With the summer season in full swing (and the potent portent of late June’s record-setting PNW temperatures seared into memory), hopefully this month brings a repose figurative, literal, and literary. What could pair better with kulfi, Halo-Halo, affogato, cholados, paletas, cendol, or Snoopy sno-cones than 9 newly translated titles (and a bonus biography)? Whether an outstanding Colombian story collection, a Senegalese debut of fundamentalism and revolt, new fiction from a Romanian exile, the conclusion to a powerful Norwegian trilogy, a Brazilian work which led Junot Díaz to ask, “How can a novel so wrenching be so sublime?”, or any of the other books on this month’s list, each pick is guaranteed to slake your world book thirst.
Debut story collections don't come any finer than María Ospina's Variations on the Body. The Colombian author’s outstanding first work features six pieces of short fiction, each with a perfectly imperfect protagonist managing her way through a world of violence, neglect, and disregard. Mexican author Carmen Boullosa says, “María Ospina has created an artifact that’s both luminous and dark, tender and cruel, whose inhabitants move in a shared space sculpted by violence — the narcoguerrilla and its tentacles. Within these pages, there shines a fine and beautiful diamond of sharp, fearsome faces.”
Brazilian writer Luiz Ruffato’s works have been published in over a dozen countries. His newest novel, Late Summer, is a doleful tale of loneliness, time, and memory, the story of a man whose impending and unavoidable fate forces a reckoning with his past. Junot Díaz says, “How can a novel so wrenching be so sublime? Late Summer has the courage of an entire world, once promising, now ruined. Ruffato could pull light from an abyss, and that is precisely what you hold in your hands. Light from an abyss, for an abyss.”
Mohamed Mbougar Sarr’s first novel, Brotherhood, has won several awards, including the French Voices Grand Prize. Set in a fictional town, the Senegalese author’s debut is a story of religious fundamentalism and anti-totalitarian revolt. In their starred review, Publishers Weekly noted, “Haunting philosophical questions demonstrate Sarr’s powers, and his story succeeds in speaking to both the reader’s head and heart. This introduces a vital new voice to American readers.”
The third of her 14 books rendered into English (after The Governess and The Fool), Anne Serre’s The Beginners is a novel about the vagaries of love. Forty-something Anna, 20 years into a happy relationship, falls in love with another man… and must contend with her own conflicting feelings and desires. Serre’s writing has been called “Genuinely original….seriously excellent” by The New York Times and The Beginners ought to help build an ever-growing stateside renown for the French author.
Several of acclaimed Spanish writer Antonio Muñoz Molina’s novels have appeared in English and his previous one, Like a Fading Shadow, was a finalist for the 2018 Man Booker International. His new novel, To Walk Alone in the Crowd, blends fact and fiction into a fragmentary, collage-like tale of an unnamed narrator wandering the length of Manhattan musing on authors, the urban din, and our modern milieu — called “bewildering and poetic” (Booklist) and “a treasure trove” (Publishers Weekly).
Argentine author Claudia Piñeiro is perhaps best known for her crime fiction, but her new novel, Elena Knows, is a visceral masterclass in grief, loss, and suffering. A bold, unforgettable work about the eponymous character — battling Parkinson’s and seeking answers about the death of her daughter — Elena Knows is full of agony and torment. The novel takes place over the course of a single day, but Piñeiro’s anguished tale will linger in the mind much, much longer than that.
Norwegian novelist, playwright, and musician Carl Frode Tiller’s Encircling trilogy has garnered considerable commendation. Aftermath (Encircling #3) finds the tale of an amnesiac writer reaching its powerful conclusion. At once a character study and psychological portrait, Tiller’s work also confronts the social stratification of Norwegian society. Novelist Peter Geye says, “The Encircling Trilogy is by turns hilarious, deadly serious, playful, and a profound chronicle of wealth and class. It is, without question, one of the most profound and enjoyable reading experiences of my life.”
Argentine author Pedro Mairal appeared on the 2007 Bogotá39 list. The Woman From Uruguay is the funny, thoughtful, touching story of a 40-something struggling writer enduring a midlife crisis, as well as a meditation on modern relationships. Author and translator Idra Novey notes, “Mairal shines a fresh light into the cave of being middle-aged. Hidden inside a mountain of adult responsibilities, Mairal's narrator revolts in known ways, with infidelity and travel, and yet Mairal's acute insights and the lyrical precision of Jennifer Croft's translation, cast a new glow on the unexpected pleasures to be found in the middle of life. An absolute delight of a novel.”
Romanian exile, author, and translator Dumitru Tsepeneag has had several of his books appear in English (with more on the way late next year). His most recent, A Novel to Read on the Train, is the first he’s written in French (he’s lived in France since being stripped of his citizenship in 1975) — and is a story about “a film crew under the direction of a mad, quixotic director.”
Though not a work in translation, Richard Zenith’s mammoth and much-anticipated biography of the magnificent, enigmatic Portuguese modernist poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) deserves special recognition as a July release. The heteronymous writer, best known for his incomparable The Book of Disquiet, finally gets a definitive posthumous profile with an 1,100-page tome from the award-winning translator and literary critic. In their starred review of Pessoa: A Biography, Publishers Weekly says, “[I]n this gloriously labyrinthine biography….Zenith elegantly conveys Pessoa’s eccentricity…while making him an exemplar of the fragmented consciousness of a modernity….Zenith’s dynamic prose, deep erudition, and incisive readings of Pessoa’s poetry make for a meticulous portrait of one artist’s brilliant and bewildering inner world.” Zenith joins us for a special virtual event on August 4.