100 Must Read Books Translated from French

Claire Handscombe


French is a rich language, and its literature is richer still. Where to start with getting to know this literature? I humbly suggest the (non-exclusive) list of books below.

They’ve all been translated into English (sometimes multiple times) and are must-reads for different reasons. Maybe they are oft-studied classics, or written by popular contemporary authors, or the language is beautiful, or the themes are important, or they are representative of a genre that is done well by Francophone writers. There are poems, plays, novels, essays, and bandes dessinées. There are books from Québec and Belgium and various French-speaking African countries as well as France itself. (Thanks to wordswithoutborders.org, frenchculture.org, and various university syllabi for helping me fill in the gaps in my knowledge.)

A Bag of Marbles, by Joseph Joffo

A Dilemma, by Joris-Karl Huysmans, transl. Justin Vicari

A Novel Bookstore, by Laurence Cossé, transl. Alison Anderson

A Very Long Engagement, by Sébastien Japrisot, transl. Linda Coverdale

After the Crash, by Michel Bussi, transl. Sam Taylor

Algerian White, by Assia Djebar, transl. David Kelley

Ambiguous Adventure, by Cheikh Hamidou Kane, transl. Katherine Woods

Antigone, by Anouilh, transl. Barbara Bray

Apocalypse Baby, by Virginie Despentes, transl. Sian Reynolds

Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne, transl George Makepeace Towle

Arsène Lupin, Gentleman-Thief, by Maurice Leblanc

Asterix in Britain, by René Gosciny and Albert Uderzo, transl. Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge

Bel-Ami, by Guy de Maupassant, transl. Douglas Parmee

Benny & Shrimp, by Katarine Mazetti, transl. Sarah Death

Bonjour Tristesse, by Françoise Sagan, transl. Irene Ash

Candide: Or, Optimism, by Voltaire, transl. Theo Cuffe

Cyrano de Bergerac, by Edmond Rostand, transl. Lowell Bair

Dangerous Liaisons, by Pierre-Ambroise Choderlos de Laclos, transl. Helen Constantine

Destination Moon, by Hergé, transl. Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper

Dreams of my Russian Summers, by Andreï Makine, transl. Geoffrey Strachan

Elise or The Real Life, by Claire Etcherelli, transl. JP Wilson

Exercises In Style, by Raymond Queneau, transl. Barbara Wright

Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade, by Assia Djebar, transl. Dorothy S. Blair

Fear and Trembling, by Amélie Nothomb, transl. Adriana Hunter

For Bread Alone, by Mohamed Choukri, transl. Paul Bowles

French Women Poets of Nine Centuries: The Distaff and the Pen, by Norman R Shapiro

Germinal, by Emile Zola, transl. Roger Pearson

God’s Bits of Wood, by Sembène Ousmane, transl. Ros Schwartz

How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read, by Pierre Bayard, transl. Jeffrey Mehlman

Hunting and Gathering, by Anna Gavalda, transl. Alison Anderson

I Am Fifteen – and I Don’t Want to Die, by Christine Arnothy

If Only It Were True, by Marc Levy, transl. Jeremy Leggatt

In the Name of God, by Yasmina Khadra, transl. Linda Black

Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow, by Faïza Guène, transl. Sarah Adams

Last Love Poems of Paul Eluard, by Paul Eluard, transl. Marilyn Kallet

Eugelionne, by Louky Bersianik

Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo, transl. Charles Wilbour

Madame Bovary, by Flaubert, transl. Lydia Davis

Maigret’s First Case, by Georges Simenon, transl. Ros Schwartz

Mission to Kala, by Mongo Beti, transl. Peter Green

Moderato Cantabile, by Marguerite Dumas, transl. Richard Seaver

My Father’s Glory & My Mother’s Castle: Marcel Pagnol’s Memories of Childhood, by Marcel Pagnol, transl. Rita Barisse

Nedjma, by Yacine Kateb, transl. Richard Howard

No Exit, by Jean-Paul Sartre, transl. Stuart Gilbert

Losing North: Essays on Cultural Exile, by Nancy Huston, transl. Nancy Huston

Oscar and the Lady in Pink, by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, transl. Adriana Hunter

Poems of Emile Verhaeren, by Emile Verhaeren, transl. Alma Strettell

Rhinoceros, by Eugène Ionesco

Sarah’s Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay

Savage Seasons, by Kettly Mars, transl. Jeanine Herman

Selected Poems, by Emile Nelligan, transl. P.F. Nelligan

Silent Day in Tangier, by Tahar Ben Jelloun, transl. D. Lobdelli

So Long a Letter, by Mariama Bâ, transl. Modupe Bode-Thomas

Sphinx, by Anne Garréta, transl. Emma Ramadan

Submission by Michel Houellebecq, transl. Lorin Stein

Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky, transl. Sandra Smith

Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas, by Patrick Modiano, transl. Mark Polizzotti

Swann’s Way, by Marcel Proust, transl. Lydia Davis

The Cid, by Pierre Corneille, transl. John Cairncross

The Complete Essays, by Michel de Montaigne, transl. M.A. Screech

The Count of Monte-Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, transl. Robin Buss

The Dark Child by Camara Laye, transl. Ernest Jones and James Kirkup

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Jean-Dominique Bauby, transl. Jeremy Leggatt

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery, transl. Alison Anderson

The Exchange of Princesses, by Chantal Thomas, transl. John Cullen

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe, by Romain Puertolas, transl. Sam Taylor

The Fairies are Thirsty, by Denise Boucher, transl. Alan Brown

The Flowers of Evil, by Charles Baudelaire, transl. James N McGowan

The Foreign Student, by Philippe Labro

The Grand Repudiation, by Rachid Boujedra, transl. Golda Lambrova

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, by Victor Hugo

The Illusionist, by Francois Mallet-Joris, transl. Terry Castle

The Imaginary Invalid by Moliere, transl. Henri van Laun

The Library of Unrequited Love, by Sophie Divry, transl. Sian Reynolds

The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, transl. Richard Howard

The Lover, by Marguerite Duras, transl. Barbara Bray

The Meursault Investigation, by Kamel Daoud, transl. John Cullen

The Poor Man’s Son by Mouloud Feraoun, transl. James D Le Sueur

The Red and the Black, by Stendhal, transl. Roger Gard

The Red Collar, by Jean-Christophe Rufin, transl. Adriana Hunter

The Rights of the Reader, by Daniel Pennac, transl. Sarah Ardizzone

The Sand Child, by Tahar Ben Jelloun, transl. Alan Sheridan

The Savage Night, by Mohammed Dib, transl. C. Dickson

The Scar, by Bruce Lowery, transl. Bruce Lowery

The Scorpion: Or, The Imaginary Confession, by Albert Memmi, transl. Eleanor Levieux

The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir, transl. Constance Borde

The Simple Past, by Driss Chraibi, trans. Hugh A. Harter

The Song of Roland, by Unknown Author, transl. Dorothy L Sayers

The Stranger, by Albert Camus, transl. Matthew Ward

The Suns of Independence, by Ahmadou Kourouma, transl. Adrian Adams

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, transl. Tom Gauld

The Wound, by Laurent Mauvignier, transl. Nicole and David Bell

The Wretched of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon, transl. Richard Philcox

The Year of the Elephant, by Leila Abouzeid, transl. Barbara Parmenter

Thérèse and Isabelle, by Vioilette Leduc, transl. Sophie Lewis

Tom Is Dead, by Marie Darriesseucq, transl. Lea Hills

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne, transl. Scott McKowen

Waiting For Godot, by Samuel Beckett, transl. Samuel Beckett

Will You Be There? by Guillaume Musso

With Downcast Eyes, by Tahar Ben Jelloun, transl. Joachim Neugroschel

photo by djedj via Pixabay

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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

Washington, DC

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