Why it’s important to read translated works

Earlier in the year I watched a TedTalk by Ann Morgan titled “My Year Reading a Book From Every Country in the World” where, as the title suggests, she read a book from every country. Though I knew that it was difficult for her to obtain all of the texts, and it would be impossible for me to find so many works translated into English here in Poland, I decided to make more of an effort to read translated works.
So far this year I have read 18 books, 8 of which have been translated into English from their original languages, which is 44% of my books this year. 

These include:

– The Angel’s Game, Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Spain)

– Night, Elie Wiezel (Hungary)

– The Vegetarian, Han Kang (South Korea)

– The Cyberiad, Stanislaw Lem (Poland)

– After Dark, Haruki Murakami (Japan)

– The Prisoner of Heaven, Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Spain)

– The Alchemist, Paolo Coelho (Brazil)

– Confessions, Jaume Cabre (Catalunya, Spain)
Over the last three years I have lived in three different countries and travelled to over ten others, yet it was surprisng to me how much of my reading was by British and American authors. As someone who considered myself fairly cultured, I certainly couldn’t say the same about my reading life. Around 2% of books published in the UK are translated works. I think this is because there are so many English speakers around the world, and so many excellent books, that we don’t need others from non-English-speaking countries. However, this argument falls flat when you realise that 28% of all books published in Spain are translated works, and there are more Spanish speakers than English speakers in the world. 

When discussing translated books, the way in which the translation was approached and what it brings or takes away from the experience, is a whole new conversation. Why did the translator use British slang? Why did they use that analogy? Why did they not translate some cultural references? 

By not reading, or publishing, translated works we are denying ourselves chances to experience other cultures and worldviews that would otherwise be fairly inaccessible to us. Reading more widely makes you a better person. You become more understanding of and empathetic towards other cultures and that’s nothing if not beneficial, particularly in today’s climate. Reading translated works is so important to cultural understanding and acceptance that I urge you to seek out translated works more. The more translated works we buy, the more publishers will take this into account, and the more culturally aware we all become.


Why I Hate Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’

There are so many reasons why I hate this book. I’ve never read fiction that reads so much like a poorly-executed self-help book before. Coelho shoves the main theme down your throat on every page: if you want something enough, and believe in it, regardless of circumstance, that thing will happen. Not only is this untrue, it’s a potentially dangerous belief. It implies that everything that happens to us happens to us because we want it, consciously or subconsciously. That is unequivocally not true. So much of our lives are out of our control. Mere belief in something does not make it come true. An apparent attempt at inspirational timelessness comes across as preachy, condescending and pretentious. 

Coelho’s treatment of women is also incredibly poor. First of all, where are they? The ratio of men to women in this book is hugely one-sided. For a book that is meant to be relatable for everyone, with messages for anyone to understand and take onboard, there is a severe lack of women. What about Fatima? Fatima plays a relatively minor role in the story. For the most part, she is a thing to be won, and treasured. She understands that, as a woman of the desert, it is her role and duty to wait for the boy as he discovers himself. Never mind the fact that he ultimately leaves anyway. 

What did I like about this book? It’s short.

Top Five Essays in Caitlin Moran’s ‘Moranifesto’

A Woman’s Monthly Faultiness

Moran discusses the taboo that still exists when talking about periods. Why should something that happens so regularly to half the world’s population be something that’s never talked about or portrayed on screen? She points out that period blood has only been seen in Carrie (and, let’s be honest, it’s not an accurate portrayal of what it’s like for most women), and in Lena Dunham’s Girls. 


In a much more light-hearted essay, she shares her love for bacon. I’ve spent the best part of the last three years outside of the UK and, though you can get bacon elsewhere, it’s just not the same. This essay made me homesick for bacon.

In another here-is-something-that-I-love-so-let-me-sing-its-praises (pun intended) essay where she shares her love of musicals. I’d never thought about feminism in musicals before, but Moran made me see them in a whole new light. It made me add lots more musicals to my list of films to watch, and I can’t wait.
Women Getting Killed

This essay is on a far heavier topic, about women getting killed both worldwide and in the UK.  The severity of sexism and abuse really hits home here, as Caitlin provides real and heartbreaking stories. She also addresses the trope in popular TV series and films of women as victims. We need to move away from this old-fashioned, over-used trope, and show women in every role.
Reading is Fierce

This was my absolute favourite in the whole collection. Reading is Fierce. Say it aloud. Reading. Is. Fierce.Caitlin explains how reading is not merely a passive activity. I’m sick of people thinking I’m only reading to kill time, and that I’m not reading because I love it. We all project ourselves onto characters as we read, and fully immerse ourselves in the writing. It forces us to think, to feel, to live through others. Reading is not passive. Reading is, as Caitlin Moran so wonderfully puts it, fierce..