“Writers make national literature, while translators make universal literature.”
– José Saramago
Have you ever read a book that was originally written in a language you don’t speak? You probably have. Good books and their translations can stand the test of time.
Thousands of books around the world are translated each year and some of them are reprinted decade after decade for their millions of readers and fans.
While the most translated book is Christianity’s highest text, The Bible, the majority of the world’s most translated books actually aren’t religious. Here are our three favorites:
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
– Antoine de Saint Exupéry
Translated from the original French into 300 languages, The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) has sold more than 140 million copies worldwide since its publication in 1943. It tells the charming tale of a pilot who crashes his plane in the desert and meets a young prince who fell to Earth from a different planet.
The Little Prince is styled as a children’s book and includes watercolor illustrations, but the fable contains a number of philosophical musings that have made it a favorite among many adults as well, including this one.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.”
– Lewis Carroll
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, now more commonly known as Alice in Wonderland, was an English nonsense novel originally published in 1865. Since then it has had at least 100 English-language editions and been translated into more than 174 languages.
In Carroll’s children’s book, the title character falls through a rabbit hole and has a series of strange experiences with the characters she meets, such as the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and the Queen of Hearts. While the book contains a number of references to mathematics and logic, some elements and passages manage to sweetly baffle both Alice and readers alike.
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
“The truth may be stretched thin, but it never breaks, and it always surfaces above lies, as oil floats on water.”
– Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Titled El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha in the original Spanish, Don Quixote is often-considered modern Western literature’s most influential book. The first part was published in 1605 and the second in 1615. Since then Don Quixote has been translated into more than 140 languages.
The book follows Mr. Alonso Quixano, a poor noble who goes mad after reading one too many chivalric romance stories, and Sancho Panza, the farmer who accompanies him in the role of squire. They travel around Spain with Quixano causing mischief and Panza trying to make his master’s missteps right.
Books in Translation
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