for this type of literature, and because authors of translated literature don’t always speak English, it can be difficult for them to promote their work in English speaking countries. By reading foreign literature, we make it more popular. Sales rise and the demand increases. This means more funding, more recognition, and more publication of literature from other countries. This can also help promote the author’s themselves, which is important, especially for female authors. Less than a third of all literary translations published in the UK and the US were originally written by women, and women writers win far fewer prizes for their translated books than male writers. Show your appreciation by getting involved with Women in Translation Month this August, by setting yourself the goal of reading two or more translated books written by women.

Let me know your favourite translated literary works and what you’re planning to read next!

Photo via Pixabay

3 French Picture Books That Need Translating


Translators do an amazing job of sharing beautiful books from around the world with speakers of their native language, but there are so many we haven’t yet read. Living in both the UK and France, I see so many gorgeous books that I wish would cross the borders to enlighten new audiences with stories and cultures they do not know. According to a survey by Literature Across Frontiers, a mere 587 translations were published in the UK in 2011 and only 60 of those were children’s books.

The survey said “…are translations of books for children and young adults not of cultural importance? They are, particularly when we take into consideration the impact of translations from English on young readers abroad. Do we not wish that more children’s books from other cultures were available to young readers in Britain?”

Here are three wonderful French picture books I think should be translated into English.

Le Secret des fleurs de neige by Nancy Guilbert, illustrated by Nina Missir


Published by Editions Courtes et Longues, this is the story of a little girl amazed by the beauty of the “snow flowers” that fall from the sky. It is her friend Wilson Bentley who shares nature’s magic with her, showing her that no two snowflakes are the same. Inspired by the scientific work of Bentley who captured the snowflakes he called “ice flowers” on black velvet to photograph them before they melted, this story is the transmission of a secret that all children come to discover.

L’histoire extraordinaire d’Adam R. – Le nain qui devint géant by Didier Lévy, illustrated by Tiziana Romanin. 


Beautifully illustrated, this is the story of Adam, a dwarf who suddenly began to grow and never stopped. Told by Adam’s neighbour, who becomes his personal shoemaker because of Adam’s ever growing feet, it talks of friendship and differences and the impact those we love make on our lives. Again, this book is inspired by a real person, Adam Rainer who was born with dwarfism but who, after a dramatic growth spurt, reached a height of 7 ft 8 inches! Published by Éditions Sarbacane.

Le Vilain Défaut by Anne-Gaëlle Balpe, illustrated by Csil


The protagonist, a little boy, was born with a difficulty, a difference that has been called a “flaw”. The nature of this difference, represented in the pictures by a yellow scribble, is never revealed, but is some sort of mental disability. It stops him from making friends and concentrating at school, but with the doctor’s encouragement and “magic spell” he learns to control it and flourish. A book that shows how people can live with difficulties that don’t necessarily show on the outside, and one that encourages perseverance, acceptance and kindness. Published by Marmaille et Compagnie.