Historical Musings #68: Historical fiction in translation

Welcome to this month’s post on all things historical fiction.

August was Women in Translation Month, a popular event in the book blogging calendar, and although I was only able to join in with one book – The Country of Others by Leïla Slimani, set in Morocco in the 1940s and 50s – I thought it would be interesting for this month’s Musings to look at some of the other historical fiction novels I have read in translation. I’ve read plenty of older classics, many of which I’ve reviewed on my blog, but sadly very few recent books published within the last ten years or so. Here is everything I could find in my blog archives, although I might have missed one or two (and for the purposes of this list, I am referring to books that have been translated from their original language into English, not from English into other languages):

French to English:

Maurice Druon – The Accursed Kings series (translated by Humphrey Hare)
Alexandre Dumas – The Three Musketeers and sequels (translated by William Barrow); The Black Tulip (Franz Demmler); The Red Sphinx (Lawrence Ellsworth)
Victor Hugo – The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (translated by Isabel F. Hapgood); Les Miserables (Norman Denny)
Madame de Lafayette – The Princess of Cleves (unknown translator)
Robert Merle – The Brethren (translated by T Jefferson Kline)
George Sand – Mauprat (translated by Stanley Young)
Olivier Barde-Cabuçon – Casanova and the Faceless Woman (translated by Louise Rogers Lalaurie)
Leïla Slimani – The Country of Others (translated by Sam Taylor)

Italian to English:

Umberto Eco – The Name of the Rose (translated by William Weaver)
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa – The Leopard (translated by Archibald Colquhoun)

German to English:

Oliver Pötzsch – The Beggar King (translated by Lee Chadeayne)

Norwegian to English:

Lars Mytting – The Bell in the Lake (translated by Deborah Dawkin)
Sigrid Undset – Kristin Lavransdatter (translated by Tiina Nunnally)

Catalan to English:

Rafel Nadal Farreras – The Last Son’s Secret (translated by Mara Faye Lethem)

Spanish to English:

Isabel Allende – The Japanese Lover (translated by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson); A Long Petal of the Sea (Caistor and Hopkinson)

Russian to English:

Boris Pasternak – Doctor Zhivago (translated by Max Hayward and Manya Harari)
Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace (translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky)

Dutch to English:

Hella S Haasse – In a Dark Wood Wandering (translated by Lewis C Kaplan)
Simone van der Vlugt – Midnight Blue (translated by Jenny Watson)


Have you read any of these? Can you recommend any other historical fiction novels in translation, particularly anything recent?

There’s a Goodreads list here with 295 books and an interesting article here on the particular challenges of translating historical fiction.


My current historical reading:

I have just finished two novels, both long ones which have occupied most of my reading time for the last couple of weeks: Katharine Parr, the Sixth Queen by Alison Weir and Daughters of War by Dinah Jefferies. I’m also in the middle of an even longer non-fiction book, Powers and Thrones by Dan Jones, which is fascinating but has a lot of information to take in and absorb. As I wanted something lighter to read alongside this, I have just started The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters, the third book in her Amelia Peabody mystery series featuring a female Victorian Egyptologist. It will count towards the RIP XVI challenge. After this, I have review copies of two new September releases which I would like to read before the end of the month: The Royal Game by Anne O’Brien and A Marriage of Lions by Elizabeth Chadwick.

New to my historical TBR in the last few weeks:

The Splendour Before the Dark by Margaret George, the sequel to The Confessions of Young Nero, which I read a few years ago, and Pour the Dark Wine by Deryn Lake, a novel about the Seymour family (the ebook was free on Amazon last week). Also, The Vanished Days by Susanna Kearsley and Theatre of Marvels by Lianne Dillsworth, both via NetGalley and due to be published in 2022.


Have you read any good historical novels lately? And what are your thoughts on historical fiction in translation?

23 thoughts on “Historical Musings #68: Historical fiction in translation

  1. Cyberkitten says:

    I haven’t *read* any of those listed but I do own a copy of ‘Name of the Rose’.

    I can highly recommend anything by Valerio Massimo Manfredi (Italian) who tends to write Ancient Historical novels and Boris Akunin (Russian) who write Historical Crime novels.

    Presently reading ‘Sharpe’s Triumph’ by Bernard Cornwell based in India in 1803. I’ve read nearly all of the Sharpe series with just 4 more to go.

    • Helen says:

      Valerio Massimo Manfredi and Boris Akunin are both new names to me – I will have to investigate! I haven’t read any of the Sharpe series, although I have read a few of Cornwell’s other books.

  2. GoAnnelies - In Another Era says:

    I was surprised how little books in translation I’ve read. Of course, I do sometimes read the Dutch translation of an English book, but for the rest I just read original English books. Exceptions are some French authors: Dumas and De Rosnay. And I also did read The name of the rose, but I wasn’t aware that it was originally written in Italian actually 😅. I do want to read the cathedral of the sea books, which are written in Spanish I believe.

  3. hopewellslibraryoflife says:

    What an interesting post!! I’ve read a few: Name of the Rose, Les Miz, Dr Zhivago. Others: Anna Karenina, Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev, Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki (this book is everywhere on blogs this summer!). Most likely there are others that I’ve forgotten for now!

  4. setinthepast says:

    The Royal Game and The Marriage of Lions are both on my Amazon wishlist, but I won’t be buying them at the current hardback prices … but will be interested to see what you think of them.

  5. piningforthewest says:

    I’m reading Mail Royal by Nigel Tranter at the moment which I’m enjoying, particularly as I’ve visited just about all of the places mentioned.

    • Helen says:

      It’s always nice when you’ve visited most of the places in a novel. I haven’t read anything by Nigel Tranter yet, but I do have a copy of one of his books somewhere.

  6. BookerTalk says:

    I loved Name Of The Rose, managed to read War and Peace by skimming all the battle scenes, and gave up on the Japanese Lover (Allende Ive decided is not for me).

    I was interested in what you thought of the Bell in The Lake – I have that as an audio book but couldn’t get into it and I was wondering if it was just not the kind of book that adapts well to audio.

    • Helen says:

      I had to skim some of the battle scenes in War and Peace too – I definitely preferred the ‘peace’ parts! Allende is not an author for me either; I’ve read two of her books now and didn’t get on with the writing style so won’t be trying any more.

      I enjoyed The Bell in the Lake – it’s a shame you couldn’t get into the audio book, but it does seem that some books just don’t work well in audio form.

  7. jessicabookworm says:

    Of your translated historical-fiction list, I have only read The Three Musketeers, but I have also read The Phantom of the Opera if that counts? As for my recent historical-fiction reading, I was gripped by Anne O’Brien’s A Tapestry of Treason and so was even more thrilled when I was also granted a copy of her new novel The Royal Game from Netgalley; although I probably won’t get to it as soon as you! I am hoping my next historical read will be Alison Weir’s Katherine Howard: The Tainted Queen. Happy historical reading! 🏰

  8. FictionFan says:

    I don’t think I’ve read a lot of historical fiction in translation, but my most recent one was excellent and I think you might enjoy it – To Cook a Bear by Mikael Niemi translated from Swedish by Deborah Bragan-Turner.

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