Authors who successfully published in two or more languages

I was pondering how my writing style varies quite a lot depending on which language I write in and this lead me to think about authors who wrote, and published, works in more than one language.

There is the “immigrant” writer, who switches from a native tongue to an adopted one and sticks with it, like Nabokov (Russian to English) and Kundera (Czech to French). On the other hand, there are the travelers, like Beckett, who switched between two languages throughout their career.

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single author who has written in three (or more) languages. Can anyone else think of someone?

Who are some other bilingual authors? If you’ve read their works in both languages, did you notice any differences?

On edit: I’d like to limit this discussion to “literature.” It’s pretty much the norm for scholars to write academic works in their native tongue as well as English (or whatever the lingua franca of the day was). So let’s keep it to novels, theater, poetry and non-academic essays.

Nabokov himself was a trilingual author. He wrote and published a single short story in French: Mademoiselle O. He was fluent in French (as well as Russian and English, obviously) from an early age.

Beyond that, I couldn’t think of any off the top of my head, but a search throws up the Ethiopian author Sahle Sellassie, who has written in Gurage, English, and Amharic. (Edit: Actually, he may not count as per the OP, as the work written in Amharic mentioned in the article is a work of history about the war with Italy.)

I heard an NPR interview with Isabel Allende recently where she was asked about writing in English.

She said that for fiction she had to write in Spanish but she can write non-fiction in English. I don’t know, however, if she’s actually published any significant non-fiction in English.

The Norwegian writer Beate Grimsrud, living in Sweden, publishes her books in both languages at the same time. She has once explained the she first makes a story outline, writes the book in Norwegian, empties her mind and starts all over from the beginning in Swedish. However, I have read somewhere that she was busy translating her latest book into Swedish, so she might have changed method or the journalist who wrote it didn’t understand how she works.

Swedish writer August Strindberg boasted about his proficiency in French and started writing in that language. It didn’t take more than one book or so until he realised that he was mistaken about the it.

Then there’s Theodor Kallifatides who came to Sweden at the age of 26 and published his first book in Swedish five years later. He only writes in Swedish, never in Greek. He doesn’t even translate his own books into Greek.

Joseph Conrad - Heart of Darkness, The Secret Agent, etc. - was a native Polish speaker…

Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen wrote Ghosts in Danish.

Danish scientist Piet Hein wrote Grooks in Danish and English.

Obviously not quite the same thing but I wonder if Luc Besson writes his scripts for American movies in English.

Well… it’s complicated. Ibsen always wrote in Danish, sort of. Danish was the common written standard in Denmark and Norway at the time, and there wasn’t a standardized Norwegian language at that point, even though there were (well, there still are) several distinct Norwegian dialects.

Denmark and Norway were a union, ruled from Denmark, up until 1814, 14 years before Ibsen’s birth. (During Ibsen’s lifetime, Norway was actually in a union with Sweden, which lasted until 1905, the year before Ibsen died. However, this was a looser union and Swedish wasn’t the written language in Norway.) After the union ended, there was a growing sense of Norwegian national identity, and writers and language reformers started experimenting with “Norwegianized” written forms from around the 1840s.

What followed was a bit of a lengthy linguistic clusterfuck involving a lot of language reforms and two different written standards. I won’t bore you with that, except to say that regarding Ibsen, his writings became gradually more “Norwegianized” during his life, but still always looked as much as Danish as modern Norwegian, and it certainly wasn’t a case of writing in two different languages.

(Actually, written Danish and Norwegian still aren’t very different to this day, in any case. As a native Norwegian speaker, written Danish mostly just looks like funny Norwegian to me. Of course, spoken Danish sounds like someone with a mouth full of cotton who just hit their head against a lamppost, but that’s a different matter…)

Arthur Koestler wrote a trilogy in three languages. The first book, The Gladiators, was written in Hungarian; the second book, Darkness at Noon, was written in German; and the third book, Arrival and Departure, was written in English. And when he was living in Paris and needed some money, he wrote some pornographic novels in French.

Junot Díaz switches between English and Spanish quite frequently in his books, also throwing in lots of slang and Caribbean patios. The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao is some sort of code-switching masterpiece.

The guy is two years older than me and his achievements are quite ridiculous. Take a look, but if you’re feeling down about what you’ve accomplished in life you might not want to. :slight_smile:

Leo Tolstoy wrote War and Peace partly in Russian and partly in French.
William Hans van Gulik was multilingual, a Dutch Diplomat in China who published mostly in English, and his stated purpose in translating The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee into English was to eventually translate it into Japanese. I don’t know if he ever did. His mystery novels were all published in English, but he himself was Dutch, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he also published some in his native languiage. The Given Day, for instance, is set in part in then-modern-day Holland, and you’d expect a Dutch edition.

Oh, good one.

I have no idea how successful it will be, but Scottish author Angus Peter Campbell is publishing a novel this month that he wrote simultaneously in English and in Scottish Gaelic.

His second language was French & he had a bit of Latin, Greek & German. But all his published works were in English…

Martian Bigfoot, thanks for the clarification! I’m reminded of a Grook by the above-mentioned Hein:

Interesting note about Darkness at Noon; while Koestler wrote it in German, that’s not the version that was published. As Koestler was writing the book, his lover Daphne Hardy was translating the manuscript into English. When the Germans invaded France, the original German manuscript was destroyed and it was Hardy’s English translation that was published. When the book was later published in German it had to be translated back into its original language.

Burton published in quite a few languages, often on the same page.

Obviously someone translated them, because I’ve read Darkness at Noon and The Gladiators. I had no idea they hadn’t been written in english. Oddly, I’ve never read Arrival and Departure, which you say is the only one to be written in english. In fact, I’ve never heard of it.

The consensus seems to be it’s the least of the three books. It suffers from covering issues Koestler had already addressed in his earlier books; from being written in 1943 about political events which were still occurring, which meant Koestler couldn’t put them in a historical context; and from being Koestler’s first novel written in English, which meant he probably didn’t handle the language as well as he did German or Hungarian.

From a Swedish point of view: I was once taught what to do if a library customer wants literature on a specific subject and the only available book you have is in Danish: Tell him it’s Norwegian.