Read the World: 8 New Environmental Books in Translation

“I am sick of nature. Sick of trees, sick of birds, sick of the ocean,” wrote David Gessner in 2005’s aptly titled Sick of Nature. The nature writer (and Sierra contributor) was bemoaning the pious, preaching-to-the-choir tendency of his genre. “If writing is to prove worthy of a new, more noble name, it must become less genteel and it must expand nature,” he argued. “It’s time to take down the ‘No Trespassing’ signs. Time for a radical cross-pollination of genres.”

International environmental writing boldly trespasses and cross-pollinates various cultures’ experiences and ideas of the natural world. Translation scholars have debated for centuries whether it’s possible to perfectly transfer language and meaning from one cultural context to another; the jury’s forever out, but translators, in any case, persist. Their art requires creativity and empathy and turns an “impossible” task into an opportunity for community and understanding. Our global crises demand the same. But translation—and its verbal counterpart, interpreting—isn’t just symbolic. It’s vital for organizing across borders and solving species-level problems.

Diversify your reading list with these recent works from around the world. Books in translation challenge readers with alternate perspectives and unfamiliar settings—but they ultimately underscore that, from our crises to our joys, we’re not much different at all.

Winter Pastureby Li Juan, translated by Jack Hargreaves and Yan Yan

Essayist Li Juan and her mother run a small store in northwestern China’s Xinjiang province, where they cater to Kazakh herders. She opts to accompany a group of them one winter as they drive their livestock across a sparse, punishing landscape. Named one of The Washington Post‘s best travel books of 2021, her insightful narrative—an intellectual adventure story—not only invites readers into one of the world’s most remote areas but also explores Chinese identities and fundamental questions of how best to live.

The Ardent Swarmby Yamen Manai, translated by Lara Vergnaud

Like animal farm, author Tunisian Yamen Manai leans on the lives of animals in this powerful political parable. Beekeeper Sidi is devastated when hornets invade his hives and his bees massacre. He sets out from his village—a setting strongly informed by Manai’s native Tunisia—to seek answers throughout North Africa, and discovers a region changed by revolution but still in the powerful grip of tradition. Politics and nature intertwine in this eloquent and intelligent fable, released just last February, of globalization and the potential harms and redemptive power of human connection.

Animal Biographies: Toward a History of Individuals, by Eric Baratay, translated by Lindsay Turner

Modestine the donkey. Warrior the horse. Islero the bull. Eric Baratay, a French professor of contemporary history, uses pioneering methods to narrate the lives of real-life animals from the 19th and 20th centuries. The author of several scholarly works of animal history, his approach shakes off the traditional anthropocentrism and relies on primary sources to put animals at the center of their own stories. Set for release this August, Animal Biographies challenges conceptions of the scope and value of nonhuman lives.

Back1 of 3

Leave a Comment