August is Women in Translation Month! Started in 2014 by book blogger Meytal Radzinski, #WITMonth aims not only to celebrate and promote women writers translated into English, but also to highlight the disparities in who gets published (and who gets read). In addition to all of the translated women writers you should read this month (and every month!), our August lineup of new fiction from around the world also offers a banned Chinese allegory, a metafictional masterwork from the “Kafka of Uruguay,” a Guadelupian “love letter to the Caribbean,” Belarusian historical fiction, Peruvian, Danish, and Spanish short stories, a forgotten Italian classic, four entirely dissimilar novels out of France, and more.
No doubt the only book on the list with a “tower of excrement” as part of its plot, Sheng Keyi’s Death Fugue is an ironic, satirical tale set within a dystopian, authoritarian country. Banned in her native China due to the obviously allegorical references to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, Sheng’s absurdist novel reckons with state control, government surveillance, protest, and art’s role in effecting change. Sheng’s debut, Northern Girls, was longlisted for the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize and she’s won several awards, including the Chinese People's Literature Prize. The New York Times calls Death Fugue, “a stomach-churning, exuberantly written allegory…which recalls Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.”
Called “the Kafka of Uruguay,” Mario Levrero (1940-2004) was a beloved and inspirational writer for so many Latin American authors, including Cesar Aira, Alejandro Zambra, Antonio Muñoz Molina, Enrique Fogwill, and Álvaro Enrigue (“We are all his children”). A posthumously published masterpiece, The Luminous Novel is the epic, metafictional tale of a writer who can’t write his new novel — despite being awarded a Guggenheim fellowship to do just that (which Levrero himself received to finish a book of the same name). With a 450-page prologue about why writing the book simply isn’t possible, Levrero’s protagonist narrator is pitch-perfect and The Luminous Novel a peerless paean to procrastination.
Spanish author (and physicist!) Agustín Fernández Mallo’s Nocilla Trilogy was a singular avant-garde epic of 21st-century distraction, disruption, and dislocation. His new novel, The Things We’ve Seen, is another work of triptych fiction, this one billed as “a dazzling and anarchic exploration of social relations which offers thought-provoking ideas on our perceptions of humanity, history, violence, art and science.” Winston Manrique (W Magazín) calls it “A novel of ideas that melds literary forms in order to discuss time, silence, and the itinerant, migrant character of all humankind, not to mention love. A map of the contemporary world.” No doubt this is one of the month’s most intriguing works in translation.
Songs for the Flames collects nine new stories from Juan Gabriel Vásquez, the award-winning Colombian author of The Sound of Things Falling. Vásquez’s fiction frequently comingles history, memory, violence, reimagined autobiography, and literary sleuthing — balancing sorrow, longing, and a reckoning with the past. Always edifying and always engrossing, Vásquez writes beautifully and his new story collection is as rewarding as each of his previous books.
Some 20 of Guadelupian author Maryse Condé’s books have appeared in English over the years, spanning almost a half-century of her esteemed writing career. Her works have received acclaim from the likes of Edwidge Danticat, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Angela Y. Davis, Louise Meriwether, Junot Díaz, and Russell Banks (the latter of whom says, "Maryse Condé is a treasure of world literature, writing from the center of the African diaspora with brilliance and a profound understanding of all humanity."). Waiting for the Waters to Rise is the moving, richly drawn story of an African doctor and the orphaned Haitian child who becomes his charge, which The Guardian calls “a love letter to the Caribbean.”
Editor's note: This title is currently on backorder. Check back soon, or put it on your Powell's Wishlist!
Nearly a half-century old now — but appearing in English for the first time — Gianfranco Calligarich’s Last Summer in the City is the story of 30-year-old Leo, adrift without ambition, but relying on the generosity of others while soaking in the excesses of Roman abundance. Originally discovered by Natalia Ginzburg as an unpublished manuscript, Calligarich’s work went on to become a cult classic in Italy, with Ginzburg saying, “The true quality of this novel is the way it enlightens, with a desperate clearness, a relationship between a man and a city, that is, between crowd and loneliness.”
French author Éric Faye has written over 20 books, including fiction, travel writing, and essays (though few are available in English). Inspired by the real-life story of English composer and spiritualist Rosemary Brown (who claimed to have music dictated to her by famous — and long dead — composers), his new novel, The Ghost of Frédéric Chopin, is a mystery set in 1990s Prague about a woman allegedly communicating with the ghost of the infamous Polish composer, who passed on nearly 150 years ago.
Winner of France’s Prix du Premier Roman (First Novel Prize), Ketty Rouf’s debut, No Touching, is the story of a high school philosophy teacher who begins moonlighting, secretly, as a strip club dancer. Radio network France Info calls Ketty’s book, “a debut novel that skillfully dissects the relationship between the body and freedom” and lit mag ActuaLitté describes it as “stunning and surprising, No Touching invites readers to question their own choices and prejudices.”
One of France’s bestselling authors, thriller writer Michel Bussi has had several of his works published in English. His newest novel, The Double Mother , is the taut tale of a four-year-old who claims his mom isn’t actually his real parent, ushering in an investigation by a doctor, his school, and ultimately the police. Elle says “Bussi multiplies the red herrings, tangles the plot strings, plays with illusions and subterfuge. He is the master of the trompe-l’œil novel.”
Surrealist poet and writer Robert Desnos (1900-1945) was active in the French Resistance, arrested by the Gestapo in 1944, and died of typhus a few days after the concentration camp where he was held was finally liberated. Released in its original French in 1943, Desnos’s The Die Is Cast is a snapshot of midcentury Parisian drug addiction (opium, heroin, cocaine) — preceding William S. Burrough’s semi-autobiographical Junky by a full decade.
Peruvian author Claudia Ulloa Donoso was included in the second installment of the Bogotá39 list of the best Latin American writers under the age of 40 (in 2017, along with other talented fictionists including Valeria Luiselli, Samanta Schweblin, and Daniel Saldaña París). Little Bird, her first book to appear in English, is a collection of 30 stories described thus: “Characters real and unreal, seductive, shape-changing, and baffling come together in smooth prose that, ultimately, defies fact and fiction.”
Brazilian author Julián Fuks was included on Granta’s Best of Young Brazilian Novelists list (2012) and his previous book, Resistance, was recognized with a host of awards, including the José Saramago Literary Prize. His new novel, Occupation, is the autofictional story of a writer contemplating and contending with his father’s illness, his wife’s pregnancy, and the Syrian refugees squatting in a nearby former hotel. Publishers Weekly describes Occupation as “a thoughtful, intimate exploration of how people literally and figuratively occupy their own stories and those of others.”
Danish novelist and essayist Mathilde Walter Clark’s latest work, Lone Star, takes the reader from Europe to Texas in a moving tale of family relations, emotional and physical distance, travel, and landscape. Lone Star was noted as one of the Best Books of 2018 by the Danish State Art Foundation: “Mathilde Walter Clark has written an all-embracing, touching and powerful tale of a child's love and the bond of the family.”
Jonas Eika’s second book (and first to appear in English), After the Sun, collects five pieces of short fiction described by Annie Proulx as “an experimental mix of shock-lit, sci-fi, dada and Joycean glints.” The young Danish writer has won several awards and his acceptance speech for the 2019 Nordic Council Literature Prize (for After the Sun) should be required viewing. Lidia Yuknavitch says, “Jonas Eika blew the doors and windows of my imagination open, and now there is a galaxy in my head and a supernova in my heart. After the Sun vibrates with the aftershock of capitalism and reality flux. Its characters confront the world we’ve made as if they are facing off with ex-lovers who won’t leave, caught at the instant before they will either flame on or flame out. Thrilling.”
Belarusian author Sasha Filipenko’s Red Crosses is a work of historical fiction spanning 20th-century Russia. Nonagenarian Tatiana, suffering Alzheimer’s-related memory loss, recounts often brutal stories of her past to her young neighbor, whose own life is in turmoil. Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich (Voices From Chernobyl and Secondhand Time) says, “If you want to get inside the head of modern, young Russia, read Filipenko.”