A Book in Translation

“Happy families are all alike;” begins this classic novel, “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” If you’ve never read Anna Karenina, a great time to find out why William Faulkner called this novel “the best ever written.” Whether or not you agree, you’ll be glad you read it.
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When a pilot crash-lands his plane in the Sahara, he meets a charming young prince who’s fallen to earth from his tiny home planet, Asteroid B-612. This timeless tale is whimsical and wise, with just the right amount of absurdity. The watercolor illustrations spring to life in this gorgeous pop-up edition.
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If you want to tidy up once and for all, this is the best kick in the pants you can get for ten bucks. This book is more than a little woo-woo, but her extreme approach to decluttering WORKS. Kondo is a Japanese personal tidying expert (she doesn’t like to call herself an “organizer”). She originally wrote her decluttering manifesto to help the Japanese clients languishing on her waiting list. Not all translations are good translations, but this one has been praised for preserving the quirkiness of her voice. (It's quirky, all right.) I love this book (more thoughts on that here).
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This international bestseller was originally published in Sweden in 2009. It's drawn comparisons to Forrest Gump, because the 100-year-old man of the title finds himself involved in key political moments throughout the course of his long life. Many of you have already read this as your book in translation. Not everyone loves it, but those who do have labeled it "clever," "quirky," and "un-put-down-able."
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This is the first installment of Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, which revolves around the friendship between Elena and Lila. This book begins when the girls are in first grade and carries them through adolescence. I picked this up from my local bookstore's blind date with a book shelf: the bookseller had described it as "a masterpiece you probably haven’t read yet. (Three and a half years later, booksellers can no longer say that with confidence!) Originally written in Italian and beautifully translated by Ann Goldstein. (Hot tip: I LOVED this series on audio.)
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I couldn't get into this as a hardcover but then a friend with great taste suggested I give the audio a try. I started again from the beginning, and this time this grumpy old man story hooked me. Don't you love when that happens? A great narrator can truly make or break the reading experience. George Newbern's accents—especially for Ove—are fantastic. I laughed and cried and couldn't stop listening. But do yourself a favor: don't even think about finishing this novel in a public place, and consider removing your mascara first.
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From the publisher: "One of the world's greatest novels, Crime and Punishment is the story of a murder and its consequences—an unparalleled tale of suspense set in the midst of nineteenth-century Russia's troubled transition to the modern age."
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This atmospheric novel is built around a literary mystery: who is Julián Carax, and why is someone systematically burning his books? After I got oriented I couldn't turn the pages fast enough: I loved the post-war Barcelona setting, the rich cast of characters, and the surprising twists and turns the story took. The plot description reminds me of personal favorites The Thirteenth Tale and The Distant Hours. From Entertainment Weekly: "Wonderous... masterful... The Shadow of the Wind is ultimately a love letter to literature, intended for readers as passionate about storytelling as its young hero." This is a lifetime favorite of several readers I know with great taste.
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From the publisher: "An intimate look at writing, running, and the incredible way they intersect, from the incomparable, bestselling author Haruki Murakami. While simply training for New York City Marathon would be enough for most people, Haruki Murakami's decided to write about it as well. The result is a beautiful memoir about his intertwined obsessions with running and writing, full of vivid memories and insights, including the eureka moment when he decided to become a writer. By turns funny and sobering, playful and philosophical, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is rich and revelatory, both for fans of this masterful yet guardedly private writer and for the exploding population of athletes who find similar satisfaction in athletic pursuit."
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Fashion, romance, and ... espionage. If you loved Casablanca, try this novel set during the Spanish civil war. Sira Quiroga works her way from dressmaker's assistant to a premier couturier, putting her in contact with the wealthy and powerful. When the British government asks her to spy for them as World War II gears up, she agrees, stitching secret messages into the hems of dresses. Translated from the Spanish, and the dialogue is a little bumpy in places, but the story is worth it. Is it perfect? No way. But engrossing? Definitely.
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