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100 Best Novels, in Translation, Since 1900

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Cockburn calls one morning back in 2005.

“Jeffrey, don’t you think Frankie could play Behemoth in the movie?”

Frankie was Alex’s gregarious black cat, rather hefty with feline dreadlocks and an imperious manner.

“Which movie would that be?”

The Master and Margarita, of course. Don’t tell me you haven’t read your Bulgakov? I’m astonished. Simply astonished.”

Three days later, I had indeed read by Bulgakov, laughing most of the way through his satiric underground masterpiece of life in Stalin’s Soviet Union. I finished the novel and immediately plunged back in for a second helping. So it’s no surprise then that Bulgakov heads our list of the best novels in translation written since 1900 or that an equally surreal, though less comic, novel of oppressive bureaucracy, Kafka’s The Trial, follows it. As for Proust, Alex and I both made pilgrimages to the wonderful Musée Carnavalet in Paris to see the recreation of the divine Marcel’s cork-walled room.

Alex and I both studied English Literature, Cockburn at Oxford, me at American University in DC 15 years later. During our 20 year friendship, we talked about novels, films and poems nearly as much as we did politics and certainly found greater enjoyment in long-ranging debates about the relative merits of Waugh, Stendahl and Proust. Before Alex died, we’d been working on putting together two lists of our favorite novels written since 1900, similar to the very popular lists we’d done years before for nonfiction books in English and in translation. Last month we published our list of the 100 best novels in English written since 1900. Here is our list of the 100 best novels in translation written since 1900.

We set some ground rules. First, one of us had to have actually read the book and convincingly described its merits to the other. Second, we limited each writer to one entry; otherwise, novels by Georges Simenon and Roberto Bolañ0 might have dominated the list. Third, each of us had unlimited preemptory challenges to be invoked against writers we hated. Thus no: Gunter Grass or Michel Houellebecq. Fourth: the novels had to have been published after 1899, which meant that Lou Andreas-Salome’s strange novels just missed the cut. We didn’t distinguish between so-called genre fiction and serious literature, thus you’ll find a thrillers like Henning Mankell’s Sidetracked ranked adjacent to Nathalie Sarraute’s challenging Portrait of a Man Unknown.

Unlike our previous lists, this time we chose to rank the books. Why? Because people tend to feel more passionately about novels than treatises on the surplus-value theory and we hoped that our list would give CounterPunchers something new to fight over. Here though the rankings are tilted more toward my own biases, since Alex and I had only gotten round to slotting the first 25 or so books before he died.

We hope that our novels list confirms some of your own tastes and at other times confounds you, irritates you and turns you on to some fresh reading pleasures. As Alex was fond of saying: “By the quality of life, art and freedom that radicals commend, so will radicals prevail.”

There’s much reading to be done. Hurry, before all the beaches disappear…

–Jeffrey St. Clair

 

1. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (Russian) 1966

2. The Trial by Franz Kafka (German) 1925

3.  In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (French) 1913-1927

4.  100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Spanish) 1967

5.  The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil (German) 1942

6.  The Stranger by Albert Camus (French] 1942

7. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann [German] 1924

8. Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar [French] 1951

9. The Little Prince by Antoine Saint-Expurey [French] 1943

10. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami [Japanese] 1995

 

11. Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Celine [French] 1932

12.  A Book of Memories by Peter Nadas [Hungarian] 1986

13.  History: a Novel by Elsa Morante [Italian] 1974

14.  How It Is by Samuel Beckett [French] 1961

15. The Death of Virgil by Hermann Broch [German] 1945

16. The Conformist by Alberto Moravia [Italian] 1951

17. My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk [Turkish] 1998

18.  The Lover by Marguerite Duras [French] 1984

19.  Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Svevo [Italian] 1923

20.  The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño [Spanish] 1998

 

21. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn [Russian] 1962

22. Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre [French] 1938

23. The President by Miguel Angel Asturias [Spanish] 1946

24. All Our Yesterdays by Natalia Ginzburg [Italian] 1952

25. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco [Italian] 1980

26. The Erasers by Alain Robbe-Grillet [French] 1953

27. Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima [Japanese] 1969

28.  The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa [Spanish] 2000

29. Despair by Vladimir Nabokov [Russian] 1934

30. The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by Jose Saramago [Spanish] 1991

 

31. Fatelessness by Imre Kertesz [Hungarian] 1975

32. Children of Gebelawi by Naguib Mahfouz [Arabic] 1959

33. Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata [Japanese] 1947

34. Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig [German] 1939

35. The Joke by Milan Kundera (Czech) 1969

36. The Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun [Norwegian] 1920

37. The Land of Green Plums by Herte Muller [German] 1994

38. The Thief’s Journal by Jean Genet [French] 1949

39. Summer in Baden Baden by Leonid Tsypkin [Russian] 1981

40. The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek [German] 1983

 

41. The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoir [French] 1954

42. The Counterfeiters by Andre Gide [French] 1925

43. Sidetracked by Henning Mankell [Swedish] 1995

44. Portrait of a Man Unknown by Nathalie Sarraute [French] 1948

45. The Devil to Pay in the Backlands by Joao Guimaraes Rosa [Portuguese] 1956

46. Man’s Fate by Andre Malraux [French] 1933

47. Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb [Hungarian] 1937

48. Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin [German] 1929

49. Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan [French] 1954

50. The Passion According to GH by Clarice Lispector [Spanish] 1964

 

51. Life: a User’s Manual by Georges Perec [French] 1978

52. The Story of O by Pauline Réage [French] 1954

53. Nadja by Andre Breton [French] 1928

54.  This Life by Karel Schoeman [Afrikaaner] 2005

55. Yo-Yo Boing! by Giannina Braschi [Spanglish] 1998

56. The Moon and the Bonfires by Cesar Pavese [Italian] 1950

57. The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzatti [Italian] 1940

58. The Kingdom of This World by Alejo Carpentier [Spanish] 1949

59. Terra Nostra by Carlos Fuentes [Spanish] 1975

60. Red Lights by Georges Simenon [French] 1953

 

61. The Dwarf by Par Lagerkvist [Swedish] 1944

62. Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis [Greek] 1946

63. Furdeydurke by Witold Gombrowicz (Polish) 1937

64. Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse [German] 1927

65. The True Story of Ah Q by Lu Xun [Chinese] 1921

66. A Heart So White by Javier Marias [Spanish] 1992

67. Three Trapped Tigers by Guillermo Cabrera Infante [Spanish] 1967

68. Happy Moscow by Andrey Platonov [Russian] 1991

69. Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo (Spanish)1955

70. Century of Locusts by Malika Mokedden [French] 1991

 

71. The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat (Persian) 1937

72. Solaris by Stanislaw Lem [Polish] 1961

73. No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai (Japanese) 1948

74. The Great House by Mohammed Dib [French] 1952

75. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson [Swedish] 2005

76. Hotel Splendid by Marie Redonnet [French] 1988

77. A Dark Night’s Passing by Naoya Shiga (Japanese) 1937

78. The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers (German) 1942

79. The Conspiracy by Paul Nizan [French] 1938

80. Memed, My Hawk by Yashar Kemal (Turkish) 1955

 

81. The Ragazzi by Pier Paolo Pasolini (Italian) 1955

82. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon [Spanish] 2001

83. Stolen Spring by Hans Scherfig (Danish) 1940

84. The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke (German) 1910

85. Jacob the Liar by Jurek Becker (German) 1969

86. The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald (German) 1995

87. Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse (Japanese) 1985

88. The Open Door by Latifa Zayyat (Arabic) 1960

89. Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov (Russian) 1996

90. Tamas by Bhisham Sahni  (Hindi) 1974.

 

91. The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch (Dutch) 1992

92. The Time of the Doves by Merce Rodoreda [Spanish] 1962

93.  Dita Saxova by Arnost Lustig (Czech) 1962

94. Embers by Sandor Marai (Hungarian) 1942

95. The Good Hope by William Heinesen (Danish) 1964

96. The Emigrants by Vilhelm Moberg (Swedish) 1949

97. The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra (Arabic) 2006

98. God’s Bits of Wood by Sembene Ousmane  (French) 1960

99. The Leopard by Guiseppi Lampedusa (Italian) 1958

100. Homo Faber by Max Frisch (German) 1957

 

(With many thanks for their valuable input, even when it was ignored: Ben Sonnenberg, Kimberly Willson-St. Clair, Daisy Cockburn, Joshua Frank, Ron Jacobs, Carl Estabrook, Christine Karatnytsky and JoAnn Wypijewski.)

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray) will be published in June by CounterPunch Books. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

 

 

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

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