In an increasingly divided world, translated literature brings us closer together. As the year draws to a close, we asked some of our favorite writers, editors, and translators for their recommendations.
December 1, 2017
Earlier this year, the Asian American Writers’ Workshop launched the Transpacific Literary Project, an editorial initiative to publish new and exciting writing from across East and Southeast Asia on The Margins while building a body of work that might help us better understand the importance of the Pacific World to literature. In an increasingly divided world, translated literature brings us closer together. As the year draws to a close, we asked some of our most beloved writers—from Viet Thanh Nguyen and Kimiko Hahn to Hari Kunzru and Tash Aw—to tell us about their favorite books in translation out of Asia and the Asian diaspora. Collected below are works that meditate through medieval texts, reimagine the immigrant story, and above all explore selfhood in surroundings.
Red Dust by Ma Jian, translated by Flora Drew
In 1983, Ma Jian, a painter and poet, became the target of a rectification session during China’s 1983 Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign. A colleague began the denunciation by saying: “I asked why a face in one of [Ma Jian’s] paintings looked like the face of a corpse. He laughed and said everyone puts on a mask but underneath our souls are ugly shameful things. He said we are born in a daze and die in a dream . . . He sees life as a great blackness. I feel he should confront his disturbed psychology.”
Alerted that his arrest is imminent, Ma Jian leaves his home in Beijing. Barred from leaving the country, he instead walks a path through it, traversing thousands of kilometres. His book, Red Dust, documents a movement through levels of containment: the captive mind looking for a doorway out into the world, or deeper into oneself. Red Dust is a book I have read a dozen times. It is a despairing, bawdy, provocative portrait of the artist, a memoir that creates its own form, asking, How can one be free in one’s mind when one’s body lives within an authoritarian state? How to see through the red dust of illusion?
Of his country, Ma Jian has written, “There is a collective fear of truth.” I grieve that the same can be said of all our countries; we are living in a conflicted age of revolution and denunciation, an age in which we abandon one another at our peril. The call to each of us to question ourselves, to think for ourselves, is urgent. “You have about twenty thousand days left before you die,” he writes. “Why are you wasting your life? You must focus your mind and do something.”
Madeleine Thien is the author of several books including Do Not Say We Have Nothing, which won the 2016 Governor General’s Award for English-language fiction and was a finalist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. Her second novel Dogs at the Perimeter was just published in the United States by W.W. Norton this year.
Anyaya ng Imperyalista by Elynia S. Mabanglo and Kantada ng Babaing Mandirigma Daragang Magayon by Merlinda Bobis
Anyaya ng Imperyalista by Elynia S. Mabanglo is a book of poetry originally written in Tagalog. The power of this work is that it reads as a series of Filipino/a epistolaries, not only written back to “the imperialist,” but more importantly, from the OFW, from the diasporic Filipino/a body back home to their families and loved ones — what has the OFW experienced in the big world, as a transnational reproductive labor force, as endangered and violated bodies. I imagine these are the letters that must truthfully accompany the billions of dollars in remittances upon which the Philippine economy badly depends.
Kantada ng Babaing Mandirigma Daragang Magayon by Merlinda Bobis, was originally written in Bicolano. I love this work something fierce, as a one-woman theatrical performance piece, recasting a traditional Philippine myth from a pre-colonial feminist perspective. Not a forlorn and passive damsel or lady, the speaker of this epic poem is a skilled warrior and a leader.
—Barbara Jane Reyes
Barbara Jane Reyes is the author of Invocation to Daughters, which came out this year from City Lights, as well as Gravities of Center, Poeta en San Francisco, Diwata, and To Love as Aswang.
Alf Layla wa Layla, The Thousand and One Nights (popularly known in English as The Arabian Nights) is one of my favorite books of all time. It is unique in its labyrinthine form, its brilliant overarching frame narrative, and those spectacular tales that traverse genres, registers, and continents. The work’s fascinating tributaries and its polygenesis (Chinese, Indian, Persian, and Arab) debunk and disorient Eurocentric accounts of our global cultural legacy. The translation of the Nights into French and English in the 18th century changed the trajectory of European literature and impacted the modern novel. The Nights’ narrator, Shahrazad, is the mother of all narrators. Her tales dazzle Shahrayar and hold him (and readers) captive night after night. Narrative resists death and the desire for more marvelous tales extends life. Proust, Joyce, Borges, and Mahfouz, amongst many others, are just a few of Shahrazad’s children who were fascinated by the Nights’ palimpsestic and poetic universe. Go and read it if you haven’t.
Sinan Antoon is an Associate Professor at NYU and the author of several books including The Baghdad Blues, I`jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody, and The Corpse Washer, which won the 2017 Arab Literature Prize. You can read an excerpt in AAWW’s The Margins here.
The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh, translated by Phan Thanh Hao and Frank Palmos
Bao Ninh’s The Sorrow of War is a great work of literature. Period. It is one of the world’s great war novels. Period. Readers should the book simply because of its literary excellence. But if one is curious about the Vietnam War from a North Vietnamese perspective, then this is a book that must be read. Indeed, there is no excuse for anyone interested in the Vietnam War not to read this book, which will be a far more useful experience than reading yet another American account. Bao Ninh fought as a combat soldier and was one of a handful of men in his battalion to survive the war. He created a novel that captures the idealism, romanticism, and disillusionment of the northern war generation, and captures the brutalities of the war that they experienced and committed. The novel is graceful and haunting, devastating and gripping, compelling and unforgettable.
—Viet Thanh Nguyen
Viet Thanh Nguyen is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer; the short story collection The Refugees; and the nonfiction book of cultural criticism Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War.
Hikikomori: Adolescence Without End by Saito Tamaki, translated by Jeffrey Angles
Maybe there is a young guy you know in his twenties who hasn’t left home. He plays video games, hates to bathe and skips school. Behind his back, people whisper that he has no future. Maybe they even say: “He is a shut in.” In 1998, the “shut in” condition was first identified and defined by the Japanese clinician Dr. Saito Tamaki, who wrote the bestselling book Hikikomori: Adolescence Without End, thus naming an unvoiced social problem. Most westerners first became aware Tamaki’s work in a 2006 article that appeared in the New York Times, which reported on shut ins as a peculiarly Japanese problem.
Hikikomori was translated into English in 2013. In a preface written for the English edition, Tamaki writes: “This problem exists everywhere in the world, in every country; however, in areas where there is a high percentage of young people living with their parents, there is a tendency for “social withdrawal” to increase, whereas in areas where there is a low percentage of young people living with their parents, there is a tendency toward greater numbers of homeless youths.” This quote—and the content of the book—rocked my understanding of the challenges young people everywhere face in adapting to the modern world, and what we consider “normal socialization.” In his own introduction, Jeffrey Angles, the translator, recounts the story of a young American student who, upon reading the translation, recognized his own personal history. Angles writes: “Hikikomori…is clearly not something found solely in Japan, and North American readers should not simply gawk at it as a “strange” phenomenon that seems to happen elsewhere. It is my hope that this translation will spark debates in the English-speaking world, as the original book did in Japan, about the best ways to help all… young people.”
I look for every book that he chooses to translate about Japan. His work vital and critical to our understanding of what it is to be human, and in shedding light on our brothers and sisters across the sea.
Marie Mutsuki Mockett is the author of the novel Picking Bones from Ash, a finalist for the Saroyan International Prize for Writing, and the nonfiction book Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye, a Barnes and Noble Discover Pick and a New York Times Editors Choice. She serves on the board of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. You can read an excerpt of Where the Dead Pause in The Margins.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith
The Vegetarian, by the Korean writer Han Kang, probably has no need for further public endorsement since winning the International Man Booker in 2016. Nevertheless, it’s a book that frequently comes to mind unbidden, as a novel that embodies something so much larger than the specific story it tells. Divided into three acts, it details the experience of a young Korean housewife who decides one day to become vegetarian. What follows, in its 200 pages, is an excruciating descent into devastation and defiance that calls into question the very thin line between the personal and the political, freedom and oppression, destruction and creation. As an Asian-American writer who enjoys reading Chinese and English novels and wrestles with the migration of Asian literature into English as art in its own right, rather than simply a sociological apercu, I was struck by Han’s novel to burrow deep under my skin and stay there for days.
Jiayang Fan is a staff writer at The New Yorker. Check out her interview with Liao Yiwu in AAWW’s The Margins.
Kabir: The Weaver’s Songs by Kabir, translated by Vinay Dharwadker
There’s no fully satisfactory English translation of the work of the fifteenth century mystic Kabir. He ought to be as frequently read in English as Rumi, with whom he shares certain similarities of outlook. Tagore makes him archaic and courtly. Robert Bly and Arvind Krishna Mehrotra make him contemporary in different ways. My own preference is for a translation that is less concerned with putting poetry on the page, the excellent Kabir: The Weaver’s Songs, translated by Vinay Dharwadker, which forms a bridge between the English-speaking reader and the outsider singing in the marketplace.
Hari Kunzru is the author of several books including The Impressionist, Gods Without Men, White Tears, which he’ll read from at AAWW in January 25, 2018. Check out his piece written in response to F.N. Souza’s painting “Degenerates” in The Margins.
String of Beads: The Complete Poems of Princess Shikishi and The Tale of Genji, translated by Edwin Seidensticker
Where to begin? On the one hand (and there may be more than two), I would first need to consider anything written by Earl Miner (or Bower and Miner). His translations now feel a bit florid, but in general the contextual information on, say, Japanese poetic diaries, is superb.
On the other hand, one of my “desert island books,” translated and edited by Hiroaki Sato, is STRING OF BEADS: The Complete Poems of Princess Shikishi, has very literally inspired and shaped my work over the years. He and I, by the way, both feel that tanka (or the earlier word, waka) should be rendered as one single line. Here is an example:
Loneliness is the habit of this house: I gaze at the leaves with frost spread
The work in this particular collection has informed my own tanka or, perhaps more accurately, my monostichs.
On the third hand? The Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari), written by Murasaki Shikibu (aka Lady Murasaki) around the year 1000, is considered if not the first novel ever written, the first psychological novel ever written. The 54 chapters (depending on the translation) trace the life of the Emperor’s son Genji and his progeny, or supposed progeny—yes, there is a great deal of midnight wandering. Male and female relations in the Heian period (794-1185) were quite unusual: women could not be seen by any man who was not a family member but they were “permitted” to have affairs. And, the imperial court was rife with intrigues and Oedipal complications. Her characters have been so essential to understanding myself, that they figure into many of my own poems (“Comp. Lit.”).
I have read this monogatari a dozen times and I will again. Translation? I first read Arthur Waley’s and it is beautiful, although culturally adapted for Western readers (I recall his word choice socks, zither, and lattice). He takes license in omitting chapters and, if memory serves, adding text. The next translation in English was by Edwin Seidensticker (who also translated Kawabata) and it is reputed to be more accurate and “clean.” Even though there have been two more translations (Royall Tyler and Dennis Washburn), I confess that I’ve only glanced at them. Some critics find Seidensticker “cut and dry,” however, I stick by his translation. His the annotations are tethers to exquisite literary allusions and his rendering of the poetry feels true.
Rushes hide the sea grass at Wakanoura.
Must the waves that seek it out turn back to sea?
In selecting the above waka, I have leafed through my worn copy and now feel such autumnal melancholy that I must return that “World of the Shining Prince” more and soon.
Kimiko Hahn is the author of ten collections of poetry, including Brain Fever, her most recent book, and Toxic Flora, which won AAWW’s Asian American Literary Award. A Distinguished Professor in the English department at Queens College/CUNY, she has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Read her poems “Dream of Shoji” and “Phototactic Tactics” in AAWW’s The Margins.
Poems From Captured Documents by Thanh T. Nguyen, edited by Bruce Weigl
First printed in 1994 by the University of Massachusetts Press, Poems From Captured Documents was written by Thanh T. Nguyen and edited by Bruce Weigl. The poems collected in this slim volume were drawn from the poetry seized from the personal journals, letters and documents recovered from the bodies of dead or captured Vietnamese soldiers by US servicemen. Many of the originals were destroyed after being placed on microfilm. Little effort was made to preserve the last poetic work of these men, as the search was, understandably enough during war, for information of more strategic value, not preserving culture. The authors worked rapidly to save and translate many of the poems they found, but for many it is too late, and they will not be recovered.
There’s a line in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven: ‘It’s a hell of a thing to kill a man. You take away all he has, all he’s ever going to have,’ while the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko in his poem People wrote: “Whom we knew as faulty, the earth’s creatures. / Of whom, essentially, what did we know? ” This all weighs deeply on my mind as a Laotian American writer viewing the work of those who were, nominally, my deceased enemies, but might easily have been my peers, mentors or teachers today, had they survived. When so many of us fought and died during the conflict, I wonder how much everyone understood about the other as they met in battle. So much was destroyed on both sides. How many great minds, great dreams died in those jungles, senselessly. It worries me even more that so many of today’s children are growing up with even less of a sense of what was lost in all of this, and how little we understood of our former enemies. How little we understand.
—Bryan Thao Worra
Bryan Thao Worra is an award-winning Laotian American writer and author of Demonstra (2013); BARROW (2009); Winter Ink (2008); On the Other Side of the Eye (2007) and The Tuk-Tuk Diaries: Our Dinner with Cluster Bombs (2003). He works on Lao and Southeast Asian American refugee resettlement issues across the United States.
The Magic Doe by Qutban Suhravardi, translated by Aditya Behl
One of my favorites is Aditya Behl’s translation of Qutban Suhravardi’s Mirigavati titled “The Magic Doe.” It was originally composed around 1503 in Jaunpur, India in Hindavi. A verse romance, Mirigavati tells of the epic journey of a Prince who falls in love with a faery queen and the challenges he faces in achieving bodily and sacral enlightenment. As a poem, it draws upon Alexandrian Romances, Homer’s Odyssey, Nizami’s Haft Paykar and much else. As a piece of performative poetry, it is dynamic and exciting to behold. Behl, who passed away tragically young in 2009, was one of the smartest literary scholars of medieval Indian epics. His translation and critical edition of Mirigavati is remarkable for his deft literary choices and his explanatory notes are remarkable in their own rights. “The Magic Doe” tells a story an intertwined world where dogmatic or divisive politics give way to the yearning of the lovers for union. It is otherworldly but not because its protagonists are humans, faeries and djinns. It is otherworldly because our contemporary world can no longer imagine a place where Islam and Hinduism can co-exist.
Manan Ahmed is an Assistant Professor at Columbia University and the author of A Book of Conquest: The Chachnama and Muslim Origins in South Asia and Where the Wild Frontiers Are: Pakistan and the American Imagination. He serves on the board of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and wrote about domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh for AAWW’s The Margins.
City Gate, Open Up by Bei Dao, translated by Jeffrey Yang
I am torn between favorites—Qian Zhongshu’s Fortress Besieged, Tanizaki’s The Maids, Li Shangyin’s Derangement of My Contemporaries, Takashi Hiraide’s The Guest Cat, Eka Kurniawan’s Beauty is a Wound, Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book—but finally want to choose Bei Dao’s new memoir, City Gate, Open Up. It’s a remarkably moving autobiography of this great poet, beautifully translated by Jeffrey Yang: a testament to stubbornness and endurance, City Gate, Open Up is a love letter to the Beijing of his childhood and to his family. And in phosphorescent flashes—of being a child in the pitch-black nights of old Beijing (when three-watt bulbs were an extravagance), of relishing the wonders of food in times of the Great Leap Forward and near starvation, of sneaking up to read books hidden in the attic during the Cultural Revolution, of persecuting his teachers as a teenage Red Guard, of being sent for re-education and manual labor to the countryside, of becoming an exile after Tiananmen, of finally finding gentleness for his father—Bei Dao gives us, indelibly, a whole world. And with that world (and to all its smells, aches, music, and losses), he gives his heart. I believe City Gate, Open Up is one of the greatest memoirs of recent decades.
Barbara Epler is the president of New Directions publishing. You can read an excerpt of Bei Dao’s City Gate, Open Up in AAWW’s The Margins.
Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky (New Directions 2016)
Berlin-based, Tokyo-born Yoko Tawada wrote this novel in Japanese, translated it herself into German (rewriting it in parts), and her German translation was translated into English by Susan Bernofsky. Tawada re-imagined the immigrant novel and the migrating bodies as belonging to polar bears, three generations of one family–a grandmother, mother, and son to be exact. The son is inspired by Knut, the polar bear cub and star attraction at the Berlin Zoo, beginning in the mid 2000s. Michael Jackson and the son are friends in the novel. Part of me feels that if you need more to convince you to read this novel, then it is not really for you. If you cannot wait to get your hands on this book, then “Hallo, new friend!” By the end, this intelligent, inventive novel reduced me to a puddle of tears and snot, and it made my heart ache. I still cannot stop thinking about it.
Monique Truong is the Vietnamese American author of the bestselling, award-winning novels, The Book of Salt (Houghton Mifflin) and Bitter in the Mouth (Random House), and the forthcoming The Sweetest Fruits (Viking Books). She’s also a refugee, essayist, avid eater, lyricist and librettist, and intellectual property attorney (more or less in this order).
I recommend Memoirs of a Polar Bear, a novel by Yoko Tawada. It’s a multilayered translation of a multilayered novel written in the form of three memoirs by three generations of captive polar bears. The novel has been described as surreal, Kafkaesque, challenging, mysterious. It’s all of that, but to my mind it’s about exile and longing. A singular writer with a wild and beautiful imagination, Yoko Tawada is not for the faint of heart.
Jessica Hagedorn is a poet, novelist, playwright, and multimedia artist who was raised and lived in the Philippines until she moved to San Francisco in her teens. She is the author of five books, including the novel Dogeaters (1990). Hagedorn is also the editor of Manila Noir (2013), Charlie Chan Is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction (1993), and Charlie Chan Is Dead 2: At Home in the World (An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction) (2004).
Beijing Coma by Ma Jian, translated by Flora Drew
This is a Tiananmen novel that somehow manages to confront the horror of 6/4 head on while transforming the grand political arguments surrounding that fateful time into a far more intimate narrative about love and the loss of idealism. Rich with closely-observed detail from the period, the characters’ student optimism is laced from the very beginning with a sense of dread that mirrors the complex nature of progress—or at least the illusion of it—in China a generation later. Young people’s aspirations; the nature of the social contract in evolving modern-day China; the relationship between individual and state: all of these issues are unpacked but never simplistically answered, despite the characters’ obvious political standpoint. Absurdity, realism, hilarity, anger and tenderness often jostle for prominence on the same page, but despite the enduring tragedy of 6/4, there is no space for sentimentality in this novel. In this way, it feels perfectly modern, and perfectly Chinese.
Tash Aw is the author of three critically acclaimed novels, most recently Five Star Billionaire, named one of the best novels of the year by NPR. His novels have twice been longlisted for the MAN Booker prize and been translated into 23 languages. Watch him read from The Face on our YouTube page.
Thirukkural, translated by Rev. W.H. Drew and Rev. John Lazarus
I grew up hearing the phrase “There’s a proverb in Tamil” a fair amount, and often, a quotation from the Thirukkural followed. Eventually my parents gave me my own copy; in retrospect, it seems to me that this must have been a seed for my interest in morality and atheism.
The Kural, written in couplets, dispenses mostly secular advice and observations on all aspects of life. Some are some skippably sexist; others are endearingly romantic. The Kural is for environmentalists, students, gossips, leaders. When I received mine, I did not yet read Tamil; this English translation made it accessible to me, and I found it appealing in part because the language is plainly beautiful. I returned to the book many times over the years, and used quotations from it to divide the chapters of my own novel. (Others, including Shyam Selvadurai, did this before me.) At a post-MFA residency where I began to study ceramics, I found myself returning to my favorite couplets and incorporating them into my pieces; I discovered that there were other translations, and that I preferred the one that had been given to me originally, perhaps because—translated by two reverends—it has what sounds to me like slightly King Jamesian diction.
These days, I can read much more Tamil, and it is comforting to return to the familiar English text and newly intelligible original. Mine is printed with the Tamil on the left and the English on the right, so now it offers not only classic wisdom, but also a language lesson. And these days, as the Kural itself says, “The words of the good are like a staff in a slippery place.”
V.V. Ganeshananthan, a fiction writer and journalist, is the author of Love Marriage (Random House, 2008), which was longlisted for the Orange Prize and named one of Washington Post Book World’s Best of 2008. Read her essay on Bill Cheng, Anthony Marra, and the freedom to write what you don’t know on The Margins.
Yikes! “Favorite Asian book” is as impossible as “favorite European book” or “favorite song.” Sorry not to play by the rules of this game– and instead rattle off a long list of personal faves– but, after all, it’s 3000 years of writing in many languages and over a hundred years of translations that one would still want to read.. (And I’m assuming by “Asia” you don’t mean Western Asia.) So here goes:
Chuang-tzu, translated by Burton Watson: a book to read forever. The vast translations of classical Chinese and Japanese poetry, philosophy, and history by Watson, who died this year, are all extraordinary. (Among the poetry books, my favorites are Su Tung-p’o snd Ryokan.)
Also: The many translations of classical Chinese poetry and philosophy by David Hinton (especially, for me: the poems of Tu Fu, T’ao Ch’ien, and Meng Chiao); Ezra Pound’s Cathay (now in a facsimile edition from New Directions) and his much-maligned masterpiece The Confucian Odes; A.C. Graham, Poems of the Late T’ang; Kenneth Rexroth & Ling Chung’s translation of the Sung Dynasty woman poet Li Ch’ing-chao; Gary Snyder, Cold Mountain Poems (Han Shan); Michèle Métail’s anthology of reversible poems, Wild Geese Returning (tr. Jody Gladding). (For more translations by Pound, Rexroth, Snyder, W.C. Williams, and Hinton, and essays by them on Chinese poetry: my The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry.)
As for modern and contemporary Chinese poetry: Bei Dao (various translators); Gu Cheng (tr. Joseph Allen); Xi Chuan (tr. Lucas Klein). Lastly, David Knechtges’s three-volume translation of the Wen xuan, a 6th-century anthology of the usually neglected, often ridiculed documentary poetry fu form (also Watson’s Chinese Rhyme-Prose)
For more prose: Shen Fu’s beautiful memoir, Six Records of a Floating Life (tr. Pratt & Chiang); the Huainanzi, a huge 2nd-century compendium of all knowledge, now in a complete translation (various translators) from Columbia; David Hawkes’ translation of The Story of the Stone (a/k/a The Dream of the Red Chamber), the greatest Chinese novel (later volumes translated with John Minford); his A Little Primer of Tu Fu, the best intro both to Tu Fu and Chinese translation; the old Clement Egerton translation of The Golden Lotus (which originally had the sex scenes in Latin), the second-greatest Chinese novel and the greatest novel anywhere of greed, corruption sex, food, and clothes– perfect for the Age of Trump (the recent “accurate” translation, under the correct title The Plum in the Golden Vase is totally unreadable); Qian Zhongshu’s Fortress Besieged (tr. Kelly & Mao), surely the best 20th-c. Chinese novel.
Additionally the many translations of classical and modern Japanese poetry by Hiroaki Sato, especially the 20th-c. poets Kotaro Takamura, Kenji Miyazawa, and Sakutaro Hagiwara (also Watson & Sato’s anthology of the whole range of Japanese poetry, From the Country of Eight Islands); Arthur Waley’s version of Lady Murasaki’s The Tale of Genji (still the one); Ivan Morris’ translation of Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book (and for background on Heian Japan, his The World of the Shining Prince); and too many modern Japanese novels, but for starters: Yukio Mishima’s Sea of Fertility tetralogy; anything by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Yasunari Kawabata, and Junichiro Tanizaki (including his non-fiction In Praise of Shadows).
Classical South Asian poetry from various languages: A. K. Ramanujan’s Speaking of Shiva and The Interior Landscape, among others; Arvind Krishna Mehotra’s Songs of Kabir and The Absent Traveler; Andrew Schelling’s anthology, Love and the Turning Seasons; the impossibly vast number of books by David Shulman; Charles Hallisey’s Therigatha: Poems of the First Buddhist Women. Daniel H. H. Ingalls’ An Anthology of Sanskrit Court Poetry is a book to read endlessly. (The paperback version is an abridgement). A very lively recent scholarly translation from the Kannada is Vanamala Viswanatha’s version of Raghavanka’s The Life of Harishchandra, one of Gandhi’s favorite books. Also the Sanskrit novel What Ten Young Men Did by Dandin– a proto-Georges Perec– wonderfully translated by Isabelle Onians.
Finally, my favorite edition of anything: N. M. Penzer’s 1923 edition of C. H. Tawney’s 19th-century translation of Somadeva’s The Ocean of Story. This is an 11th-century Kashmiri precursor to the 1001 Nights of stories within stories within stories. (The title is more accurately translated as The Ocean Made from Streams of Stories.) Penzer is a maniac: Every story reminds him of countless other stories from all of world literature, which he retells in long footnotes on almost every page and in even longer appendices. It’s a ten-volume labyrinth of stories, with no escape.
Eliot Weinberger is the author of a number of books, including Oranges & Peanuts for Sale, What I Heard About Iraq, and 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, and has edited The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry, the Collected Poems 1957–1987 of Octavio Paz, and Jorge Luis Borges’ Selected Non-Fictions.