The Chilean writer Isabel Allende took the literary world by storm with her first novel, translated into English from the Spanish by Magda Bogin and published in 1985 as THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS. The lush, magical-realist family saga, which spans three generations of the Trueba family and a century of turbulence in an unnamed Latin American country, has been translated into more than 37 languages, and Allende is one of the most widely-read Spanish-language authors in the world.

Born in Peru in 1942, Allende lived in Chile from the age of three, but fled to Venezuela shortly after the 1973 military coup. She later said that without this caesura she would not have become a writer. She started out as a journalist and TV personality, and also translated English romantic fiction, notably Barbara Cartland. That job didn’t last long: she was fired for altering Cartland’s dialogue and endings to make her heroines appear intelligent and independent. Allende’s own novels feature memorable female characters, and she was one of the first female Latin American writers to rival the international success of the men of the Latin American Boom. She discusses various aspects of her writing here.

Another very popular novel first published in English in 1985 was Marguerite Duras’ THE LOVER, translated from the French by Barbara Bray. It tells of a passionate, clandestine, transgressive affair between a 15-year-old French girl and her older Chinese-Vietnamese lover, based on Duras’ own experience as a young girl in colonial Indochina. She later wrote a second version entitled THE NORTH CHINA LOVER (translated into English by Leigh Hafrey). A hybrid of novel and screenplay, it started out as notes for a film script, but Duras used it to ‘reclaim’ the story after quarrelling with the director of the 1992 film, Jean-Jacques Annaud.

Duras was good friends with her translator, Barbara Bray, who lived in Paris and was, for almost thirty years, the lover, translator, and collaborator of Samuel Beckett. Bray’s twin sister, Olive Classe, also translated from the French, and is the editor of the ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF LITERARY TRANSLATION INTO ENGLISH.

The House of the Spirits

The Lover


THE DEATH OF ARTEMIO CRUZ by Carlos Fuentes was first published in English in 1964, translated from the Mexican Spanish by Sam Hileman. It follows the deathbed reflections of a former soldier of the Mexican revolution who has become a corrupt land baron and newspaper owner; the novel itself is a reflection on 20th century Mexican society and the abuse of power. Both story and style were influenced by the film CITIZEN KANE: Fuentes’ modernist prose deploys switches in narrative perspective and finds literary ways of imitating Orson Welles’ innovative cinematic techniques.

ARTEMIO CRUZ was a milestone in the celebrated Latin American Boom of the 1960s and ’70s, when the Cuban Revolution and political upheaval across the continent prompted a surge of interest in the region. Many Latin American novelists suddenly achieved worldwide popularity, including Carlos Fuentes in Mexico, Gabriel García Márquez in Colombia, Mario Vargas Llosa in Peru and Julio Cortázar in Argentina. Their huge international success was, of course, made possible because their works were championed by foreign publishers and widely translated.

The Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, who wrote in both English and French, is one of the best-known exponents of self-translation. His radio play CASCANDO premiered in the original French on France Culture, and was first broadcast in English on BBC Radio 3 in 1964. That year also saw the English debut of Beckett’s novel HOW IT IS, again self-translated from the French.