It’s a given that fiction is usually best read in the language in which it’s originally written.  But absent a knowledge of ancient Greek, Latin, or dozens of other old and new tongues, generations of American readers have relied on the skill of translators to capture the tone, style, substance, and meaning of some of the greatest works in history. And sometimes translations—whether of Homer, Dante, Luo Guanzhong, or Rumi—can be almost as good as the originals.  
In recent years, an expanding array of literature has become accessible to English speakers thanks to translations. Consider Nobel Prize winner Tomas Tranströmer. By the time the Swedish poet died last week at the age of 83, his works had been translated into 60 languages (including some English translations done by American poet Robert Bly).
Popular fiction is highly translatable, too. American readers have gotten to know an entire genre of Scandinavian crime fiction—Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell being the most obvious—and have helped turn the English-language versions into bestsellers.
Here are a few other excellent foreign books currently attracting U.S. fans thanks, in part, to translations that brilliantly echo the original texts:
The Scapegoat by Sophia Nikolaidou, translated from Greek, is a wonderful novel that centers on events surrounding the murder in 1948 of American journalist George Polk in Greece and the false conviction of a local journalist who confesses to the crime only after being tortured by Greek authorities. Told through the eyes of several generations whose lives are connected, directly or tangentially, to the murder, Nikolaidou explores the often murky relationship between individuals and the state and draws uncanny parallels between postwar Greece and Greece today. The author’s story-telling is probing, sophisticated, at times humorous, and deeply humane. Karen Emmerich, a prize-winning translator who teaches at the University of Oregon, does a masterful job bringing the Greek to life in English.
France’s Patrick Modiano, winner of last year’s Nobel Prize in literature, has been called “the modern Proust.” His works are deeply philosophical, haunting, and often ambiguous in their meaning and resolution. His latest book, Suspended Sentences, is a collection of three novellas that touch on themes common in his writing—a father’s betrayals, anti-Semitism in France in World War II, and the intersection of art, culture, tragedy, and comedy in daily life. Capturing the many layers of thought and language in his writing would be daunting for any translator. In this case the task fell to one of the best, Mark Polizzotti, who has translated some 40 works from French to English. In an interview with Yale University Press, Polizzotti said: “Modiano’s subject matter…is anything but lightweight, and this is where the business of translating him becomes both a pleasure and a challenge.” (We also carry the book in the original French.)
Widely heralded for the beauty of her writing and her captivating story-telling, Elena Ferrante later this year will publish the fourth in what has become a series of international, bestselling Neapolitan novels. The first three—My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stayoffer a rich, evolutionary portrait of the lifelong friendship between two women who first meet as girls in one of Naples’ poorest neighborhoods. The translations of Ferrante’s works are magnificently done by Ann Goldstein, a prize-winning translator and editor at The New Yorker.
And for something off the beaten track, take a look at The Dirty Dust by Máirtín Ó Cadhain, who is credited with helping revive the Irish language in literature. Colm Tóibín calls the book “the greatest novel to be written in the Irish language.” An exploration of the absurdity of life (the characters are all dead but engage in lively dialogue), the story is translated from Irish by writer, playwright, and scholar Alan Titley.
--Brad and Lissa


Save the Date

Saturday, May 2

Following the runaway success of last year’s California Bookstore Day, bookstores across the nation are now preparing for Independent Bookstore Day, a country-wide celebration of books and independent bookstores. From Bend to Brooklyn, book lovers should mark their calendars for this special day of literary parties.

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Don't Miss

April 7, 7 p.m. @ Connecticut Ave

April 8, 6:30 p.m. @ Busboys and Poets Brookland

Paul Beatty, author of Tuff and The White Boy Shuffle, has earned acclaim for its bold and comical take on social issues. In his fourth novel, The Sellout, Beatty, who is also a poet and the editor of Hokum: An Anthology of African-American Humor, deploys deft satire as he follows an anonymous young man grappling with the recent shooting death of his father, a sociologist who in fact was not writing the magnum opus he had claimed, and the state’s threat to wipe his town, Dickens, off the California map.

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Just Announced

Monday, May 25, 6:30 p.m.

In a special Memorial Day visit, Mo Willems will present his newest Elephant and Piggie book: I Will Take a Nap! Gerald and Piggie, Mo Willems’ beloved duo, are back again. Gerald is tired and cranky and he knows just what to do: take a nap. But that might be easier said than done because his best friend Piggie has so many thoughts and questions that just cannot wait. Will Gerald ever get to sleep?

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Children & Teens

Story Time will not occur Monday, April 6. The series will resume Monday, April 13.


Monday, April 6, 7 p.m.



New in Hardcover

Pat Mora
Water Rolls,
Water Rises

(Children's Book Press, $18.95)


Blast from the Past

Taro Yashima
(Puffin, $6.99)


read more about these books.

Sonoma County Retreat at Bishop's Ranch

Sunday, May 17 to Friday, May 22

The Bishop’s Ranch, located in beautiful Sonoma wine country, is the perfect place for a writer seeking quiet, comfort and the kind of perspective that only gazing at Mount St. Helena from the comforts of a lawn chair can provide. Participants will enjoy daily writing seminars taught by author Phyllis Theroux, as well as memorable meals, rustic common rooms for work and play, and a small library for browsing.



A Summertime Parisian Experience

Sunday, July 19 to Saturday, July 25 or
Sunday, August 2 to Saturday, August 8

Join us and a small group of like-minded book-loving travelers for an exclusive and affordable week in Paris. This is not group travel as you know it; there will be no clambering onto buses or jamming en masse into touristy restaurants. Instead, you’ll be introduced to some of the small gems of Paris—lesser known museums, spectacular parks, and off the beaten track cafés.



Politics & Prose in Provence

Sunday, October 4 to Saturday, October 10

Spend three days in Aix-en-Provence, known for its abundance of beautiful fountains, followed by three days in St. Rémy, with side trips to Arles and Les Baux. All the while, enjoy classic Provençal food, wine and culture and enjoy visits to beautiful sites, including those associated with artists Cézanne and Van Gogh and writer Émile Zola.



A Parisian Experience

Sunday, November 1 to Saturday, November 7

Soho Press has partnered with Politics & Prose to send one lucky winner on the first of two “Killer Trips” to Paris hosted by New York Times bestselling mystery author Cara Black—for free! The contest runs 3/3/15 – 4/30/15.

For details on how to enter:



Fun Run and Author Talk

Sunday, April 26, 4 p.m.



Civil War Walking Tour

Saturday, May 23, 1 p.m.

Join Politics & Prose on a walk through downtown D.C. led by experienced guide and author Ed Moser that illuminates both the Civil War and the Lincoln assassination, timed to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the president’s death.



Mob Novels

Monday, April 13

Dive into an (under)world where big business doesn’t mean Apple and drama doesn’t begin to cover the action. This class will read three novels that tread the dark paths of organized crime: Mario Puzo’s classic The Godfather, Black Gangster by Donald Goines, and The Friends Of Eddy Coyle by George V. Higgins.

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Just Announced

Monday, May 11, 7 p.m.



Tuesday, May 26, 7 p.m.



Upcoming Events

Wednesday, April 15, 7 p.m.



Thursday, April 23, 7 p.m.



Thursday, April 30, 7 p.m.

This event is sold out.


Thursday, May 28, 7 p.m.




Supported Events

Reservations and tickets should be acquired from the hosting organization. Contact if you are planning an event and would like us to supply the books.

Tuesday, April 7, 8:30 am
at National Cathedral School, Hearst Hall
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