For baseball fans and worldly readers alike, October is perhaps the holiest of all months, filled with eager anticipation, wild speculation, betting odds, bated breath, contrarian takes, and/or quizzical acceptance. While neither ticker tape nor a Gatorade bath await any literary MVPs this month (alas), the Swedish Academy does award one of the book world’s highest honors: the Nobel Prize in Literature (congrats to 2021 laureate Abdulrazak Gurnah!). So, whether hot stove means to you another long off-season of grumbling disappointment or simply the place where you heat up your favorite beverage, this month’s list of new literature in translation will keep you wiling away the moments until spring. October’s selection includes a gothic horror from the “Belgian Poe,” a Czech feminist utopia, a prize-winning Tunisian debut, a Korean psychological murder mystery, a work contending with Syrian violence, a midcentury Portuguese classic finally available in English, an existential tale of faith and identity from Norway, a picaresque French road tripper, a late Irish writer’s stories described by Hilary Mantel as “almost unbearably moving,” an absolutely astounding and claustrophobic Uruguayan novel, and much more.
Prolific Mexican author Homero Aridjis has written dozens of books, including novels, short stories, poetry, essays, plays, and works for children. His latest, Smyrna in Flames, is historical fiction centered around 1922’s Burning of Smyrna — and was inspired by his own father’s experiences as a Greek army captain and his time in Smyrna during the city’s utter devastation.
Late French writer, director, and screenwriter Sébastien Japrisot (whose A Trap for Cinderella was featured on last month’s list) was described by The New Yorker as an author who “writes with warmth and has a gift for rendering almost every character instantly likable.” In Rider on the Rain, Japrisot offers another noir thriller, this one originally a screenplay for a Golden Globe-winning 1970 film (Le passager de la pluie) starring Charles Bronson.
Called the “Belgian Poe” or “Flemish H. P. Lovecraft,” pseudonymous writer Jean Ray (Raymundus Joannes de Kremer, 1887-1964) was a prolific and genre-spanning author. Originally published in 1943, Malpertuis is his best-known work, a macabre, gothic horror novel which was also adapted for the silver screen in 1971, starring Orson Welles.
Pseudonymous Dutch writer A. L. Snijders (Peter Cornelis Müller) passed away in June at the age of 83 and was known as a master of the ZKV (“zeer korte verhalen” or “very short stories,” a term he coined himself). The stories collected for Night Train (translated by writer Lydia Davis) were culled from hundreds he had written. Davis says, “When a story ends with a riddle, or a doubt, as many of his do, the subject of the story becomes, in part, really, Snijders’s own questioning, or, more broadly, our own shared habitual uncertainty, perhaps even the shared uncertainty of our human existence.”
Spanish writer Elisa Victoria has authored two story collections, but her debut novel, Oldladyvoice, is the first of her works available in English. Selected as Book of the Week by Spanish daily El País, Oldladyvoice is the Seville-set story of a young girl and her sexual awakening as she transitions out of childhood. Writing for El País, Elvira Linda says, “From the first page, a seductive universe comes into view. It’s similar to love at first sight, and there’s no need for hesitation, just for the most innocent surrender.”
Award-winning Syrian author and journalist Samar Yazbek has had both fiction and nonfiction translated into English — despite a ban on much of her work in her home country (which she fled a decade ago). Planet of Clay is the moving tale of a young Damascene girl amid the bombings and ongoing violence nearby. French daily Libération says, “With the brazenness typical of her recent work, Samar Yazbek immerses us in the horror of the Syrian conflict, and the way it resonates in the flesh and minds of those who are living it.”
Empty Wardrobes is a mid-60s Portuguese classic, available in English for the first time. Maria Judite de Carvalho’s novel is the story of a widow and womanhood, set within a patriarchal society. Author Kate Zambreno, writes in Empty Wardrobes’s introduction, “A compact, merciless tragedy….I read this novel with something resembling a rapturous grief, as if I couldn’t believe this consciousness had finally been rendered in literature, the consciousness of so many women familiar yet unknowable, no longer muted, not saturated with sanctimony but alive, alive with rage transmuting disdain into hilarity by sheer force, alive with intense paroxysms of sadness.”
French writer Jean Giono had a book on our September list (Ennemonde). This month sees the late author (1895-1970) of The Man Who Planted Trees with a novel published in English for the first time. The Open Road, set in midcentury France, is a “picaresque, philosophical” road trip novel (and the basis for the Christian Marquand’s 1963 film, Les Grand Chemins / Of Flesh and Blood). In their starred review, Kirkus says, “Shifting between lived-in details and a sense of alienation, this novel is frequently hypnotic and always compelling.”
Czech writer Petra Hulová’s new novel, The Movement, is a work of speculative fiction in which the feminist movement has succeeded (and men must endure re-education). Helen Vassallo (Translating Women) says, “The Movement challenges and unsettles, offering a candid glimpse of the underbelly of feminist utopia, and raising important ethical questions about how far we might want or have to go in order to secure a truly equal world….This unapologetically provocative story is simultaneously a clarion call, a feminist manifesto, and a warning of the dangers lurking in both the old world and the new.”
Winner of South Korea’s prestigious Munhakdongne Novel Award, Un-Su Kim’s The Cabinet is a “funny and fantastical” novel about a bored office worker and the curious nature of his new assignment. Publishers Weekly’s starred review calls The Cabinet, “[A] brilliant mosaic novel….These stories straddle the lines between science fiction, fantasy, fairy tale, and acute reality.”
French novelist and documentarian Joy Sorman’s English-language debut, Life Sciences , is a coming-of-age novel about “the female condition, bodily autonomy, and the failings of modern medicine.” Publishers Weekly calls Sorman’s novel, “An arresting allegory….[Ninon's] determination to jump 'out of the line of cursed, mad, degenerate women' makes her an engaging character as well as a powerful cipher of resistance to the stories she's grown up with….Readers will feel empowered by this tale of taking control of one's body."
Uruguayan author Fernanda Trías’s The Rooftop is a disconcerting, disquieting, yet altogether dazzling novel. A claustrophobic tale of a father and daughter isolated in a neglected apartment, Trías’s fiction teems with symbolism and allegory. British daily Morning Star says, “A chilling tour-de-force by one of the most exciting and subversive voices writing today in Latin America.”
Awarded the prestigious International Prize for Arabic Fiction, Shukri Mabkhout’s moving debut novel, set in the Tunisian author’s own country in the late ’80s/early ’90s, The Italian is the story of political repression, extremism, and idealism. Palestinian poet and IPAF judge Mourid Barghouti said of the book, “The novel brilliantly depicts the unrest both of the small world of its characters and the larger one of the nation, as well as exploring themes of personal desire, the establishment, violation and opportunism.”
Norwegian author Hanne Ørstavik’s previous novel, Love, won the PEN Translation Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Award for Translated Literature. Her new novel, The Pastor, is an existential tale of faith and identity. Publishers Weekly, in their starred review, call Ørstavik’s book, “A haunting masterpiece….The deceptively simple novel is slow-burning, placing each character into situations associated with horror — entering an unfamiliar house, accepting a ride from a stranger — and the result is a magnificent tale.”
Winner of several prizes in his native France, author Franck Bouysse’s Born of No Woman, his first book to appear in English, is a harrowing tale of secrets and abuse — “a keen commentary on class and a chilling horror story.” Belgian newspaper La Libre says, “Rare are those who, like Franck Bouysse, manage to write the indescribable, to touch the unspeakable, with so much subtlety and intensity. In spite of the severity and darkness of certain pages, Born of No Woman is a deeply moving and luminous book.”
South Korean author Kwon Yeo-sun’s Lemonhas been billed as “Parasite meets The Good Son.” The cold case psychological murder mystery offers “a searing, timely exploration of privilege, jealousy, trauma, and how we live with the wrongs we have endured and inflicted in turn.” Cosmopolitan calls Lemon, “A haunting literary crime story….Razor-sharp observations of class, gender, and privilege in contemporary Korea….[a] page-turner.”
Late Irish author Máirtín Ó Cadhain was perhaps best known for his 1949 novel, The Dirty Dust. Published a half-century after his passing, The Quick and the Dead (translated from the Irish) collects some of Ó Cadhain’s best stories, set mostly within the Gaeltacht regions of western Ireland. Booker Prize-winning author Hilary Mantel says, “Every sentence is packed with explosive power, not a word wasted, and the whole is almost unbearably moving.”