The Publishing Post
Popular Translated Authors
By Niina Bailey, Lucy Clark and Alice Reynolds
Many of the staples lining every bookshelf are actually translated works from international authors. This week we’d like to highlight those very authors and present the works of the most widely translated authors for English readers. In 2017, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published their Index Translationum which ranked the most translated authors worldwide. Scrolling down the list, many well-known names jump out: Vladimir Lenin, the Grimm Brothers, Hans Christian Andersen to name a few. French writer Jules Verne comes second to Agatha Christie but first place as a non-English writer. He is best known for his science fiction novels such as Around the World in 80 Days, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Centre of the Earth which have been translated 4,751 times! While of course lists like these don’t praise upcoming authors, they are an interesting way of seeing translated book trends and a way of getting into reading more international authors!
Leïla Slimani is a best-selling Franco-Moroccan writer and journalist who first caught the attention of English-speaking readers with her novel Lullaby (Chanson Douce) which tells the chilling story of two children murdered by their nanny. This novel won Slimani the Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary prize, in 2016 and led France’s president Emmanuel Macron to appoint her as his personal representative for the promotion of the French language and culture in 2017.
Her other works of fiction include The Country of Others (Le pays des autres), the first of a trilogy of novels based on her family’s roots in revolutionary Morocco. The second book in the trilogy, Look At Us Dance (Regardez-nous danser) was published in 2022. Slimani’s fiction is thought-provoking, focusing on complicated domestic relationships and how people relate to their culture and identity.
Slimani has published equally confronting non-fiction work such as Sex and Lies (Sexe et mensonges: La vie sexuelle au Maroc), published in 2017, and is an account of female sexuality in Morocco. In this enlightening collection of essays, Slimani gives a voice to young Moroccan women living within the constraints of a society that offers them only two options: virgin or wife.
Haruki Murakami is one of the most well-known names in translation. His works have been bestsellers both in Japan (where he is from) and internationally. They have sold millions of copies worldwide and have been translated into fifty languages.
Murakami started writing in the late 1970s and his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, was published in 1979. It was successful in Japan, but he did not gain wider recognition until 1987 when Norwegian Wood was published. This is also one of his most well-known works internationally. Other notable works by him include The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1995), Kafka on the Shore (2002) and 1Q84 (2009). Murakami has received several prizes for his books and has also been awarded multiple personal prizes like the Franz Kafka Prize in 2006. Additionally, he has been mentioned as a possible recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in recent years although this is purely speculation.
Interestingly, Murakami is also a translator. He has translated numerous English works into Japanese, among them the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Truman Capote. He also takes an active role in translating his own works into English. For example, he encourages his texts to be “adapted” into an American reality rather than directly translated. He even advocated for some of his German translations to be translated from English and not Japanese.
Murakami’s latest novel, The City and Its Uncertain Walls, has just been published in Japan in April. It does not have a release date for an English translation yet, but that will no doubt be announced soon.
Jo Nesbø is the most successful Norwegian author of all time. His books have been translated into over fifty languages and have sold over 50 million copies worldwide (by 2021). He is primarily known for writing crime fiction, specifically the Harry Hole series. It follows detective Harry Hole, who works for Crime Squad and takes on cases while dealing with alcoholism and his own problems. Nesbø has described Harry as his soulmate and that he will always come back to him. There are currently thirteen books in the series, all of which have been translated into English. The most popular one, The Snowman (2010), was even adapted into a film starring Michael Fassbender as Harry Hole in 2017. Nesbø’s latest novel, and the newest instalment in the series, Killing Moon, will be published on the 25 May 2023 in English. Nesbø has also written a series of children’s books and another crime series plus several stand-alone works.
Nesbø is considered to be one of the most well-known Nordic noir authors, the genre of crime fiction set in the Nordic countries and told from a police perspective. Nordic noir is successful worldwide and there are several well-known Nordic authors whose works have been largely translated including Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson and Camilla Läckberg, all from Sweden.