Monday 30 July 2012

Guest Post Barbara Jolie - Books in Translation

3 Great YA Books in Translation

There’s more to the world of books than just the Anglo-American literary scene. Yet only a precious few titles from abroad make it into print in English. It’s commonly estimated that only around 3% of all books published in the UK or US are translated from another language. (For comparison, the proportion in Latin America and Western Europe is closer to 35%.)

While it is true that English has served in the modern world as a lingua franca for business and other international purposes, let’s not flatter ourselves: only about 7% of humans are native English speakers, and though up to a quarter of the planet may speak a little English, that doesn’t mean they can read and write it fluently. (How many supposed native speakers even can?) Just think of what we’re missing out on!

Reading books from other cultures can be a gateway into worlds as strange and compelling as the most enchanted paranormal realm, and is an important act of global citizenship, even for the young. Here are just a few brilliant YA titles from abroad:

1. The Pull of the Ocean by Jean-Claude Mourlevat

Hailing from France, Mourlevat may be best known in the Anglophone world for Winter’s End, his futuristic tale of four children escaping boarding school to join a revolution against the evil Phalangist government. Though that book is highly recommended as well, especially for Hunger Games fans looking for a foreign-skewed take on the dystopian genre, I prefer this more recent title. It’s an ingeniously structured book with multiple narrators, and draws on Mourlevat’s French heritage by cleverly reworking the tale of Tom Thumb as told by fairytale master Charles Perrault. The English translation is by Y. Maudet.

2. Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe

A young boy named Wataru, abandoned by his father and with his mother hospitalized for a suicide attempt, must enter a fantasy world called Vision to put it all right again. With the help of feline and reptilian companions Meena and Kee-Keema, he battles demons, searches for magical gems, and attempts to reach the Tower of Destiny. This long, often dark book is something like a cross between Harry Potter and the Legend of Zelda video games, with a strong theme about the anguish of divorce. Translated by Alexander O. Smith.

3. The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

For our final entry, a throwback. You’ve probably seen the movie adaptation or its spin-offs (and may even have the theme song stuck in your head just from seeing the title), but have you ever read the original novel? You ought to. Ralph Manheim’s English translation of this German export was originally published in 1983. The book is laden with the esoteric ideas of Rudolf Steiner’s “anthroposophy” system, but you needn’t know that to enjoy the adventures of Bastian Balthazar Bux in Fantastica (Fantasia in the films). Nearly 30 years later, The Neverending Story remains in print and remains every bit as enchanting.

That’s it for our mini-tour of YA literature around the globe. I encourage you to seek out works in translation, as exploring faraway imaginations is an adventure worthy of any young hero!

This is a guest post by education writer Barbara Jolie. Barbara is passionate about education and studying online. When not writing and thinking about all things education, Barbara is busy planning her next vacation and caring for her pet cat and bird. You can reach her at

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