books we wish we could read

Here’s an interesting profile of some lesser known Scandinavian writers – totally unknown to me (except in one case by reputation) because they haven’t been translated into English. Into lots of other languages, yes, but not English. Sigh. While the world has gone overboard for Mankell, Nesser, and Lackberg (who this blogger finds seriously underwhelming) she wonders why we’re neglecting some of her favorites:

Emma Vall. She’s really three persons using the same pen name. They’re reporters, and so is their main character Amanda Rönn. She investigates crimes in the northern town Sundsvall. Emma Vall also writes mysteries for kids, about a girl named Svala (she’s originally from Iceland, hence the unusual name). . . . All their books are well written and definitely worth reading.

Arne Dahl. Pen name for a man named Jan Arnald. In addition to writing mysteries he’s also a short story writer, editor and critic. His mysteries are about a fictitious group investigating serious crime – the A group. The group employs quite a few people, so chances are you’ll find a main character you’ll like. . . .

Thomas Kanger. He’s a reporter too, just like the women behind Emma Vall. His main character is young cop Elina Wiik who works in Västerås in eastern Sweden. Just like most cops, she’s single and trying to find time to date in the midst of her busy professional life. However, in The Borderland (Gränslandet) he just gets too fanciful for my taste. . . .

Åsa Nilsonne. She’s actually a psychiatrist and medical doctor, but also writes excellent mysteries about the cop Monika Pedersen, working in Stockholm. Monika Pedersen is single (is there any cop who isn’t either single or divorced?), but has a close male friend, who is gay. Most of the cases are investigated in central Stockholm, but in the last book Monika goes to Ethiopia to follow up on a lead.

Now I hope the blogger will go on to tell us about some of her Finnish favorites. We can dream.

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8 thoughts on “books we wish we could read

  1. What a shame they haven’t been translated into English yet. I could do it, if someone wanted to pay me for it… LOL. I just added a short post about Leena Lehtolainen’s books on my blog.

  2. Barbara,

    as fas as I can see Leif GW Persson has not been translated yet. He is very good. And I wonder about Arne Dahl, if I remember it correctly, the author himself announced in 2007 that he will be published in 2008, didn’t happen, did it ?

  3. I like Åsa Nilsonne, and Arne Dahl is great though a bit long-winded now and then. I hope his series comes out in English soon as it will give me an excuse to read and review the series in order.

  4. I keep hearing rumors about Arne Dahl translations … but so far as I know nothing has been published in English.

    Thanks, Tonica, for the additional info. You can be our talent scout.

  5. I’ve read Thomas Kanger and enjoyed his books a lot, although the fanciful one critiqued here hasn’t been translated into German. Heroine is indeed single and troubled, but to compensate at least has a decent relationship with her parents! Surprisngly enjoyable – I bought two Kanger books because they were very, very cheap and was pleased to have found a good read at a bargain.

    Dahl can be long winded, but I like that. (I’ve rarely met a crime novel I didn’t think could be longer!)

    Emma Vall being three people had put me off in the past, but I might try again one day. Nilsonne’s also on my to-read list. My poor credit card!

  6. I find her sweeping dismissal of those authors she mentions very funny!! (Are her unpublished writings that much better than Mankell or even the despised Lackberg? Hmmm…)
    It is also self-evident that novelists who have not been translated into the English language aren’t going to be well-known in predominantly English-speaking countries. I once wrote a post about translated fiction being good and got a comment from someone along the lines indicated in the blog you link to – ie that there is better stuff not being translated. So I looked into it and eventually had Dahl and Persson recommended – however I was told by someone who has read him that Persson was considered but not translated because he is rather sexist and racist. (He’s the one who has been publicly scathing of Liza Marklund.)

    There is a lot of very good Scandinavian and other non-Scandinavian, non-English language crime fiction being published. The blog you link does not mention many authors I’ve enjoyed a lot in the past few years.

    I am happy to read that there are other authors who deserve a wider audience, but I find it irritating that the blog post denigrates the work of authors who have been translated. I would be quite surprised if these authors are startlingly “better” than authors such as Asa Larsson, Helene Tursten, Inger Frimmanson, Arnaldur Indrdisaon, Yrsa Sigurdadottier, Johan Theorin, Hakan Nesser, Kjell Eriksson and many others who are being translated already – publishers are constantly scouting around for books to translate.

  7. As someone who reads a lot of Scandinavian crime in non-English translations, I feel I’m halfway between the two positions. I often read things not available in English and think they’re just as good what is published, while the feeling that it’s significantly better is rarer. It does happen though, and not just with Dahl (of whom I’m a major fan.) Part of this is a literary judgement, and part of it is a personal one – given a choice, I do prefer police procedurals, and they’re not as high on the translation totem pole these days, I don’t think. So it’s hard to come up with some sort of objective quality determiner about what appears and what doesn’t, and in any case which translations do appear (at least from German-English, the situation I’m more familiar with) owes rather more to serendipity and publicity than quality once you’re over a certain baseline.

    With an eye to this reality, I think I can identify two different reflexes when I’m reading something not in English – an idealistic “this is better than translated author X” (happens quite a lot) and the realist “this really should be translated.” (less common) There’s a lot out there that I really enjoy but seriously doubt will ever reach the English market baring major changes in the economics of publishing. To give some deliberately nameless examples:

    a) There’s been Scandinavian fiction I’ve loved but had doubts whether the very heavy-duty feminism would sell elsewhere.

    b) Finnish fiction that was action packed but had characters with names so similar it was almost impossible to follow and would have turned off readers less familiar with the genre.

    c) German fiction (read in the original) that’s in my opinion virtually impossible to translate.

    d) Very good stories that unfortunately go against the existing national trends for translated fiction. For example, a lot of the material translated from German seems to be deep and dark stand-alone texts. There’s some extremely decent other stuff out there – Inspector Schmidt and his team investigate in Munich, say – but I’m not sure it’s brilliant enough to break the publishing mould.

    e) Long-standing public wariness about translations. There are a lot of good-but-not-spectacular books published in English, but their non-English equivalents – and books that are better but not earth-shattering – won’t generally make the cut.

    f) (Borrowed from a Moldovan friend) Books where concerns about the decline of the welfare state descend into navel-gazing agonies about situations so minor that for anyone living in a less “Utopian” environment the whole concept becomes laughable.

    If anyone’s likely to be interested, I have a list of novels-not-in-English that I’ve considered in light of these sort of criteria, and if I get a moment (am finishing PhD and moving at the end of the month), I’ll post it somewhere.

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