Best Translated Work: The 2021 Karissa Reads Books Literary Awards

Reading more work translated from other languages into English is a goal of mine every year. I never seem to read as many as I hope to but I’m determined to keep making an effort. Since I only speak and read one language, reading translations is the best way to access an entire other world of books and to help me learn more about other countries, cultures, and lifestyles.

Honourable Mention:

Strange Beats of China – Yan Ge

I fully accept that this book won’t be for everyone. But I found it fascinating and such a unique perspective on minorities, government, and the ways we treat others, not to mention the ways we “other” people who are different from us.

The Samurai – Shusaku Endo

While I personally liked Endo’s Silence more than The Samurai, this is still a compelling novel. Based on some historical fact it is a powerful look at faith and history, particularly in Japan. Endo’s writing has such beauty and wisdom to it.

And the Winner is…

Wuhan Diary – Fang Fang

In pondering this category, I was thinking about why we read translated work. Why seek out a book written for an entire audience that you are not a part of? Why do people put the effort into translating books? I think Wuhan Diary is a perfect, very timely answer to that question. This is a book that details the Covid-19 crisis in Wuhan at its very beginning. It offers a personal look at what it was like to live on ground zero of a pandemic. Because this book was translated into English, I am able to see what was similar to my own experiences, what was different. A book like this can humanize people around the world and I think that’s particularly important in the face of the anti-Asian sentiments that have been far too prevalent since the rise of Covid.

Do you make an effort to read translated work? What was your best of the year?

12 thoughts on “Best Translated Work: The 2021 Karissa Reads Books Literary Awards”

  1. I don’t think I’m quite ready to read a book about the early days of the pandemic, though I think that Wuhan Diary is a really important book and I do want to read it one day when I feel like I can handle it! I have not read as much translated work as I normally do, but easily my favourite is The Big Green Tent by Lyudmila Ulitskaya. At the time I said it was too meandering and confusing to ever be a favourite, and certainly I can’t imagine myself rereading it in a hurry – but it’s really stayed with me ever since I read it.

    1. That’s fair. It’s much more focused on the daily life aspect of those early weeks – getting food, keeping in touch with family – than any medical aspect, which helped me read it without feeling stressed out. And the cultural and political stuff of how things worked in China is really interesting too. But it’s best saved for when you feel ready!

    1. Thank you for sharing that comic – I hadn’t seen it before! Wuhan has a very special place in my heart. I spent a very formative summer there when I was 16. In 2020 I had several conversations with people about Wuhan, trying to explain what it was like. Unfortunately, I find there is still a lot of ignorance or confusion about what life is like in China and of course fear was really fueling people’s reactions. The more we can share our real lives, the better, I think.

    2. You’re welcome! I really felt for the artist because people were side-eyeing her for being from “Ground Zero.” I wondered what people in other countries thought about Wuhan. In the U.S. people were being fed a narrative about Chinese people through Trump, so you can imagine that wasn’t great.

    3. There was a definite rise in anti-Asian sentiment in Canada too, I’m afraid. I’m surprised when I meet people who don’t seem aware that China is a modern country full of cities with people living life like ours but it isn’t totally uncommon that people still seem to be imagining 1960s China or something.

  2. I’m terribly lazy about hunting out translated books so apart from a few Nordic crime novels I usually hardly read any. But I’ve read a couple of Spanish classics this year for my civil war challenge and both were excellent – In Diamond Square and Nada. Not enough to make a whole awards category out of though, so well done! Maybe I’ll try to emulate you next year!

  3. I so appreciate your reviews of translated works because it reminds me I must read more of them myself! It’s funny, your description of why reading translated work is important is basically the reason I read so much in general – to keep learning about others 🙂

  4. I always try to read more translated but never really succeed … Maybe 2022 is the year! Also, I really appreciate your thoughts on why we should read translated books – and what a great example!

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