It’s arrived: the longlist for the Best Translated Book Award, my favorite book prize of the year. This year, we had to wait a bit longer than we have in the past, but it’s worth it! The nine judges for the fiction award have worked their way through almost 500 books, and now we get to sit back and enjoy the fruits of their selection! So, first, a big thanks to the judges:
- George Carroll of North-North-West and Shelf Awareness
- Monica Carter of Salonica
- James Crossley of Island Books
- Scott Esposito of Conversational Reading and Center for the Art of Translation
- Jeremy Garber of Powell’s Books
- Katrine Øgaard Jensen of Asymptote
- Madeleine LaRue of Music & Literature
- Daniel Medin of the American University of Paris, Cahiers Series, Quarterly Conversation, and The White Review
- Michael Orthofer of The Complete Review
Here is the list, along with the publisher’s blurbs and snippets from some reviews (I was surprised at how many have gotten fantastic reviews in the national media).
by Naja Marie Aidt
translated form the Danish by Denise Newman
(Denmark, Two Lines Press)
Beginning in the middle of crisis, then accelerating through plots that grow stranger by the page, Naja Marie Aidt’s stories have a feel all their own. Though they are built around the common themes of sex, love, desire, and gender, Aidt pushes them into her own desperate, frantic realm. In one, a whore shows up unannounced at a man’s apartment, roosts in his living room, and then violently threatens him when he tries to make her leave. In another, a wife takes her husband to a city where it is women, not men, who are the dominant sex—but was it all a hallucination when she finds herself tied to a board and dragged back to his car? And in the unforgettable “Blackcurrant,” two young women who have turned away from men and toward lesbianism abscond to a farm, where they discover that their neighbor’s son is experimenting with his own kind of sexuality. The first book from the widely lauded Aidt to reach the English language, Baboon delivers audacious writing that careens toward bizarre, yet utterly truthful, realizations.
“This acclaimed collection of Scandinavian short stories, Baboon by Naja Marie Aidt, may start off as an unknown quantity to American readers, but it establishes quickly enough that its universe is the same as that of Ingmar Bergman films. A harsh bleakness of people speaking pointedly to each other in moments when there should be tenderness, where violence explodes, engendered by nothing.” ~Brian Nicholson in Bookslut
Click here for an interview with Naja Marie Aidt about her short story collection Baboon, by David L. Ulin in The Los Angeles Times
The Author and Me
by Éric Chevillard
translated from the French by Jordan Stump
(France, Dalkey Archive Press)
Éric Chevillard here seeks to clear up a persistent and pernicious literary misunderstanding: the belief that a novel’s narrator must necessarily be a mouthpiece for his or her writer’s own opinions. Thus, we are introduced to a narrator haunted by a deep loathing for cauliflower gratin (and by a no less passionate fondness for trout almondine), but his monologue has been helpfully and hilariously annotated in order to clarify all the many ways in which this gentleman and Eric Chevillard are nothing alike. Language and logic are pushed to their farthest extremes in one of Chevillard’s funniest novels yet.
“As the author’s lament for the state of literature mirrors his creation’s lament for being served a bad meal, it’s clear we’re deep into an allegory of the frustrations of making original art. But on this score, Chevillard needn’t worry — this is accessible, surprising and satisfying metafiction.” ~Kirkus Starred Review
“One for slow contemplation and discovery, a work on the edge, skillful, surprising, joyous, repetitive infuriating and mundane all at the same time.” ~Tony Messenger at Messengers Booker (and more)
Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires
by Julio Cortázar
translated from the Spanish by David Kurnick
First published in Spanish in 1975 and previously untranslated, Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires is Julio Cortázar’s genre-jumping mash-up of his participation in the Second Russell Tribunal on human rights abuses in Latin America and his cameo appearance in issue number 201 of the Mexican comic book series Fantomas: The Elegant Menace. With his characteristic narrative inventiveness, Cortázar offers a quixotic meta-comic/novella that challenges not only the form of the novel but its political weight in contemporary cultural life. Needing something to read on the train from Brussels (where he had attended the ineffectual tribunal meeting), our hero (Julio Cortázar) picks up the latest issue of the Fantomas comic. He grows increasingly absorbed by the comic book’s tale of bibliocide (a sinister bibliophobic plot to obliterate every book from the archives of humanity), especially when he sees the character Fantomas embark upon a series of telephone conversations with literary figures, starting with “The Great Argentine Writer” himself, Julio Cortázar (and also including Octavio Paz and a tough-talking Susan Sontag). Soon, Cortázar begins to erase the thin line between real-life atrocities and fictional mayhem in an attempt to bring attention to the human rights violations taking place with impunity in the country from which he was exiled.
“Though fairly short, the volume is ceaselessly interesting, alternating between comic book pages (taken from an actual Fantomas comic story), drawings, photographs, and traditional text, and showcasing the late author’s penchant for surrealism and experimentation. Simultaneously funny and damning — Cortázar makes sure to include the Russell Tribunal’s full report as an appendix — the novella is a quick, engaging read, sure to please the author’s many fans.” ~Publishers Weekly Starred Review
“Its small size, and subject-specificity, make Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires only a minor classic, but it is both a fascinating oddity and a true masterpiece.” ~M.A. Orthofer at The Complete Review
by Sergei Dovlatov
translated from the Russian by Katherine Dovlatov
(Russia, Counterpoint Press)
An unsuccessful writer and an inveterate alcoholic, Boris Alikhanov has recently divorced his wife Tatyana, and he is running out of money. The prospect of a summer job as a tour guide at the Pushkin Hills Preserve offers him hope of regaining some balance in life as his wife makes plans to emigrate to the West with their daughter Masha, but during Alikhanov’s stay in the rural estate of Mikhaylovskoye, his life continues to unravel.
Populated with unforgettable characters — including Alikhanov’s fellow guides Mitrofanov and Pototsky, and the KGB officer Belyaev — Pushkin Hills ranks among Dovlatov’s renowned works The Suitcase and The Zone as his most personal and poignant portrayal of the Russian attitude towards life and art.
“The novel [. . .] is not without heart, and the moving final act prevents the book from becoming one-note. A most satisfying read that sustains its humor and emotional resonance.” ~Publishers Weekly Starred Review
Click here for an interview with Katherine Dovlatov about translating Pushkin Hills, by Valerie Silvers in The Paris Review
by Jean Echenoz
translated from the French by Linda Coverdale
(France, New Press)
Jean Echenoz, considered by many to be the most distinguished and versatile living French novelist, turns his attention to the deathtrap of World War I in 1914. In it, five Frenchmen go off to war, two of them leaving behind a young woman who longs for their return. But the main character in this brilliant novel is the Great War itself. Echenoz, whose work has been compared to that of writers as diverse as Joseph Conrad and Laurence Sterne, leads us gently from a balmy summer day deep into the relentless — and, one hundred years later, still unthinkable — carnage of trench warfare.
With the delicacy of a miniaturist and with an irony that is both witty and clear-eyed, Echenoz offers us an intimate epic: in the panorama of a clear blue sky, a bi-plane spirals suddenly into the ground; a piece of shrapnel shears the top off a man’s head as if it were a soft-boiled egg; we dawdle dreamily in a spring-scented clearing with a lonely shell-shocked soldier strolling innocently toward a firing squad ready to shoot him for desertion.
Ultimately , the grace notes of humanity in 1914 rise above the terrors of war in this beautifully crafted tale that Echenoz tells with discretion, precision, and love.
“The story could hardly be simpler. Five young Frenchmen leave their village to fight in the Great War. Some will be grievously injured, some won’t return. But in the hands of France’s literary magician Jean Echenoz, this exceedingly short, bare narrative — 118 pages, counting eight pages of translator’s notes — feels like an epic. Here is history compressed to the density of a poem.” ~Max Byrd in The New York Times
“The tone throughout is that all of these people, both those taken advantage of and those taking advantage, have been thrown into this situation of nearly manic survival. Consequently, though these people are not off the hook, it’s the war — the absolute ridiculousness of war — that Echenoz plays with.” ~Trevor Berrett at The Mookse and the Gripes
Street of Thieves
by Mathias Énard
translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell
(France, Open Letter Books)
Recipient of three French literary awards, Mathias Énard’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed Zone is a timely novel about a young Moroccan boy caught up in the turbulent events of the Middle East, and a possible murder.
Exiled from his family for religious transgressions related to his feelings for his cousin, Lakhdar finds himself on the streets of Barcelona hiding from both the police and the Muslim Group for the Propagation of Koranic Thoughts, a group he worked for in Tangier not long after being thrown out on the streets by his father.
Lakhdar’s transformations — from a boy into a man, from a devout Muslim into a sinner — take place against the backdrop of some of the most important events of the past few years: the violence and exciting eruption of the Arab Spring and the devastating collapse of Europe’s economy.
If all that isn’t enough, Lakhdar reunites with a childhood friend — one who is planning an assassination, a murder Lakhdar opposes.
A finalist for the prestigious Prix Goncourt, Street of Thieves solidifies Énard’s place as one of France’s most ambitious and keyed-in novelists of this century. This novel may even take Zone‘s place in Christophe Claro’s bold pronouncement that Énard’s earlier work is “the novel of the decade, if not of the century.”
“Set against a backdrop of rising Islamic extremism, the Arab Spring, and the Occupy movement, Énard’s (Zone) latest novel is a howling elegy for thwarted youth.” ~Publishers Weekly Starred Review
“[Énard’s] sentences spin on and on, acquiring a giddy momentum as they lurch through gutters and brothels and kill zones, ending, as often as not, in some netherworld morning-after epiphany. These lurid narratives are also a bouillabaisse of tacit and open reckonings with the writers who have shaped him, both high and low: Céline, Joyce, Burroughs, Homer, Pynchon, the authors of French série noire thrillers.” ~Robert F. Worth in The New York Times
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
by Elena Ferrante
translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
(Italy, Europa Editions)
Since the publication of My Brilliant Friend, the first of the Neapolitan novels, Elena Ferrante’s fame as one of our most compelling, insightful, and stylish contemporary authors has grown enormously. She has gained admirers among authors — Jhumpa Lahiri, Elizabeth Strout, Claire Messud, to name a few — and critics — James Wood, John Freeman, Eugenia Williamson, for example. But her most resounding success has undoubtedly been with readers, who have discovered in Ferrante a writer who speaks with great power and beauty of the mysteries of belonging, human relationships, love, family, and friendship.
In this third Neapolitan novel, Elena and Lila, the two girls whom readers first met in My Brilliant Friend, have become women. Lila married at sixteen and has a young son; she has left her husband and the comforts her marriage brought and now works as a common laborer. Elena has left the neighborhood, earned her college degree, and published a successful novel, all of which has opened the doors to a world of learned interlocutors and richly furnished salons. Both women have attempted are pushing against the walls of a prison that would have seen them living a life of misery, ignorance and submission. They are afloat on the great sea of opportunities that opened up during the nineteen-seventies. Yet they are still very much bound to each other by a strong, unbreakable bond.
“Surpassing the rapturous storytelling of the previous titles in the Neapolitan Novels (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name), Ferrante here reunites Elena and Lila, two childhood friends, who dissect subjects as complicated as their own relationship, including feminism and class, men and women, mothers and children, sex and violence, and origin and destiny.” ~Publishers Weekly Starred Review
“Ferrante writes with the kind of power saved for weather systems with female names, sparing no one, and “Those Who Stay” is a tour de force. I don’t want to read anything else.” ~Jennifer Gilmore in The Los Angeles Times
Things Look Different in the Light
by Medardo Fraile
translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa
(Spain, Pushkin Press)
Medardo Fraile, born in Madrid in 1925, is considered to be one of Spain’s finest short-story writers. The collection Cuentos de verdad (on which this anthology is based), won him the 1965 Premio Nacional de la Crítica. While his stories have appeared in translation in other story collections, this is the first complete anthology of his work to appear in English.
Like Anton Chekhov and Katherine Mansfield, Medardo Fraile is a chronicler of the minor tragedies and triumphs of ordinary life, and each short tale opens up an entire exquisite world.
Among these wonderful blackly comic tales from the Spanish master of the short story, an office queen falls from her throne, a tartan shirt holds the threads of a man’s life, a simple dictation test results in glimpsed mortality, and a case of mistaken identity finally pays off. Taking in love, family, war, food and the unforgettable view of the world from childhood, these rich, charming stories and Fraile’s light touch will stay with you long after you have finished reading.
“So little is said and so much is conveyed; one of Fraile’s gifts is the giving of voice and language to things and states that ostensibly have none.” ~From the Foreword by Ali Smith
by Eduardo Halfon
translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman and Daniel Hahn
(Guatemala, Bellevue Literary Press)
In Monastery, the nomadic narrator of Eduardo Halfon’s critically-acclaimed The Polish Boxer returns to travel from Guatemalan cities, villages, coffee plantations, and border towns to a private jazz concert in New York’s Harlem, a former German U-Boat base on the French Breton coast, and Israel, where he escapes from his sister’s Orthodox Jewish wedding into an erotic adventure with the enigmatic Tamara. His passing encounters are unforgettable; his relationships, problematic. At once a world citizen and a writer who mistrusts the power of language, he is pursued by history’s ghosts and unanswerable questions. He is a cartographer of identity on a compelling journey to an uncertain destination. As he draws and redraws his boundaries, he confronts us with the limitations of our own.
“The novel is bookended by these resonant self-investigations, as well as contrasting snapshots of Israeli life. Less successful is the disjointed middle section, which is set in Central America in what seems to be the future but remains difficult to connect to the rest of the plot. Overall, however, Halfon gives voice to a lesser-known sector of the Jewish diaspora, reminding us in the process of the ways in which identity is both fluid and immutable.” ~Publishers Weekly
“With this sly, quietly penetrating account of life on the road—a quasi-fictional journey containing sharp reflections on his Jewish ancestry—gifted young Guatemalan writer Halfon picks up where he left off with his acclaimed The Polish Boxer (2012).” ~Kirkus Review
Letters from a Seducer
by Hilda Hilst
translated from the Portuguese by John Keene
(Brazil, Nightboat Books)
In Letters from a Seducer, Hilst describes the everyday life of Karl, a wealthy, erudite, and amoral man who seeks an answer to his incomprehension of life through sex. Karl writes and sends twenty provocative letters to Cordelia, his chaste sister. The letters’ text becomes intertwined with the life of the poet Stamatius, who finds Karl’s letters in the trash. It quickly dawns upon the reader that both men are in fact the same person albeit at different points of time and circumstance. This mirror play is the guiding trope for a uniquely grand work.
“In Letters from a Seducer, Hilst employs multiple discourses, styles, forms, and registers, including those of the libertine epistolary tradition, evoking works by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos and the Marquis de Sade, as well as by modernist antecedents and later twentieth century models, to create a postmodern polyphonic text that surpasses the limits of the conventional realist novel.” ~Translator John Keene in The White Review
“Karl’s voice is arch and affected, often to the point of hilarious parody, but Hilst endows him with a clever self-consciousness and serial seducer’s charm. That John Keene’s translation captures the humor of Karl’s constant suggestiveness and change in register is a remarkable achievement of its own.” ~Adam Z. Levy in Music & Literature
by Bohumil Hrabal
translated from the Czech by Stacey Knecht
(Czech Republic, Archipelago Books)
By the writer Milan Kundera called Czechoslovakia’s greatest contemporary writer comes a novel (now in English for the first time) peopled with eccentric, unforgettable inhabitants of a home for the elderly who reminisce about their lives and their changing country. Written with a keen eye for the absurd and sprinkled with dialogue that captures the poignancy of the everyday, this novel allows us into the mind of an elderly woman coming to terms with the passing of time.
“Billed as ‘a fairy tale,’ the novel, at times, fancifully confounds expectations: a visiting doctor’s lesson on classical music turns into a psychotic rampage, for example. And Hrabal’s long, lyrical sentences (each chapter consists of a single paragraph) are not only exquisitely constructed, but also as spirited as the scenes they illustrate.” ~Publishers Weekly Starred Review
“An enchanting novel, full of life, about the end of life.” ~Kirkus Starred Review
Rambling On: An Apprentice’s Guide to the Gift of the Gab
by Bohumil Hrabal
translated from the Czech by David Short
(Czech Republic, Karolinum Press)
Novelist Bohumil Hrabal (1914–97) was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, and spent decades working at a variety of laboring jobs before turning to writing in his late forties. From that point, he quickly made his mark on the Czech literary scene; by the time of his death he was ranked with Jaroslav Hašek, Karel Capek, and Milan Kundera as among the nation’s greatest twentieth-century writers. Hrabal’s fiction blends tragedy with humor and explores the anguish of intellectuals and ordinary people alike from a slightly surreal perspective. His work ranges from novels and poems to film scripts and essays.
Rambling On is a collection of stories set in Hrabal’s Kersko. Several of the stories were written before the 1968 Soviet invasion of Prague but had to be reworked when they were rejected by Communist censorship during the 1970s. This edition features the original, uncensored versions of those stories.
“Themes and devices reappear cyclically across the stories in Rambling On and Hrabal’s greater body of work, adding layers of meaning to recurring motifs. Hrabal continuously examines the ways in which circumstances affect perspective, and cause us to reconceptualize our relationship to our surroundings.” ~Meghan Forbes in The Los Angeles Review of Books
“The stories are funny and often frivolous, but they also take on a serious and bittersweet tone when broken dreams of what might have been come into play. Dark and troubling components, barely lurking beneath the surface, add ambiguity on how to read Hrabal’s stories.” ~Dwight at The Mookse and the Gripes
The Woman Who Borrowed Memories
by Tove Jansson
translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal and Silvester Mazzarella
(Finland, NYRB Classics)
Tove Jansson was a master of brevity, unfolding worlds at a touch. Her art flourished in small settings, as can be seen in her bestselling novel The Summer Book and in her internationally celebrated cartoon strips and books about the Moomins. It is only natural, then, that throughout her life she turned again and again to the short story. The Woman Who Borrowed Memories is the first extensive selection of Jansson’s stories to appear in English.
Many of the stories collected here are pure Jansson, touching on island solitude and the dangerous pull of the artistic impulse: in “The Squirrel” the equanimity of the only inhabitant of a remote island is thrown by a visitor, in “The Summer Child” an unlovable boy is marooned along with his lively host family, in “The Cartoonist” an artist takes over a comic strip that has run for decades, and in “The Doll’s House” a man’s hobby threatens to overwhelm his life. Others explore unexpected territory: “Shopping” has a post-apocalyptic setting, “The Locomotive” centers on a railway-obsessed loner with murderous fantasies, and “The Woman Who Borrowed Memories” presents a case of disturbing transference. Unsentimental, yet always humane, Jansson’s stories complement and enlarge our understanding of a singular figure in world literature.
“For all her quirky displays of imagination, Jansson must be taken seriously as a keen observer and reverent tributary of the marvels, terrifying or cheering and always exuberantly so, of our brief lives.” ~Jennifer Kurdyla in Music & Literature
” Jansson is a sensitive writer; there is obvious compassion for the people of these stories. But in this sensitivity, there is fierceness. No one will be spared the harshness of the world or the cruelty others, or nature, though her prose quietly sides with those most wounded.” ~P.T. Smith at The Mookse and the Gripes
by Edouard Levé
translated from the French by Jan Steyn
(France, Dalkey Archive Press)
“A book describes works conceived of but not realized by its author.” Like Suicide and Autoportrait, Works is another of Eduoard Levé’s bewitching reconceptions of what the novel can (or should) do. A list of 533 projects, beginning with its own description — both likely and unlikely, sober and ridiculous; some of which Levé later realized, most of which he did not — Works ranks with the fiction of Georges Perec for its seemingly limitless, ingenious, and comical inventiveness. A lampoon of conceptual art — if not, indeed, an exemplar of its charms at their best — Works is another piece in the puzzle of Levé’s brief and fascinating life.
“For a work of such rigorous formal experimentalism, Works can be surprisingly funny. I found myself laughing out loud, here and there, at Levé’s poker-faced batshittery — the brisk suggestion of “a leather jacket made from a mad cow,” for instance, or the outlining of a performance piece where Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death is read aloud in its entirety “by sucking in words rather than expiring them.” In a way that seems characteristically French, Levé takes a serious and meticulous approach to the praxis of tomfoolery. He’s an obvious heir in this sense to the Oulipo group of Francophone experimental writers, with their bold formal conceits and reckless restrictions.” ~Mark O’Connell in Slate
“This might sound like an almost incredibly irritating pieces of whimsy, a kind of affront to the very idea of a novel. So why is it, instead, such a delight to read, so full of surprises, so many unexpected moments of laughter, reverie and delight?” ~Nicholas Lezard in The Guardian
Faces in the Crowd
by Valeria Luiselli
translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney
(Mexico, Coffee House Press)
In Mexico City, a young mother is writing a novel of her days as a translator living in New York. In Harlem, a translator is desperate to publish the works of Gilberto Owen, an obscure Mexican poet. And in Philadelphia, Gilberto Owen recalls his friendship with Lorca, and the young woman he saw in the windows of passing trains. Valeria Luiselli’s debut signals the arrival of a major international writer and an unexpected and necessary voice in contemporary fiction.
“Throughout Faces in the Crowd, Luiselli crafts beautiful sentences, while gleefully thumbing her nose at novelistic conventions. All that makes her an exciting and essential voice on the Latin American literary landscape, as further evidenced by the nonfiction collection her U.S. publisher, Coffee House Press, is simultaneously releasing with her novel.” ~Hector Tobar in The Los Angeles Times
“The author plants ideas — like suggesting that all the characters are dead throughout — that are never confirmed. She leaves us juggling with possibilities. I tweeted her, observing she had omitted an overarching message or concrete conclusion. She concurred: ‘I don’t believe in the “grand finale”. I hate Wagner.'” ~Mina Holland in The Guardian
by Leopoldo Marechal
translated from the Spanish by Norman Cheadle and Sheila Ethier
(Argentina, McGill-Queen’s University Press)
A modernist urban novel in the tradition of James Joyce, Adam Buenosayres is a tour-de-force that does for Buenos Aires what Carlos Fuentes did for Mexico City or Jose Lezama Lima did for Havana — chronicles a city teeming with life in all its clever and crass, rude and intelligent forms. Employing a range of literary styles and a variety of voices, Leopoldo Marechal parodies and celebrates Argentina’s most brilliant literary and artistic generation, the martinfierristas of the 1920s, among them Jorge Luis Borges. First published in 1948 during the polarizing reign of Juan Peron, the novel was hailed by Julio Cortázar as an extraordinary event in twentieth-century Argentine literature. Set over the course of three break-neck days, Adam Buenosayres follows the protagonist through an apparent metaphysical awakening, a battle for his soul fought by angels and demons, and a descent through a place resembling a comic version of Dante’s hell.
Presenting both a breathtaking translation and thorough explanatory notes, Norman Cheadle captures the limitless language of Marechal’s original and guides the reader along an unmatched journey through the culture of Buenos Aires. This first-ever English translation brings to light Marechal’s masterwork with an introduction outlining the novel’s importance in various contexts — Argentine, Latin American, and world literature — and with notes illuminating its literary, cultural, and historical references. A salient feature of the Argentine canon, Adam Buenosayres is both a path-breaking novel and a key text for understanding Argentina’s cultural and political history.
“One can see why Adam Buenosayres — not the most approachable of texts — remained a somewhat hidden classic, and even why it has not been translated into English before, but it is a truly great work, and English-speaking readers are fortunate to now have it presented to them in this masterful edition” ~M.A. Orthofer at The Complete Review
Last Words from Montmartre
by Qiu Miaojin
translated from the Chinese by Ari Larissa Heinrich
(Taiwan, NYRB Classics)
When the pioneering Taiwanese novelist Qiu Miaojin committed suicide in 1995 at age twenty-six, she left behind her unpublished masterpiece, Last Words from Montmartre. Unfolding through a series of letters written by an unnamed narrator, Last Words tells the story of a passionate relationship between two young women — their sexual awakening, their gradual breakup, and the devastating aftermath of their broken love. In a style that veers between extremes, from self-deprecation to pathos, compulsive repetition to rhapsodic musings, reticence to vulnerability, Qiu’s genre-bending novel is at once a psychological thriller, a sublime romance, and the author’s own suicide note.
The letters (which, Qiu tells us, can be read in any order) leap between Paris, Taipei, and Tokyo. They display wrenching insights into what it means to live between cultures, languages, and genders — until the genderless character Zoë appears, and the narrator’s spiritual and physical identity is transformed. As powerfully raw and transcendent as Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, and Theresa Cha’s Dictée, to name but a few, Last Words from Montmartre proves Qiu Miaojin to be one of the finest experimentalists and modernist Chinese-language writers of our generation.
“Last Words from Montmartre is undoubtedly powerful. It is clear why it has mesmerized the Taiwanese queer community and a generation of Taiwanese rebels and outsiders, and thanks to this skillful translation, I expect it will enthrall a whole new community of readers. But what moved me most in the novel was not the poetry of Qiu’s suicide, but the prose of her life.” ~Dylan Suher in Asymptote
“I’d like to note that there’s a whiff of redemption that comes across in the book. It’s tragic, to be sure, and the focus is definitely on her own effort to sort out her feelings, but her there’s more: another purpose seem to me to be more complex than simply ending her own sorrow. She hopes — tragedy! — that somehow this artistic project, which includes her real suicide, can make some little bit of difference to others.” ~Trevor Berrett at The Mookse and the Gripes
Winter Mythologies and Abbots
by Pierre Michon
translated from the French by Ann Jefferson
(France, Yale University Press)
This welcome volume brings to English-language readers two beautifully crafted works by the internationally acclaimed French author Pierre Michon. Populated by distant and little-known figures — Irish and French monks, saints, and scientists in Winter Mythologies; Benedictine monks in the Vendée region of France in Abbots — the tales frequently draw on obscure histories and other literary sources.
Michon brings his characters to life in spare, evocative prose. Each, in his or her own way, exemplifies a power of belief that brings about an achievement — or catastrophe — in the real world: monasteries are built upon impossibly muddy wastes, monks acquire the power of speech, lives are taken, books are written, saints are created on the flimsiest of evidence. Michon’s exploration in ancient archives has led him to the discovery of such often deluded figures and their deeds, and his own exceptional powers bestow upon them a renewed life on the written page. This in turn is an example of the power of belief, which for Michon is what makes literature itself possible. Winter Mythologies and Abbots are meant to be read slowly, to be savored, to be mined for the secrets Michon has to tell.
“Pierre Michon’s not necessarily been ignored in the U.S. — The New Yorker ran a profile — but I’m a little perplexed as to why his books haven’t completely blown up over here. Translated beautifully from the French by Ann Jefferson, Winter Mythologies and Abbots compiles two pieces that, in spiraling, elliptical sentences that suggest W.G. Sebald at his most hypnotic, explore Michon’s common themes of history, faith, artifice, and art. The effect is like being guided through some dusty archives by a brilliant, whispering ghost—the most uniquely entrancing reading experience I can recall from any living author” ~Pasha Malla recommends Winter Mythologies and Abbots in Slate‘s overlooked books of 2014
Our Lady of the Nile
by Scholastique Mukasonga
translated from the French by Ann Jefferson
(France, Yale University Press)
For her most recent work and first novel — Notre-Dame du Nil, originally published in March 2012 with Gallimard in French — Mukasonga immerses us in a school for young girls, called “Notre-Dame du Nil.” The girls are sent to this high school perched on the ridge of the Nile in order to become the feminine elite of the country and to escape the dangers of the outside world. The book is a prelude to the Rwandan genocide and unfolds behind the closed doors of the school, in the interminable rainy season. Friendships, desires, hatred, political fights, incitation to racial violence, persecutions… The school soon becomes a fascinating existential microcosm of the true 1970s Rwanda.
“A quite powerful novel of Rwanda, Our Lady of the Nile gives a good sense of life and conditions there in the early 1970s — and the longstanding ethnic strife that took such a human toll, both before and after the period described here.” ~M.A. Orthofer at The Complete Review
“The West has indeed too often dismissed suffering in Africa, but books like Our Lady of the Nile remind us why we must not be dismissive, why we must not look away. ‘God roams the world, all day long, but every evening He returns home to Rwanda,’ Immaculée says to Virginia in the novel’s final pages. ‘Well, while God was traveling, Death took his place, and when He returned, She slammed the door in his face.’ With Our Lady of the Nile, Mukasonga pries the door open again, and asks us to look inside.” ~Madeleine LaRue in Music & Literature
Talking to Ourselves
by Andrés Neuman
translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia
A searing family drama from one of Latin America’s most original voices. One trip. Two love stories. Three voices.
Lilo is ten years old and is almost sure he can change the weather when he concentrates very hard. His father, Mario, anxious to create a memory that will last for his son’s lifetime, takes him on a road trip in a truck called Pedro. But Lito doesn’t know that this might be their last trip: Mario is gravely ill. Together, father and son embark on a journey takes them through strange geographies that seem to meld the different parts of the Spanish-speaking world. In the meantime, Lito’s mother, Elena, restlessly seeks support in books, and soon undertakes an adventure of her own that will challenge her moral limits. Each narrative-of father, son, and mother-embodies one of the different ways that we talk to ourselves: through speech, through thought, and through writing. While neither of them dares to tell the complete truth to the other two, their individual voices nonetheless form a poignant conversation.
Sooner or later, we all face loss. Andrés Neuman movingly narrates the ways the lives of those who survive loss are transformed; how that experience changes our ideas about time, memory, and our own bodies; and how the acts of reading, and of sex, can serve as powerful modes of resistance. Talking to Ourselves presents a tender yet unsentimental portrait of the workings of love and family; a reflection both on grief and on the consolation of words. Neuman, the author of the award-winning Traveler of the Century, displays his characteristic warmth, bittersweet humor, and wide-ranging intellect, giving us the rich, textured, and strikingly different voices and experiences of three singular characters while presenting, above all, a profound tribute to those who have ever had to care for a loved one.
“This is writing of a quality rarely encountered, which actually feels as though it touches on reality, translating something experienced into words, without loss of detail or clarity. That shouldn’t be rare but when you read Neuman’s beautiful novel, you realise a very high bar has been set.” ~Jane Housham in The Guardian
“All of these are interesting pieces of a greater puzzle that never quite materializes. I do not mean I wish Neuman came to some grand conclusion. Such a conclusion would have felt manufactured. But given the book’s structural issues, I’d say the whole thing feels manufactured.” ~Trevor Berrett at The Mookse and the Gripes
Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret
translated from the Portuguese by Stephen Henighan
By the beaches of Luanda, the Soviets are building a grand mausoleum in honour of the Comrade President. Granmas are whispering: houses, they say, will be dexploded, and everyone will have to leave. With the help of his friends Charlita and Pi (whom everyone calls 3.14), and with assistance from Dr. Rafael KnockKnock, the Comrade Gas Jockey, the amorous Gudafterov, crazy Sea Foam, and a ghost, our young hero must decide exactly how much trouble he’s willing to face to keep his Granma safe in Bishop’s Beach.
Energetic and colourful, impish and playful, Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret is a charming coming-of-age story from the next rising star in African literature.
“Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret can seem very much like children’s-fiction, even as English-language YA looks and feels very different, but adult readers shouldn’t be put off by that. It is, in fact, a very mature work, and a much more skillful piece of writing (and translating) than it seems at first sight. It’s also a just plain nice, innocent story — well aware of a darker world around it, but careful in what shadows it throws on these pages.” ~M.A. Orthofer at The Complete Review
“Ondjaki’s writing, full of humanity, vivacity, and character, is a whimsical breath of fresh air.” ~Benjamin Woodard in Numéro Cinq
Juan José Saer
translated from the Spanish by Steve Dolph
(Argentina, Open Letter Books)
Saer’s final novel, La Grande, is the grand culmination of his life’s work, bringing together themes and characters explored throughout his career, yet presenting them in a way that is beautifully unique, and a wonderful entry-point to his literary world.
Moving between past and present, La Grande centers around two related stories: that of Gutiérrez, his sudden departure from Argentina 30 years before, and his equally mysterious return; and that of “precisionism,” a literary movement founded by a rather dangerous fraud. Dozens of characters populate these storylines, including Nula, the wine salesman, ladies’ man, and part-time philosopher; Lucía, the woman he’s lusted after for years; and Tomatis, a journalist whom Saer fans have encountered many times before.
Written in Saer’s trademark style, this lyrically gorgeous book — which touches on politics, artistic beliefs, illicit love affairs, and everything else that makes up life — ends with one of the greatest lines in all of literature: “With the rain came the fall, and with the fall, the time of the wine.”
“This final novel by the renowned Argentine writer (1937-2005) is a daring, idiosyncratic work that examines the idea of an individual person navigating the whirl of random events that helps shape everyone’s lives. [. . . .] Dolph’s fine translation eases us through the dense paragraphs of this major addition to Saer’s oeuvre.” ~Kirkus Starred Review
“If Saer’s characters fail to fulfill the roles the world has cast them in—husband, wine seller, or great beauty—it’s because they’ve learned that attempts to control their destinies bear no fruit. When the rain ushers in wine season at the end of the book, it’s as if Saer, in the lucidity of his final moments, is warning us against losing ourselves in insignificant efforts to make the world bend to our will.” ~Eric M.B. Becker at Words Without Borders
by Marcos Giralt Torrente
translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa
Paris depicts a man’s journey through the labyrinth of his memories, a search for his origins that will uncover an old family secret and turn his world upside down. A mesmerizing and haunting story by award-winning author Marcos Giralt Torrente, a master craftsman calibrating nuance and impact with a true gift.
“Paris reminds us that the stories we tell about others are always stories about ourselves. The attempt to understand another, through narrative, is like walking through a house of mirrors alone, hoping to catch, in one of those mirrors — the next one, perhaps, or the next one, the next one? — the image of another. Paris is an excellent first novel.” ~Alex McElroy in The Quarterly Conversation
Snow and Shadow
by Dorothy Tse
translated from the Chinese by Nicky Harman
(Hong Kong, East Slope Publishing)
Dorothy Tse’s stories sometimes start in a vein of innocent realism, but she invariably brings us up short with an abrupt twist: dreamscapes descend and the pages become populated with ever weirder characters. Not only do strange things happen, they are juxtaposed in ways that confound all logical expectations. This collection of 13 short stories is not for the faint-hearted — violent and sensual elements abound and limbs, even heads, are lopped off with alarming regularity. Yet scenes are sometimes so outrageous that they make us laugh, and Dorothy’s bold thematic and narrative experiments yield results that are alternately beguiling and deeply disturbing.
“In the face of loss, pain, and helplessness, the characters in Snow and Shadow work with their memories in a kaleidoscopic fashion, constantly reshuffling events in their minds, often walking a fine line between reality and fantasy. ‘Like many people,’ explains a character suffering from amnesia, ‘I can only remember a part of reality.’ Reading Snow and Shadow is akin to being lost in a snowstorm: dizzying, terrifying, but nevertheless thrilling.” ~Camila Santos in Words Without Borders
The Last Lover
by Can Xue
translated from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen
(China, Yale University)
In Can Xue’s extraordinary book, we encounter a full assemblage of husbands, wives, and lovers. Entwined in complicated, often tortuous relationships, these characters step into each other’s fantasies, carrying on conversations that are “forever guessing games.” Their journeys reveal the deepest realms of human desire, figured in Can Xue’s vision of snakes and wasps, crows, cats, mice, earthquakes, and landslides. In dive bars and twisted city streets, on deserts and snowcapped mountains, the author creates an extreme world where every character “is driving death away with a singular performance.”
Who is the last lover? The novel is bursting with vividly drawn characters. Among them are Joe, sales manager of a clothing company in an unnamed Western country, and his wife, Maria, who conducts mystical experiments with the household’s cats and rosebushes. Joe’s customer Reagan is having an affair with Ida, a worker at his rubber plantation, while clothing-store owner Vincent runs away from his wife in pursuit of a woman in black who disappears over and over again. By the novel’s end, we have accompanied these characters on a long march, a naive, helpless, and forsaken search for love, because there are just some things that can’t be stopped — or helped.
“It is a challenging work, but readers committed to experimental and innovative fiction will be snared by this mental journey.” ~Publishers Weekly
“The super-real world of Murakami will spring to some readers’ mind, while Can Xue herself acknowledges her debt to Kafka (especially his own fantasia of the West, Amerika), Borges and Calvino. For local comparisons, I would add the waking dreamscapes of JG Ballard or Kazuo Ishiguro. Can Xue delves into “the dual nature of the world” as subjective and objective, self and other.” ~Boyd Tonkin in The Independent
So there they are, twenty-five books from around the globe, waiting for us to dive in. Please join in and let us know how you feel about the books.