6 Translated Books About Romance & Love From Around the Globe
Found families, revolutions, and friends-to-lovers.
Love may be a universal part of the human experience, but the words, actions, and traditions involved vary from person to person and culture to culture. In celebration of Valentine’s Day, we’ve selected a few novels, translated into English from around the world, that can serve as a glimpse into the ways some people imagine love, desire, and romance.
Because the U.K. (and the U.S.) colonized so many places around the world and English is one of the world’s most powerful languages in terms of influence, there will be gaps in whose stories make up this list. For example, despite the many languages spoken in places like Nigeria (Africa), New Zealand (Pacific Islands), and Trinidad and Tobago (The Caribbean), much of their publishing and art prioritizes English.
Heads up to the romance fans reading this: These novels don’t all contain a Happily Ever After (HEA). The uniting factor was a romance- or love-heavy plot. While, in the U.S. and other places, HEA defines whether a book is even considered a romance at all, we want to challenge your perceptions beyond an American-centric view.
At the End of the Matinee by Keiichiro Hirano, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter
Translated from Japanese to English, At the End of the Matinee follows the dizzying relationship blooming between classical guitarist Satoshi Makino and war journalist Yoko Komine. First meeting backstage at one of Makino’s concerts in Tokyo, they keep up with each other over months despite Komine’s engagement to another. Komine’s near-death encounter in a bombing pressures both of them to think about what they really want from one another.
My Tender Matador by Pedro Lemebel, translated by Katherine Silver
Translated from Spanish and set against the backdrop of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet losing power, this novel centers on an older drag queen (known as Queen of the Streets), who does embroidery for the wealthy, befriending a young man named Carlos. In addition to the relationship between these very two different people blossoming, Carlos uses Queens’s house to store mysterious boxes and hold secret meetings that could mean the end of both of them.
A film adaptation of the same name was released in 2020.
Fair Play by Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Teal
Originally published in Swedish by a Finnish author, Fair Play follows two artists living on opposite ends of an apartment building together for an extended period of time. Mari, the writer, and Jonna, the artist, critique each other’s work and spend summers together. They become different people over this time but adapt to one another like many in long-term relationships, be they friends or lovers.
Unrelated, but Jansson is also the creator of the Moomins cartoons and children’s books.
La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono, translated by Lawrence Schimel
Orphaned teen Okomo lives with her grandmother and has hopes of finding her father. Because her grandmother forbids Okomo from seeking her father, Okomo enlists village outcasts like her uncle and a gang of girls that have supposedly performed indecent acts. In this fellowship, Okomo falls in love for the first time and learns to love herself, too, despite the rigidity of Fang culture.
La Bastarda is the first novel by an Equatorial Guinean woman to be translated into English. Translated from Spanish, this novel is officially banned in Equatorial Guinea (in West Africa) but is translated into various languages around the world. Please note this novel has multiple content warnings.
Chaos of the Sense by Ahlem Mosteghanemi, translated by Nancy Roberts
Translated from Arabic, this story follows a young novelist in a loveless marriage against the backdrop of the Algerian civil war. While Hayat’s husband is only interested in politics and his rank, Hayat writes passionate stories about fictional people. These lines blur as a man appears in her life who appears to come from the pages of her stories and Hayat pursues forbidden love.
When in Rome by Amabile Giusti, translated by Sarah Christine Varney
Translated from Italian, When in Rome begins with Carlotta’s 30th birthday approaching fast. Recently fired with a family dynamic she doesn’t want to move back into, Carlotta decides to rent a room in her Rome apartment. Her attractive new roommate, Luca, is not ideal as he is sloppy and has a revolving door of overnight guests, but these are desperate times. Things get complicated after they share an unexpected kiss.
(featured image: Turtleback Books, Grove Press, and Amazon Crossing.)
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