war's unwomanly face

Soviet women who fought in World War II were given a voice by the Belarusian Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich in her non-fiction book WAR’S UNWOMANLY FACE. It was first published in English in 1988, by Progress Publishers in Moscow, in a translation by Keith Hammond & Lyudmilla Lezhneva. The original Russian text – published three years earlier – had, however, been heavily censored. Alexievich spent seven years patiently interviewing hundreds of women who had served on the front line or were part of the supporting infrastructure, weaving their stories into a remarkable, unvarnished oral history.

By the time Alexievich was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2015, the Moscow edition was out of print. The book was retranslated by the husband-and-wife team of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, famous for their translations of Russian classics by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Bulgakov and others. This new, unexpurgated version was published by Penguin in 2017 as THE UNWOMANLY FACE OF WAR: AN ORAL HISTORY OF WOMEN IN WORLD WAR II.

Important works by two other Nobel laureates also appeared in English for the first time in 1988. THE PIANO TEACHER, by the Austrian novelist and playwright Elfriede Jelinek, was translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel (cf. #TA60 1979). It depicts a sadomasochistic relationship between a piano teacher and her student, and was the first of Jelinek’s many works to be published in English. Elfriede Jelinek has herself translated from French and English into German, mostly plays, including several Feydeau farces, Wilde’s THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, Marlowe’s THE JEW OF MALTA, and GRAVITY’S RAINBOW by Thomas Pynchon.

Finally for 1988, LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA by the great Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez (cf. #TA60 1970) describes a romantic love that lasts a lifetime, reuniting the lovers in their old age. It was translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman.

The Unwomanly Face of War

The Piano Teacher

Love in the Time of Cholera




AUNT JULIA AND THE SCRIPTWRITER is a semi-autobiographical Bildungsroman and the seventh novel by the great Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa – another Nobel laureate for our list. It was translated from Spanish to English in 1982 by Helen R. Lane. (You can read an extensive interview with Helen Lane here in which she discusses various aspects of translation.)

The plot of AUNT JULIA AND THE SCRIPTWRITER mirrors events from the author’s youth. A young radio journalist and would-be writer named Mario becomes involved with the older Julia, his beautiful aunt-by-marriage. As Vargas Llosa did, Mario has an eccentric and charismatic colleague: a prolific writer of radio soaps called Pedro Camacho. This comic ‘Boom’ novel switches back and forth between Mario’s affair with ‘Aunt Julia’ and the scripts for Camacho’s increasingly bizarre and convoluted soap operas. It was adapted for the screen as TUNE IN TOMORROW, and the setting moved from 1950s Lima to New Orleans.

1982 also saw the publication of A GREAT LOVE by Alexandra Kollontai, in a translation by her biographer, Cathy Porter. This was the first English edition to include all three stories from the original Russian collection. (The title novella was translated by Lily Lore and published separately in 1929.)

Kollontai was a remarkable character. A convinced Marxist, she was politically active from an early age, first with the Mensheviks and later as a Bolshevik. She was the only woman in the first Soviet government, although she did not always see eye to eye with Lenin, which led to her falling out of favour with the Communist Party. She was removed from influence and appointed to a series of diplomatic positions abroad. Kollontai was a feminist and an outspoken advocate of sexual liberation; she is thought to have been the inspiration for Greta Garbo’s character in the film NINOTCHKA. She was the only member of the original Bolshevik Central Committee to survive the Stalinist purges, other than Stalin himself.



The first volume of THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO appeared in English in the spring of 1974. Published in the original Russian just a few months earlier, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s book caused such a stir that the American translator, Thomas P. Whitney, a former Moscow bureau chief with the Associated Press, had to work very fast to produce the English version.

THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO is a three-volume, non-fiction, literary-historical record of the Soviet system of prisons and labour camps. While serving as an officer in the Red Army in 1944 Solzhenitsyn made derogatory remarks in letters from the front about Stalin’s handling of the war. He was arrested and sentenced to eight years’ hard labour. THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO, written between 1958 and 1967, is based on his own experience and the first-hand testimonies of more than 200 fellow prisoners.

Solzhenitsyn hid different parts of the manuscript with friends around Moscow and never worked on all of it at once. It was smuggled out of the country on microfilm, but he still hoped to be able to publish it in Russia first. However, in August 1973 the KGB seized a copy after interrogating one of the typists, Elizaveta Voronyanskaya, who was found hanged just days after her release. When he heard of her death, Solzhenitsyn gave Paris-based Editions du Seuil the go-ahead to publish the text in Russian. Six weeks after the first volume appeared he was charged with treason, deported from the Soviet Union and stripped of his Soviet citizenship.

The sheer quantity of detailed research and testimonies made it impossible for the Soviet authorities to discredit the book. It forced people in both the Soviet Union and the West to confront the reality of the Leninist-Stalinist prison camp system. In 2009 the book became mandatory reading in Russian schools. A 50th anniversary edition will be published as a single volume by Penguin Vintage Classics in November 2018, in the translation by Thomas P. Whitney and Harry Willets. THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO has sold over thirty million copies in 35 languages, and has been hailed by historians as one of the most influential books of the twentieth century.

Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1970, but feared he would not be allowed back to Russia if he travelled to Stockholm to receive it. He finally accepted the award at a ceremony in 1974, the year he was exiled.


Asked to name any novel in translation, how many readers would immediately think of ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE? First published in Spanish in 1967 at the height of the Latin American boom, this seminal work by the Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez was instantly, and phenomenally, successful. A classic of the genre that became known as ‘magical realism’, it’s sold more than 45 million copies worldwide and been translated into 44 languages, making it the best-selling and most-translated Spanish-language book in modern history, after DON QUIXOTE. In a survey of international writers in 2009, ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE topped the poll of novels that had shaped world literature over the preceding 25 years. García Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his oeuvre in 1982.

ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE was translated from the Spanish by the great Gregory Rabassa and published in English in 1970. The author famously praised Rabassa’s translation as ‘better than the original’, calling him ‘the best Latin American writer in the English language’. On the advice of Julio Cortázar, García Márquez waited three years for Rabassa to be free to translate his novel. He later said that both of his eminent translators, Rabassa and Edith Grossman, exemplified what he liked best about translation in that they placed intuitiveness above intellectualism. Rabassa himself commented: ‘When I talk about it, I say the English is hiding behind his Spanish. That’s what a good translation is: you have to think if García Márquez had been born speaking English, that’s how a translation should sound.’

Another bestselling translated book that year was PAPILLON, Henri Charrière’s ostensibly autobiographical account of his incarceration in and subsequent escape from the penal colony of French Guiana. It has been described as ‘the greatest adventure story of all time’ and was later made into a major film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. Two English translations from the original French were published in 1970: Patrick O’Brian’s appeared in the UK, while the US edition was translated by June P. Wilson and Walter B. Michaels.

Finally, two other notable works that first became available to us in English in 1970: THE SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN by the Japanese Nobel Prize-winner Yasunari Kawabata was translated by Edward Seidensticker; and BABI YAR: A DOCUMENT IN THE FORM OF A NOVEL. Anatoli Kuznetsov’s shocking account bears witness to the massacre of more than 33,700 Jewish civilians over two days in the Babi Yar ravine in Ukraine in 1941. Kuznetsov, who was a teenager during the Nazi occupation of Kyiv, wove together his own and other eye-witness accounts to write this important testimony to one of the largest single mass killings of the Holocaust. It was initially published in a Russian journal in 1966, heavily censored and edited. Three years later Kuznetsov defected from the USSR to the UK, bringing with him the unexpurgated version he described as ‘the authentic text’. This was published in 1970 under the pseudonym ‘A. Anatoli’, in a translation from the Russian by David Lloyd.


“рукописи не горят.” – “Manuscripts don’t burn.”

Mikhail Bulgakov’s extraordinary socio-political satire THE MASTER AND MARGARITA, in which Satan (in disguise) and his demonic cat wreak havoc among Moscow’s literary elite, was first published in book form in 1967. Bulgakov wrote the novel during the Stalinist repression of 1930s Russia and was still revising it when he died. Thanks to the persistence of his widow, Yelena, a censored version was finally published in two parts more than a quarter of a century later by the Russian journal Moskva. It was an instant success, and samizdat copies of the uncensored manuscript were circulated widely in the USSR. The full book was published in Russian by YMCA Press in Paris, and appeared soon afterwards in English translation. Mirra Ginsburg’s 1967 translation for Grove Press was based on the Moskva edition, whereas Michael Glenny, whose translation for Harvill Press/Harper and Row appeared the same year, had access to the more complete manuscript. The original novel has been re-edited and retranslated – into multiple languages – several times since then.

Mercè Rodoreda is regarded as the most influential 20th century Catalan writer. Her novel LA PLAÇA DEL DIAMANT, described by Colm Toíbín as ‘a small masterpiece’ and by Gabriel García Márquez as ‘the most beautiful novel published in Spain since the Civil War’ was first translated into English in 1967 by Eda O’Shiel under the title THE PIGEON GIRL. It has also appeared as THE TIME OF THE DOVES (tr. David Rosenthal) and, most recently, IN DIAMOND SQUARE (tr. Peter Bush).

Another novel first published in English in 1967 and known by different names is Boris Vian’s surrealist L’ÉCUME DES JOURS, translated from the French by Stanley Chapman in 1967 as FROTH ON THE DAYDREAM. A translation by John Sturrock appeared the following year under the title MOOD INDIGO, while Brian Harper translated it for the U.S. in 2012 as FOAM OF THE DAZE. Vian’s novel has inspired three feature films, two music albums and an opera.



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.

60 years of literary translation

Founded in 1958, the Translators Association of The Society of Authors (TA) is celebrating its 60th anniversary. For the next 60 weeks we will post and tweet a classic translation for each TA year, and name the translator who rewrote it so we could enjoy it in English. Follow on Twitter with the hashtag #TA60.

Ready? Here we go!

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, Boris Pasternak’s epic masterpiece, was smuggled out of Russia and first published in Italian, translated by Pietro Zveteremich. In 1958 readers were able to enjoy the first English translation – from the Russian – by Max Hayward and Manya Harari.

Other classic translations first published in English in 1958 include Nobel laureate Yasunari Kawabata’s THOUSAND CRANES, translated from Japanese by Edward Seidensticker, and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s postmodern mystery THE VOYEUR, translated from French by Richard Howard.