Interpreters in Fiction

From 1893 to 2000
From 2001 until today

From 1893 to 2000

1893 : The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter
Short story by Arthur Conan Doyle

1963 : Asterix and the Goths (comic book)
Rhetoric, a cowardly Gaulish-Gothic interpreter, is called in to try and convince Getafix to cooperate and brew magic potion. Although Getafix flatly refuses, Rhetoric misinterprets and says that he has agreed to do so.

1966 : The Russian Interpreter
Michael Frayn.
A love story between a beautiful Russian woman and a British businessman, with the help of an interpreter.

1968 : Between
Christine Brooke-Rose.
Experimental novel written in several languages. The verb ‘to be’ is never used. The main character is an interpreter.

1970 : The Interpreter
Suki Kim

1979 : The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Douglas Adams.
An animal by the name of Babel fish serves as a universal translator.

1980 : Toutes les chances plus une
Christine Arnothy.
The main character is an interpreter.

1981 : The Summer Before the Dark
Doris Lessing.
A housewife becomes an interpreter overnight to do a favor to a friend of her husbands. She works for a large international conference and is immediately good at the job.

1982 : Simultan
Ingeborg Bachmann.
Short stories.

1983 : A tolmács
Ágnes Gergely.

1991 : The Greek Interpreter
Max Davidson.
A comic thriller with two interpreters as main characters. The story takes place in Bangkok on the occasion of the World League of Parliaments’ annual conference.

1992 : A Heart So White (Corazón tan blanco)
Javier Marías.
The narrator is an interpreter who claims to come by on a few months’ work a year. He also boasts about the way he changes what heads of State say to each other;[31]

1997 : Der Versteckspieler
György Dalos.
The main character is an interpreter and political opponent in Hungary in the 1970’s.

1999 : The Devil Knew Not
Bill Newton Dunn, Member of the European Parliament.
Political thriller set at the European Parliament, with all its actors, MEP’s, journalists and interpreters.

2000 : Siberiana
Jesús Díaz.
The main character, a young black Cuban, travels to Siberia to make a documentary on the building of the railroad. He is accompanied by an interpreter.

From 2001 until the present day

2001 : Brazil Red (Rouge Brésil)
Jean-Christophe Rufin.
The French take two young orphans, Just and Colombe, with them to serve as interpreters in their attempts to conquer and colonise South America in the 16th century. As the children are very young, it is assumed that they will easily learn the local language. The gift of learning language goes lost at puberty, as the author writes. A Frenchman established in Brasil for several years will be their interpreter with the indigenous population. This gives him huge power as the French are entirely dependent on him.

2003 : The Interpreter
Suzanne Glass.
This novel served as a base for the film The Interpreter by Sydney Pollack.

2003 : The Interpreter of Maladies
Jhumpa Lahiri.
Collection of nine short stories. The main character in the title story works as an interpreter for a doctor and and acts as a tour-guide around India when not working, inter alia for an American family of Indian descent.

2004 : Tongue-tied (Die verlorene Sprache)
Liselotte Marshall.
Autobiographical novel about an interpreter, Rachel Bernstein, a jewish immigrant, a Holocaust survivor, who has no home country nor native tongue.

2005 : Bel Canto
Ann Patchett.
Various characters are held hostage, amongst them an interpreter.

2006 : The Mission Song
John le Carré.
The main character is an interpreter by the name of Bruno Salvador who knows several African languages. He is even able to translate legal texts from French into Swahili.

2006 : The Bad Girl (Travesuras de la niña mala)
Mario Vargas Llosa.
The narrator is an interpreter.

2008: The Interpreter: Journal of a German Resister in Occupied France
Marcelle Kellermann.
Novel in the form of a diary written by an interpreter working for the Wehrmacht. The author took part in the French Résistance.

2010 : Hauch der Hydra
Helga Murauer. Thriller.
An interpreter inadvertedly hears a conversation between two mafiosi during a break.

2010: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
David Mitchell.
The main character relies on an interpreter to conquer the heart of his beloved. The story takes place in Japan in the 18th century.

2012: Entre deux voix : Journal d'une jeune interprète de conférence
Jenny Sigot Müller.
The main character, Sonia Clancy, is a young fledgling interpreter who feels that her booth is slowly turning into a glass cage.

You might also be interested in the following...

Wortklauber, Sinnverdreher, BrückenbauerDolmetscherInnen und ÜbersetzerInnen als literarische Geschöpfe
Ingrid Kurz, Klaus Kaindl (editors)
This book looks at how interpreters are seen by writers and film-makers in a series of essays.

Read a review in the AIIC webzine.

Clic! (Benoit Cliquet)

A book of very funny cartoons depicting interpreters various adventures and character traits.

Recommended citation format:
AIIC. "Interpreters in Fiction". November 1, 2012. Accessed July 24, 2019. <>.

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