In Translation

40 of the Most Popular Translated Books on Goodreads

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Pierce Alquist

Senior Contributor

Pierce Alquist is a transplanted New Yorker living and working in the publishing scene in Boston. Don’t worry if she fooled you, the red hair is misleading. She’s a literature in translation devotee and reviewer and lover of small, independent presses. A voracious traveler and foodie, you can find her in her kitchen making borscht or covered in red pepper paste as she perfects her kimchi recipe.

In celebration of World Book Day, Goodreads recently announced 40 of the most popular translated books on the site, writing that “the joy of reading is universal—that’s why we’re shining a spotlight on some of the most popular translated books on Goodreads!” So what made the list?

It’s a mixture of classics like Anna Karenina and The Odyssey, current bestsellers like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and A Man Called Ove (two of the four Swedish books on the list), and some others that I initially couldn’t figure out why they had made the list but then realized that many of them had movie/TV adaptations. You might recognize John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let Me In by its movie title, Let the Right One In.

I was pleasantly surprised by two newer titles that made the list: Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell, and Human Acts by Han Kang, translated from Korean by Deborah Smith. Both are dark, unsettling, and very interesting new titles that have captured the attention of readers. Their presence on the list is wonderful.

Curious if you've read the most popular translated books on Goodreads? We've rounded up the top 40. book lists | goodreads lists | translated books | popular books in translation | most popular translated books

None of this, however, makes up for one glaring failing. One that can’t be overlooked. There is not a single African novel on this list! Not one! If nothing else, So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ and translated by Modupé Bodé-Thomas deserves to be on this list. It’s a classic. I’d also recommend recent favorites of mine like Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila and translated by Roland Glasser, La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono and translated by Lawrence Schimel, Congo Inc.: Bismarck’s Testament by In Koli Jean Bofane and translated by Marjolijn de Jager, and Transparent City by  Ondjaki and translated by Stephen Henighan.

I do realize that if Goodreads narrowed its search by ratings and reviews that there might not have been a translated novel from Africa that ranked as highly as the 40 that made the list. But it’s still unacceptable. One should have been chosen anyway, with a note like, “Hey, we saw that no translated novels from Africa made this list so here’s our recommendation.” Because that’s what it looks like to really celebrate the universality of the joy of reading.

40 of the Most Popular Translated Books on Goodreads

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, translated from the German by A.W. Wheen

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, translated from Swedish by Henning Koch

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, translated from Russian by Richard Pevear  and Larissa Volokhonsky

A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa, translated from Japanese by Risa Kobayashi and Martin Brown

Battle Royale by by Koushun Takami, translated from Japanese by Yuji Oniki

Blindness by José Saramago, translated from Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero

Candide by Voltaire, translated from French by Robert M. Adams

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, translated from Russian by David McDuff

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, translated from Spanish by Edith Grossman

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell

The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch, translated from German by Lee Chadeayne

Human Acts by Han Kang, translated from Korean by Deborah Smith

Inferno by Dante Alighieri, translated from Italian by Anthony M. Esolen

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, translated from German by Anthea Bell

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, translated from French by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee

Let Me In by John Ajvide Lindqvist, translated from Swedish by Ebba Sergerberg

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, translated from French by Geoffrey Wall

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein

Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko, translated from Russian by Andrew Bromfield

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, translated from Japanese by Jay Rubin

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, translated from Spanish by Gregory Rabassa

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind, translated from German by John E. Woods

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi, translated from French by the author

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, translated from German by Hilda Rosner

Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue, translated from Spanish by Natasha Wimmer

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, translated from Portuguese by Alan R. Clarke and Özdemir İnce

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, translated from French by Robin Buss

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, translated from Dutch by B. M. Mooyaart-Doubleday

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, translated from French by Alison Anderson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, translated from Swedish by Reg Keeland

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, translated from Spanish by Magda Bogin

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, translated from Japanese by Cathy Hirano

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, translated from French by Richard Howard

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, translated from German by Michael Hofmann

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, translated from Italian by William Weaver

The Odyssey by Homer, translated from Ancient Greek by Robert Fagles

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated from Spanish by Lucia Graves

The Snowman by Jo Nesbø, translated from Swedish by Don Bartlett

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated from Chinese by Ken Liu

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, translated from Czech by Michael Henry Heim