Friday, January 10, 2014

6 Books that need an English translation

Every once in a while I ask English-speaking people if they have heard of a book and only realize that it has not been published in English after I get a bunch of blank stares. At first I was shocked that "not published in English" is a phrase that exists, but apparently it does, and people who don't read all those other languages are missing out of some of my favorite books I have ever read. To try to correct this awful mistake, here is a list of some books that are very dear to my heart, and they need an English translation, a.s.a.p.

The Eternal Love of Khodja Nasreddin, by Timur Zulfikarov 
For everyone who loves the stories of Hodja Nasreddin, this book is the most gorgeous of all. Zulfikarov is a Tajik writer and poet who created an origin story for the Trickster like no other. Before he becomes the wise fool everyone loves, before he is smart and loud and well-known around the world, Nasreddin is just a teenage boy who was found on the Silk Road and raised by an old couple, a teenage boy who dreams about flying, and gardens filled with quince trees. His life changes when one day he saves the life of the local bey and as a reward he gets admitted into his harem for a night, where he meets his daughter, Suheil, a love he was never meant to have...
Original language: Not entirely sure, Tajik or Russian

Gelsomino in the country of liars, by Gianni Rodari
One of the favorite books of my childhood. Gelsomino is born with an unusually loud voice that breaks things if he speaks above a whisper, and ultimately makes him an outcast. Leaving his home he wanders into the strange Land of the Liars where it is mandated by law that no one shall ever speak the truth. Not a good place to be where everyone can hear you whisper from a mile away. But even in this weird upside-down world, Gelsomino makes some friends, just as weird as he is: A three-legged graffiti cat that his voice brings to life, a painter who can make anything he paints become real, and an old man called Benvenuto who only ages when he is not standing up, but then with alarming speed. It is one of the greatest children's books ever.
Original language: Italian

The Moment, by Magda Szabó
In my opinion one of the best books ever written in Hungarian. It is a female Classics author's take on the Aeneid. Consider this: While Troy is burning, Aeneas, son of Aphrodite, runs from the city with his son and his old father, and his wife kinda sorta just... gets lost and dies. To which Szabó asked the obvious question: What mother would possibly let go of her child in the middle of the burning of Troy?! So she added a twist to the tale: Aeneas (who is pampered and annoying, just as the son of a love goddess would be) dies, and his wife, Creusa, puts on his armor and helmet and goes on... to do the entire Aeneid out of sheer determination. It is a smartly written book, at the same time funny and deep, from someone who understands mythology as thoroughly as she understands the female soul.
Original language: Hungarian

Fortune de France, by Robert Merle
I cannot believe this one has never been published in English. Seriously, people?! It is quite possibly that greatest historical fiction series ever written. Merle is a master writer, and Fortune the France has been one of my favorites. Starting in the middle of the 16th century, the 13-book series follows a family through many turbulent decades of French history, through religious conflict and plague and war. Unlike a lot of historical fiction, it actually has likable characters, and a lot of humor added to the adventures. Fascinating to read (and learn history from).
Original language: French

Jaime I el Conquistador, by Albert Salvadó
Another historical series worth reading. It tells the story of Jaime I of Aragon, one of the most influential and famous kings in Spanish history, from birth to death, in 3 volumes. Since I have not been familiar with this part of Spanish history, it was a fascinating read. Especially because the entire second book is about Violante de Hungría, Jaime's Hungarian wife and queen consort of Aragon for many years. The book is written in an easily readable Spanish, and is as entertaining as exciting.
Original language: Spanish

Escanor (original language: Medieval French)
This one only exists in Old French and in German, and it's killing me, so please please please, some bored Medievalist please translate it. It is an Arthurian romance (I read English excerpts and summaries) that seems like a lot of fun, and, more importantly, contains the only Arthurian story where Sir Kay, Arthur's grumpy foster brother, falls in love-hate with a lady and then they spend most of the romance yelling at each other. It sounds vastly entertaining, and I would love to tell it. But I don't read old French. Meh.
Original language: Old French