Multilingualism in literature

Can you think of a book with more than one language in use? I don’t mean mirror translation or single words/phrases randomly used by characters, but rather a book where characters or narrators switch language intentionally depending on the context, and it goes for the whole paragraph or even chapter.


It is a typical feature in the books of the South African writer Deon Meyer. He writes in Afrikaans but for an increased authenticity the characters often speak English, mix in some words in Zulu. I like to read the original versions.


Interesting. Unfortunately those are not in my learning pool…

Jhumpa Lahiri wrote a bilingual book in Italian and English over her journey to learn Italian and to become an Italian author.

She wrote it in Italian and it was translated by an interpreter. It is suitable to learn Italian or English.


In the Southwestern United States, some intentionally Spanglish literature has been produced. One amazing (non-fiction) book is " Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza" by Gloria E. Anzaldúa: :

My wife tells me that Tolstoy occasionally used French with no explanation in the midst of a novel. I personally haven’t taken the plunge into Russian literature yet. #somuchtodosolittletime


There was a (very subjective) ‘top 10’ list of bilingual books in the Guardian last year, which includes Borderlands, the one @Alexander recommended above. If the link below doesn’t work for you, let me know and I’ll put the basic list on this thread.

The last book on the list, “Yo-Yo Boing!” by Giannina Braschi, is described as “There are parts in Spanish, English and Spanglish. You will only be able to understand it if you read both languages fluently – and even then, perhaps not.” :rofl:


I’m so excited about this list, Steven. Thanks!

Thank you so much for this list :slight_smile:

1 Like

This is my most favorite book ever as it describes this sort of homelessness, being transplanted from Bengali to English and then finding a home in Italian. It hit home.

1 Like

So this is not a book, but I’d love to share a really talented Irish Slam Poet, Ciara Ní É - who often mixes her Gaeilge and Bearla (English) within the same poems, sometimes within the same lines. Her poetry readings are very dynamic and fun to listen to… here’s one of my favorites of hers

Phenomenal Woman


That was amazing. Thanks, @Sadelle

1 Like

You’re welcome, Alexander! Sorry I missed your comment earlier.

1 Like

I’ve just finished “Die Hauptstadt” by Austrian author Robert Menasse, and while the vast majority of it is in German, I really liked the way it switched into French, Dutch/Flemish, English, Polish, Czech and Greek (I might not have remembered all of them) for anything between a sentence and a paragraph on a regular basis. The narrator on the German audio version is excellent too. Book description in German:

Listening to a 5-minute preview of the English translation, I’d say the translator has done a really good job (assuming he kept up the same level throughout) but the less said about the English narrator on the audio version, the better! It’s quite sad that while most non-English audiobook narrators seem to make an effort to get foreign names just about right, many English audiobook narrators couldn’t care less. Book description in English:


I would add “The brief and wondrous life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz. I believe it one the Pulitzer Prize (top honor in the US for literature).