Books that have translators as characters

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Note: This article was inspired by the forum post entitled "Translators as characters in fiction books", 
posted by Rafaela Lemos in March of 2008. Please feel free to add books that you know, with a description.


This article is intended as a place to list books that include translators as characters.

Books that include translators as characters

Jellia Jamb is a character in L. Frank Baum's Oz books. She is the head of all the maids in the palace in the Emerald City, but in book 2, The Marvelous Land of Oz, she is summoned to act as translator between Jack Pumpkinhead and the Scarecrow, who became the ruler of Oz after Dorothy and the Wizard left. Her translations turn Jack's word into insults.

Jellia Jamb's stint as translator is a brief, but funny look at the role of the translator. Not bad considering it was published in 1904! The book is in public domain and available online at Project Gutenberg for a free download. The translation scene occurs in Chapter 7, 'His Majesty the Scarecrow,' which begins on page 17. This link [1] will take you directly to the Project Gutenberg page where you can download the eBook.

  • The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster
  • A Heart So White by Javier Marías. - Maria-Venetia Kyritsi
  • La vita agra (It's a hard life) by Luciano Bianciardi. "Contains some funny descriptions of the protagonist's job as an English-Italian translator." Mattia Doneda
  • Je l'aimais by Anna Gavalda - Mariela Gonzalez Nagel
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. "The main character Raskolnikov sometimes worked as a translator when he wasn't mugging old ladies." - Joan Berglund
  • Digital Fortress: A Thriller by Dan Brown. "... an adventure story in which the two heroes are a cryptographer and a foreign language professor. The plot's a bit silly, but it's a page-turner." - Steven Capsuto
  • The Earthquake Bird by Susanna Jones. "Eerie thriller set in Japan featuring a JP>EN translator... def. worth reading if you like thrillers" - Giuliana d'Orazi Flavoni
  • Guild of Xenolinguists by Sheila Finch (science fiction)
  • House on Moon Lake by Francesca Duranti "This novel came out in the early 90s in Italy and has been translated into English - and published twice - in the US. It is a wonderful novel and I recommend it for its atmosphere and sensitivity to the profession - the main character is translating a mysterious old masterpiece, if I remember correctly." - Alison Anderson
  • The Interpreter by Brian Aldiss (US title: Bow Down to Nul)
  • The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Jellia Jamb, head of all the maids in the Emerald city. In The Marvelous Land of Oz, the Scarecrow, then ruler of Oz, asks her to act as an interpreter between him and the Gillikin Jack Pumpkinhead, who does not realize that all Ozites speak the same language, so Jellia "translates" Jack's words as insults.
  • The Mission Song by John Le Carre
  • The Translator by John Crowley
  • The Translator by Leila Aboulela
  • The Translator by Ward Just
  • The Translator: A Memoir by Daoud Hari. "... a native Darfuri translator who, after escaping the massacre of his village by the genocidal Janjaweed, returned to work with reporters and UN investigators in the riskiest of situations."
  • Transgressions by Sarah Dunant. "Thriller in which the main character is translating a Czech novel into English." - Robert Tucker
  • Les nègres du traducteur by Claude Bleton. "Interesting debut novel by a renowned Spanish-French literary translator." - Tommaso Benzi
  • Gaudi Afternoon; German title: Ein Nachmittag mit Gaudí by Barbara Wilson. Die reiselustige Übersetzerin Cassandra Reilly wird zwischen und bei ihren Aufträgen immer wieder in Kriminalfälle verwickelt, bei denen sie den Part des Detektivs übernimmt. Nicht nur kriminelle, sondern auch Genderrätsel gilt es aufzuklären... Mehrere Titel, davon der erste: Ein Nachmittag mit Gaudí, aus dem Engl. übersetzt und Anfang der 1990er in Deutschland bei Ariadne erschienen...
  • Travesuras de la niña mala by Mario Vargas Llosa. Ricardo, one of the main characters, kind of stumbles into the profession, but ends up having an interesting and rich career...
  • Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany. A science fiction classic. Rydra Wong, poetess, spaceship captain, cryptographer and polyglot, must decipher the alien language, Babel-17, before its speakers can annihilate civilisation. An intelligent examination of how language affects the way we think and view the world.
  • The Way I Found Her by Rose Tremain. A teenage boy spends a hot summer in Paris while his mother translates a novel by the glamorous Russian Valentina. - Beth Fowler
  • Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore ([2]), Italo Calvino, 1979. A post-modern masterpiece of self-reflexivity featuring the mischievous translator Ermes Marana. - Caroline Williamson

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