Which works ought to be read in their original language?

Gabriel Power, a loyal MR reader, asks:

What works really ought to be read in their original language? Does this suggest classes or types that are best read in the original? Does it suggest that some languages are poorly translated into English while others are well translated (indeed, possibly improved upon, e.g. Poe into French)? Why?

I can speak only to German, Spanish, and English.  Borges and Goethe and Juan Rulfo are much, much better in the original and I believe they cannot be well understood or appreciated in translation.  Vargas Llosa is an example of a conceptual, plot-driven Spanish-language author who translates quite well into other languages.  Max Frisch requires German and in general German humor (please don't laugh) does not translate into other languages, less than English-language humor does.  Shakespeare translates relatively well into German, but I wonder about other Shakespeare in other languages.  I have always thought of Chekhov as requiring Russian, but that is speculation.  It is hard for me to imagine James Joyce in any language but English, but most modern American authors can be translated OK, in part because they are not writing "word-rich" material.

Potentially "cheesy" material, such as Poe, often does better in another language.  Raymond Chandler in German was excellent, as it added a layer of cranky mystery to the proceedings.  I think of "word rich" and "subtly humorous" as hard to translate, so genre fiction is often better in another language.

What can you all add to this?


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