The Polish author Bolesław Prus has been likened to both Chekhov and Tolstoy. Born Aleksander Głowacki (Prus was a pen name), at the age of 15 he joined the 1863 Polish Uprising against Imperial Russia, in which he was badly injured. Later he became an influential newspaper columnist with a particular interest in science and technology, and published many keenly observed, often humorous short stories. He also wrote four novels on the ‘great questions of our age’, of which THE DOLL was the second. Czesław Milosz, the Polish Nobel laureate, held it to be the greatest Polish novel and an outstanding example of nineteenth-century realistic prose.

Set in 1878, THE DOLL paints a panoramic picture of late nineteenth-century Warsaw society, its tensions, politics, class divisions and attempts at social reform. It tells of an energetic young entrepreneur, Wokulski, who becomes infatuated with Izabela, the daughter of a bankrupt aristocrat. The title refers both to an incident with a stolen toy and also, by implication, to Izabela herself. THE DOLL has been translated into 21 languages and filmed several times. This link provides a wealth of further reading about the book. Although a classic in Poland, it was almost a century before it was published in English in 1972, in a translation by David Welsh.

1972 was a great year all round for literature in English translation. FAMILY TIES, a collection of short stories by the grande dame of Brazilian literature, Clarice Lispector, first appeared in a translation from the Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero. (You’ll hear more about Lispector and Pontiero in #TA60 1992!) Other first translations into English that year include MY MICHAEL by Amos Oz, translated from the Hebrew by Nicholas de Lange (more on this author-translator team in #TA60 2002), and Halldór Laxness’ magnum opus UNDER THE GLACIER, translated from the Icelandic by Magnus Magnusson (cf. THE FISH CAN SING, #TA60 1966).




In 1963 Bruno Schulz’s vivid, hypnotic short stories finally reached an English audience in a translation by Celina Wieniewska. The UK edition retained the Polish title: CINNAMON SHOPS, after the bakeries characteristic of the author’s Galician hometown of Drohobycz. In the United States the collection was renamed THE STREET OF CROCODILES, the title by which it is best known today. Schulz was also an accomplished visual artist, and his drawings were incorporated into the covers of both English first editions.

Schulz, a Jew, was shot in the Drohobycz ghetto in 1942. He thought and wrote in Polish; he didn’t know Yiddish but was fluent in German. He is credited as having translated Kafka’s THE TRIAL, but the attribution is controversial: he probably lent his name to a translation by his fiancée, Józefina Szelińska, on which he may also have collaborated. Schulz defamiliarised language with startling, evocative results. His two surviving works are written in a lush, lyrical style and have inspired many subsequent writers and artists.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH was also first published in English in 1963, in a translation from the Russian by Ralph Parker. This revelatory depiction of life in a Soviet gulag, based on the author’s experience, became an instant classic and has been retranslated several times. The unexpurgated 1991 translation by Harry T. Willetts is the only one to have been authorized by Solzhenitsyn himself.

A spot on this #TA60 list must also go to the much-loved Moomin children’s stories by Tove Jansson. Jansson was part of Finland’s Swedish-speaking minority and wrote her books in Swedish. Many were translated into English prior to the start of our list in 1958, but 1963 saw the publication of TALES FROM MOOMINVALLEY, translated by Thomas Warburton.