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Home Uncategorized The One Hundred Best Novels in Translation, by Boyd Tonkin

The One Hundred Best Novels in Translation, by Boyd Tonkin

The 100 Best Novels in Translation, by Boyd Tonkin, Galileo Publishers, 303 pp, £14.99, ISBN: 978-1903385678“In literature,” As Boyd Tonkin writes in his introduction to this volume, “prescriptive canons have rightly lost much of their lustre.” Tonkin makes a defence of the genre, however, not on the grounds that anyone is really qualified to set himself or herself up as an arbiter of taste and insist that these – and not those – novels, or poems, or plays are the ones that have stood the test of time as others have fallen away, but rather by citing an historical exemplar which did not seek to batter students into obedience but to raise horizons and stimulate debate. That exemplar was a lecture delivered by the Victorian educational reformer Sir John Lubbock in 1886 to the London Working Men’s College on the subject of the ideal hundred-volume library. Lubbock’s list seems to have been rather wide-ranging, and certainly not Anglocentric, including as it did the Analects of Confucius, the Qur’an, the Mahabharata and other works from Persian and Sanskrit literature. Tonkin, a distinguished journalist and critic who was for seventeen years literary editor of the London Independent and is closely associated with the Man Booker International Prize, cites a similarly high-minded and democratic cultural project as a significant influence on his own intellectual development.. As with many teenagers in the Great Britain of the late 1960s and 1970s, a blessed combination of well-stocked public libraries and the widespread availability at low prices of the Penguin Classics and Penguin Modern Classics series offered me a parallel education. Whatever might happen in school and, later, university classrooms, the local library shelves and those black- or grey-uniformed ranks of Penguins opened the doors onto a global literary landscape. Only translation could unlock them. At that stage I had no idea that, in the 1820s and 1830s, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had theorised, and idealised, the notion of “world literature” … In a project such as the twin Penguin lists, created in large parts by veterans of the Second World War and by publishers and editors affected in some way by the chauvinistic madness of the Third Reich, Goethe’s flame of transnational Enlightenment still burned bright. As Alena Dvořáková has recently pointed out in a review-essay in the Dublin Review of Books (http://www.drb.ie/essays/life-death-clean-water) such idealistic notions of the universality of literature are in practice qualified by the relative lack of enthusiasm of London publishers for novelists writing in…

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