Alexander Beecroft has a post at the Verso blog listing five “important works of world literature unavailable in the English language.” Right off the bat he cheats by including Ruan Ji’s “Poems which sing my emotions” (詠懷詩), which has in fact been translated: “a translation by Graham Hartill was published in China in 1988 and reprinted there in 2006, but it’s available in only a handful of university libraries, and not for sale at Amazon.” I can understand your desire to see his work more widely available, but when you’ve only got five slots, surely you could use them all for untranslated works that are actually untranslated.
But never mind, I forgive him because the others are so enticingly described; I was particularly taken with 3 and 4:
3. Constanzo Beschi (1680-1747) Thembavani, a Tamil-language epic on St. Joseph.
…The Thembavani is said to draw on two rich, but utterly distinct, strands of epic tradition: the Tamil tradition of devotional epic, which in turn derives from both Sanskrit epic and a rich local lyric tradition; and the Renaissance Italian epic tradition of Ariosto and Tasso. As such, it ranks as one of the earliest works (to my knowledge at least) which attempts to integrate European and non-European aesthetics into a single work of imaginative literature. It’s an unbelievably strange and fascinating prologue to colonial and post-colonial literature, but one not accessible to those who don’t know Tamil. Elijah Hoole, a nineteenth-century Methodist missionary who himself translated parts of the Bible into Tamil, offers a glimpse into this strange text, with some selections from the description of Jerusalem in the second canto:
“There were swarms of contending crocodiles, showing teeth sharp as a sword, and curved like the fair new moon, opening their fleshy mouths, and flashing fire from their eyes, as though the moat had formerly been deepened to hell, and the demons lying there had assumed and wandered about in a terrifying form.”
4. Halid Ziya Uşaklıgil (1866-1945). Aşk-ı Memnu (“Forbidden Love”) 1900.
It’s one of the first novels written in Ottoman Turkish, and one of the most highly acclaimed, a sort of Madame Bovary set in turn-of-the-century Istanbul. … I translated a sentence from the opening of the novel (from the review of the German translation in Der Spiegel):
“They were by now so used to these chance encounters with the mahogany boat, which came close to a collision with them each time, that today they barely seemed to notice when, on their return from Kalender, they came within a hair of colliding with it again.”
This sentence seems to give us what we want from a novel – hints of complex and perhaps illicit social interaction among the well-to-do; a whiff of exoticism; the sense of total immersion in a social world – that it’s frustrating not to be able to read more.
Here‘s a post that links to this “Translate This Book!” list, and here‘s my decade-old lament at the absence of a translation of Abdelrahman Munif’s historical novel Ard Al-Sawad (an absence that, I need hardly say, still continues). Thanks for the link, Trevor!