Zdrasti to my fellow bloggers and blog-lovers. Today I’m writing to you from Sofia, Bulgaria, where I’ve been taking this week to do my own DIY writer’s workshop. The beautiful mountains have been a peaceful backdrop to inspire my days of creative writing.
You might’ve read my most post last week titled, Translated Literature: A plea to bolster your reading palate, where I advocate for translated literature. The world is a big place, and books give us a window into another world. I’ve made it a goal of mine to read more translated literature this year and want to passalong some of my favorites I’ve read since January.
Without further ado, here are some recommendations from one of my favorite genres, translated literature:
1. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Originally published in Japanese in 2000
Norwegian Wood is a journey of self discovery through some of life’s toughest tragedies. It portrays a young college student’s coming of age, and the love story/stories of his youth as he is reflecting as an older man. Although I found the ending to be subtlety, beautifully optimistic, it was indeed a painful journey to get there. Norwegian Wood is a story where many can relate to the shared uncertainty of youth.
2. Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre
Originally written in French in 1938
Nausea might just be my favorite book, ever. It definitely was my favorite book this year.
I wanted to read this book because Sartre said it was his lifetime’s masterpiece. Nausea is a compilation of Antoine Roquentin’s journal entries. He is a solo traveler and decides it’s time to return home after 7 years on the road. He has the madness of a Dostoevsky character (think Dmitri from Brothers Karamasov) and journals about his devoid life through his unhinged perspective in a manner that reminds me of The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa. Madness interspersed with moments of greatness.
Contrary to Plato and Aristotle, who believed every object (even humans) has a meaning, Sartre was the first to say that existence precedes essence. He was an existentialist beside Kierkegaard, the father of existentialism.
Don’t we all just yearn to sit on a park bench, stare at a chestnut tree, and contemplate existence?
3. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Originally published in German in 1912
Kafka meditates on the human condition, solitude, and social isolation. The Metamorphosis is one of Kafka’s most renown works which explores estrangement from society, lack of purpose, and loneliness through the lens of a human turned into a cockroach.
Although Gregor is a gigantic cockroach, Kafka humanizes his experience. Ironically, if you ignore the fact he is an insect, the feelings he experiences are all the same as human would experience. Using the physical manifestation of a cockroach to exemplify how estranged one feels from society when lacking purpose and motivation is a deliberate and smart choice from Kafka.
Even if we’re surrounded by people, the human psyche can and will wither if we don’t feel connected. Loneliness really can lead one into oblivion.
4. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Originally written in Russian in 1879
Cover to cover took me just over two weeks. I’m glad I finished it in a short time frame so I could really absorb the meaning.
And if we’re talking about meaning, The Brothers Karamasov has endless takeaways. It follows the reunion of a Russian family through a murder in their small town. Each brother epitomizes a very different way of living life.
As a religious man, Dostoevsky exemplifies the following in this novel, “I’m not entitled to have an opinion unless I can state the arguments against my position better than the people who are in opposition.”
Although I’m sure Dostoevsky wouldn’t label his religious belief as “philosophical suicide” (especially since the term was coined well after he passed), it is intriguing to decipher who Dostoevsky proposes as the prevailing paradigm of the novel.
It’s a lengthy book and not for the faint of heart. There’s lots of dialogue and extended scenes that seemed fruitless at first but it was actually in these parts I found some of my all-time favorite excerpts.
5. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Originally published in Swedish in 2014
A heartwarming tale of aging and friendship, this cantankerous old man was dealt a tough hand in life, but found his way through perseverance and a strong character. In fact, he has such a strong character he seems to be the only one in the whole neighborhood who follows the home owner’s rules. Ove is nothing if not obsessive and proud.
This is a unique story because the main event happens in the first third of the book. I loved the plot line and always love a poetic bookend.
6. The Stranger by Albert Camus
Originally published in French in 1942
If you’re no stranger to classic literature, this won’t be a surprise for you. We are urged to question that which is deemed “normal” in our society through the atypical views of our protagonist.
The Stranger invites us to re-examine our relationship with death. Why do we fear it so much? My takeaways from the book include: reject the hope for a better life, reject the denial and delaying of death; accept a gentle indifference to the world around you and the absurdity of life and you’ll be [free?]
7. A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe by Fernando Pessoa
Originally written in Portuguese, this translation was published in 2006, but the poems were written in the early 1900s.
My all-time favorite poet has to make the list. I fell in love with Pessoa’s poetry while I was living in Spain. Pessoa writes about finding peace in nature, rejecting the ideal of freedom, one-sided love, regretful love, and more. If you like the romantic poets such as Wordsworth, Keating, Coolridge, etc., I think you’ll enjoy the more modern take on the same themes.
8. Pablo Neruda Poems
Originally written in Spanish
(book featured is Italian)
I can’t talk about translated literature without mentioning some Latin American literature. Pablo Neruda is one of the most well-known poets from Chile and once you read his poetry you’ll know why. He is known for writing about love, and if there’s one thing Latin American literature is known for, it’s love (or rejecting colonialism and anti-establishment criticism, but that’s besides the point).
If you have any other recommendations for translated literature, I would entirely love to hear them.
My blog can be found at http://www.poemsandprose.travel.blog