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.


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