“When translating poems I have attempted at all times to attend to the original prosody, which does not mean trying to recreate it —because this is impossible, given the distance and the constitutional differences between the languages— but to be aware of the metric and the ideas underlying in the text”, stated Andreu Jaume, critic and editor, after translating The Waste Land, by T.S. Eliot, one of the most influential books in modern poetry.
This classic piece of poetry work has been read in many languages since its inception in 1922, and its translation —like the translation of any emblematic work— poses many challenges. Which are the books that have been translated the most, due to their significance or popularity?
The 10 Most Popular Books
While children’s stories are probably the books with the largest number of versions, the following list leaves out religious works —like the Bible, the Torah or the Quran— because their authorship is unclear. An analysis carried out by Preply –a global service of language learning services– resulted in a list of the most translated books from a native writer in each country. Let’s take a look at the top ten:
- The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (France): more than 382 languages.
- The Adventures of Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi (Italy): more than 300 languages.
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carrol (England): more than 175 languages.
- Andersen’s Fairy Tales, by Hans Christian Andersen (Denmark): more than 160 languages.
- Testament, by Taras Shevchenko (Ukraine): more than 150 languages.
- The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, by Miguel de Cervantes (Spain): more than 140 languages.
- The Way to Happiness, by L. Ron Hubbard (USA): more than 112 languages.
- The Adventures of Tintin, by Georges Prosper Remi (Belgium): more than 93 languages.
- The Tragedy of Man, by Imre Madách (Hungary): more than 90 languages.
- The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho (Brazil): more than 80 languages.
The Little Prince has sold some 200 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling books in publishing history
Literary Works of Each Country
Apart from the list of general titles, the research —that assessed more than 195 countries— dives deeper into the most referenced books and authors in history. In North America, for example, works of fiction are immensely popular; apart from Hubbard’s work, the most translated book in Canada is Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery (more than 36 languages); while in Mexico, it is Pedro Páramo, by Juan Rulfo (more than 35 languages).
Reasons of State, by Cuban author Alejo Carpentier, was translated to more than 16 languages; followed by The President, by Nicaraguan author Miguel Angel Asturias (more than 13 languages); and Aura, by Panamanian author Carlos Fuentes (more than 22 languages).
Print also remains the most popular book format among U.S. consumers, with more than 60 percent of adults having read a print book in the last twelve months.
Apart from Paulo Coelho, South American Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez is also extremely popular: his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude was translated into more than 49 languages. Also, in this list we have 2666, by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño (more than 28 languages); The Aleph, by Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges (more than 25 languages); Doña Bárbara, by Venezuelan author Rómulo Gallegos (more than 22 languages) and The Green House, by Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa (more than 19 languages).
On the other side of the Atlantic, the most translated European titles —not included in the top ten above— are the following: The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank (translated into more than 70 languages); The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas, by Norwegian author Thor Heyerdahl (more than 70 languages); Pippi Longstocking, by Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren (more than 70 languages); Kalevala, by Finnish author Elias Lönnrot (more than 61 languages); My Name is Red, by Turkish author Orhan Pamuk (more than 60 languages); Quo Vadis, by Polish author Henryk Adam Sienkiewicz (more than 59 languages); The Good Soldier Švejk, by Czech author Jaroslav Hašek (more than 58 languages); Heidi, by Swedish author Johanna Spyri (more than 50 languages), and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, by German author Patrick Süskind (more than 49 languages).
In Africa, The Stranger, by Albert Camus (translated into more than 60 languages) and The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien (translated into more than 59 languages) are among the main works; while Asia gave us Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami (more than 50 languages) and The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje (more than 30 languages). And, in Oceania, we find The Whale Rider, by Witi Ihimaera (translated into more than 15 languages).
Beyond the popularity of each title, behind every author there is a publishing house that trusts in professional translators to build a bridge between the writer’s passion and context, and millions of people around the world.