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Translating 1987: A List for the Hay Festival

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This year, the Hay Festival takes its thirtieth anniversary as an opportunity to “reevaluate, rediscover, and honour the essential reads from the last 30 years” by inviting suggestions for a #HAY30BOOKS list.

The celebration of literature that began in Wales in 1987 has since grown into a network of festivals around the world.

So, as a tribute to Hay’s inaugural year, and to the global conversation the festival has become, here’s another reading list: English-language editions of essential reads that came out in their original languages in 1987, and have since gone global. 

The Sacred Night

Ben Jelloun’s The Sand Child (L’Enfant de sable) told the story of Mohammad Ahmed, a Moroccan girl raised as a boy so that she could inherit from her father. In its sequel, The Sacred Night (La Nuit sacrée), the father has died and the adult Mohammad is living as Zahra. The story moves between past and present, weaving Arabic fairy tales into its fabric of surrealism and allegory.

With The Sacred Night, Ben Jelloun became the first African-born writer to win the Prix Goncourt. The novel has since been translated into over 40 languages.

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Baltasar & Blimunda

Saramago brings 18th-century Lisbon to life through a historical accuracy laced with the supernatural, a mix for which he has drawn comparisons to magical realists. 

Returning soldier Baltasar first encounters Blimunda – a clairvoyant who can see into people’s bodies, but not their souls – at her mother’s auto-da-fé. That night, they share dinner with Padre Lourenço, a real figure from history, now remembered as a pioneer in aviation. The couple help the padre create his flying machine, eventually taking off with him, and hoping to land ''Where the arm of the Inquisition cannot reach us … if such a place exists''.

Saramago went on to win the 1998 Nobel Prize in Literature. 

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"Open Doors" and Three Novellas

Italian author Leonardo Sciascia was known for crime stories that explored the nature and meaning of justice. Open Doors is a collection of four novellas written in his final years, and the title novella is a perfect example of his themes. Set in 1937, it treats a judge’s decision not to sentence a murderer to death, despite pressure from the Fascist state. Taken together, the four novellas form an essential collection for anyone who finds philosophy more compelling than procedure when it comes to law and order.

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Norwegian Wood

Murakami’s breakout novel takes its name from the Beatles song that sends protagonist Toru back in memory to his late-1960’s university days. We accompany Toru on his journey back to dorm life, only realising when he runs Naoko, into a friend from home, that his best friend’s suicide has been the unseen influence on Toru, explaining his quiet detachment. Toru’s relationship with Naoko develops, even as she leaves for a sanitarium. Meanwhile, Toru’s growing relationship with Midori – a blithe spirit who seems to carry none of the baggage that Toru and Naoko share – pushes Toru’s emotional state into further ambiguity.

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The Storyteller

Peru’s Mario Vargas Llosa is both author and character in The Storyteller. He is one of two narrators; the second is the title character, an ethnologist named Saúl Zuratas who leaves his university life to become the Machiguenga tribe’s storyteller.

Saúl’s chapters describe the Machiguenga and their ways, while Mario’s chapters describe Saúl, who had been his friend at university. In some chapters, the two narrators meet. Their discussions occasionally delve right into question at the heart of the novel: What responsibility do modernised peoples have toward native cultures? Or put another way, what rights should the tribes have?

Vargas Llosa went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010.

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Katie is a reader, editor and note taker who works as a Content Writer at Bookwitty. Originally from Wisconsin, she's at home in Dublin.

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