A trip to the European Bookshop in Soho

Recently another good translator friend of mine mentioned this place to me, and I’ve been meaning to check it out.

The European Bookshop is, as you might surmise from the name, a fantastic little bookshop in a Soho sidestreet that sells a wide range of books – fiction, non-fiction and study books in the biggest European languages. A veritable treasure trove for foreigners living in London, language students, translators and other polyglots. When you go in, you walk straight into the large French section, replete with everything from Proust to Le Petit Prince. It’s divided into various sections, including classic novels, non-fiction ranging from travel guides to philosophy, children’s books and grammar books. There are, of course, dictionaries and books for learning the language at any level. Many of the books are classic French novels, but there are also books in translation if you fancy Cinquante Nuances de Grey. Behind this, there’s the Italian section, which is almost as comprehensive. Downstairs you’ll find the two languages that I translate professionally – German and Spanish (thoughtfully grouped together, I thought!), alongside a smaller Russian section and a handful of books in Portuguese, Romanian and one or 2 others.

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Each section has a dedicated assistant who can speak the language of the section, so I heard people around me babbling away in French, Italian and Spanish whilst I browsed, with absolutely no idea of what language was appropriate to address the staff in! I had to restrain myself from acquiring more books than I could possibly carry. Of course I wanted to buy one book in each of the four main languages, but restricted myself to the ones I actually have some chance of reading: the original Spanish of Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (El amor en los tiempos de cóleraand a German translation of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Die Bücherdiebin). I haven’t read the former, although I’ve seen the film, so I’m familiar with the plot which ought to help. The latter is set in Germany and throws in bits and bobs of German, so I actually assumed it was a German book. In fact it’s not, but the German version doesn’t seem out of place to me.

I had a browse around the study books for French and Italian, but decided I’m probably better off with online resources/apps for those, whilst for my ‘advanced’ languages, I just need to get back into the habit of interacting with the language a bit more in the form of reading, listening and speaking. So that’s my reading material for the next month sorted!

My strategy, such as I have one, for reading foreign books is as follows:

1. Read a page or two for ‘gist’ and see how much I can understand and whether or not I can pick up what’s going on.

2. Underline the key words that I don’t understand and look them up. I only bother looking up words that seem important or that I might actually want to learn. Some of the obscure descriptive words that Marquez uses are probably not worth me memorising!

3. Re-read that section with my new-found understanding and see if I can pull everything together.

4. Hopefully after a chapter or so like this I’ll be able to keep reading without stopping.

As I work a lot with German and The Book Thief isn’t an overly complicated book I think I can probably read it without spending a lot of time looking up words. With Love in the Time of Cholera, though, I know from experience that Marquez uses a lot of strange and complex description, so I’m anticipating burying myself in a dictionary. I’m certainly keeping a pencil beside me at all times for underlining and scribbing, and my phone for constant SpanishDict.com access!

You can find the shop in Warwick Street, just a few minutes away from Piccadilly Circus tube station if you’re of the book-buying persuasion.

Saludos, Alex

One thought on “A trip to the European Bookshop in Soho

  1. There is nothing as heartwarming for foreigners after a whole day of processing things in a second or third language than to curl up with books in their familiar native tongue. However, finding them in the great tumble can be a bit difficult. Thanks for sharing this post and I am looking forward to your next post.


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