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Ten Outstanding English Translations of Fiction You’ll Want to Read


5 min read

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Argos Multilingual

Published on

17 Sep 2020

There is no substitute for reading a work of fiction in the language it was written in, but appreciating the work of a true master of the translator’s art is the next best thing.

Translation is challenging, and translating into English is especially so – if it weren’t, everyone would do it. That’s why it’s extra important to recognize outstanding work in the art of translation, which is why we’ve picked out ten renowned examples that are easy to read while providing excellent examples of what a translation should strive to be.

  • The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, translation by Lord Sudley. If you’ve only ever seen the 1993 film, you’re in for a treat. This is the most old-school of the existing translations and still likely the most faithful.

  • Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, translation by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee. Another textbook case of “The book is better than the film (and musical).” This translation brings the story of Jean Valjean to life in a way that even the neon lights of Broadway have trouble matching.  

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, translation by Gregory Rabassa. Almost ignored on its release, it’s now recognized as the best example of the style we now know as magical realism, which presents extreme or otherworldly events as ordinary. It’s a style that depends on creative translation, and this one delivers.

  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. If you can’t read Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, or Pushkin in Russian, a translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky is as close as you’ll get.

  • The Trial by Franz Kafka, translation by Breon Mitchell. The classic story of an ordinary man’s struggle against an unreasoning and unreasonable bureaucracy gains from Mitchell’s imaginative translation.

  • Candide by Voltaire, translation by Burton Raffel. Voltaire’s pessimistic polemic on human nature and the problem of free will has seen dozens of translations into English since it was first published in 1765, but Raffel’s is generally recognized as the one that best gets the biting satire across.

  • The Stranger by Albert Camus, translation by Matthew Ward. Possibly the peak expression of existentialism, it’s been translated into English four times since its original 1942 publication. Camus was influenced by American literary style, and Ward’s translation maintains faithfulness via extensive usage of Americanisms.

  • The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, translation by Mirra Ginsburg. An allegory about Satan visiting the Soviet Union that blends supernatural elements with dark comedy and satire, its original 1967 translation by Mirra Ginsburg is still widely considered the best.

  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, translation by Edith Grossman. Probably the first modern novel and still widely considered one of the greatest, there’s probably no one ideal translation for every purpose. The consensus is, however, that Grossman’s 2003 job covers just about all the bases.

  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, translation by Lydia Davis. One of the first examples of literary realism and also one of the most influential written works in history, Flaubert’s story of a woman living beyond her means to escape her boring existence benefits immensely from the faithfulness of Davis’ translation, the eighteenth English version in existence.

Translation at Argos

We can’t guarantee you’ll find yourself translating the world’s great works of literature when you partner with us, but chances are you will find yourself translating instruction manuals that keep workers safe on the job, instructions for how to ingest potentially life-saving medications, and other materials used to educate and inspire. Our partnership approach means that we value the people we collaborate with, and we pride ourselves on personalized communication, punctual payments, our translator appreciation program, and other initiatives that make us an ideal partner. Visit us to learn more about what it’s like to work with us.

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