While another summer inevitably lapses, your literary passport has no such expiration. This month’s selection of translated literature from around the world includes a Faroese-Danish debut, a stunning Colombian allegory, a novel about the Mauritian race riots, Turkish feminist fiction, Urdu short fiction by the writer Salman Rushdie called “the undisputed master of the modern Indian short story,” a new translation of a Mexican pandemic novel, a German dystopian debut, an exceptional Spanish novel inspired by the life of Roberto Bolaño, a Danish comic tale about Pliny the Elder, the long-awaited new work from a Portuguese master, the Chilean Booker short-lister included on President Obama’s summer reading list, a Cameroonian coming-of-age story, and so much more.
In Mariana Dimópulos’s new novel-in-vignettes, Imminence, the Argentinian author’s narrator reckons with motherhood and memory, contending with her post-partum present while also battling the past. Nobel laureate J. M. Coetzee says, “In her elegant short novel, Mariana Dimópulos explores the compromises a human being makes in taking on the identity and social role of a woman. With its caustic vignettes of male vanity and its subtle self-mockery, Imminence is playful on the surface, dark and disturbing in its depths.”
Set in the Faroe Islands, Faroese-Danish writer Siri Ranva Hjelm Jacobsen’s award-winning debut novel, Island, traces a family history across three generations. The Middlesteins author Jami Attenberg calls Island, “One of the most special books I’ve read in years. Absolutely gorgeous and intimate. It took me away.”
Author (and translator!) Fleur Jaeggy was born in Switzerland, but writes in Italian. Her books have won acclaim from a wide circle, including the late Susan Sontag, who described Jaeggy as “a wonderful, brilliant, savage writer.” Water Statues, an early work originally published in Italian in 1980 and constructed partially as a play, deals with loneliness and loss among the wealthy and their circle.
Pseudonymous French author (and screenwriter and director and Salinger translator) Sébastien Japrisot has had nearly all of his novels adapted into films — perhaps most notably 2004’s A Very Long Engagement (starring Audrey Tautou). Japrisot was well-known for his crime fiction and Trap for Cinderella (translated by Helen Weaver), first published over 50 years ago, is a psychological thriller about an amnesiac young woman who may be either victim or murderer.
His fourth (and perhaps best!) work rendered into English so far, Colombian author Evelio Rosero’s Stranger to the Moon is a brutal, allegorical novella of social stratification. In Rosero’s fantastical new fiction, two distinct classes exist: the clothed and the naked, the latter forced (often tortured) into service of the former. Written with a narrative nonchalance and no small amount of humor (despite its shocking subject matter), Stranger to the Moon is slim but substantial, rich in both imagery and effect.
The third novel in his Novi Sad trilogy (after The Book of Blam and The Use of Man), Serbian author Aleksandar Tišma’s Kapo is “the story of a Jew raised as a Catholic who becomes a guard in a German concentration camp.” Kirkus calls Kapo, “A brooding, curiously prescient saga….A probing, exceptional study of a man as both victim and tormentor, and more.”
From the French author of The Elegance of the Hedgehog comes a new novel set in Kyoto. Muriel Barbery’s A Single Rose is the story of a 40-something women travelling to Japan in the wake of her estranged father’s passing — and ultimately reckoning with acceptance and love lost. French lit mag ActuaLitté calls Barbery’s latest, “At once a journey through a secret landscape and a poetic transposition of the enigma of love.”
Laurent Binet’s 2010 debut, HHhH, was a publishing sensation: his historical novel won the prestigious Prix Goncourt and was also named a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His new novel, Civilizations, is an alternate history spanning centuries of our global past, which The Guardian calls “a world-historical version of the parlour game where you assemble a fantasy dinner party from the past.”
Late French writer Jean Giono (1895-1970) authored novels, plays, short stories, poems, scripts, essays — and has more than a dozen works available to English-language readers (The Man Who Planted Trees perhaps his most recognizable). Ennemonde, published a couple of years before his death, was one of Giono’s last works, billed as “a winding tale of people living in a hard yet beautiful land.” In an unpublished letter, Nobel laureate (and fellow Frenchman) Andre´ Gide said, “Giono’s writing possesses a vigor, a surprising texture, a contagious joy, a sureness of touch and design, an arresting originality, and that sort of unfeigned strangeness that always goes along with sincerity when it escapes from the ruts of convention.”
In Kaya Days, Mauritian author Carl de Souza reimagines his country’s 1999 race riots, which began following the arrest and subsequent death of singer Kaya (Joseph Réginald Topize). Nobel Prize winner J. M. G. Le Clézio calls Kaya Days “A searing, urgent, far-seeing dispatch that imprints the reality of Mauritius, at odds with its picture-postcard views, on the global consciousness. Carl de Souza is a formidable voice in Mauritian literature; his account is an indictment and a plea for understanding among its communities.”
Feminist writer and socialist activist Suat Dervis was the first female Turkish author to publish a novel in Europe (The Prisoner of Ankara). In the Shadow of the Yali, Dervis’s first novel to appear in English — originally published in the ’40s — is the story of a married woman torn between the love of two men. Author Ilana Masad says, “In the Shadow of the Yali is a rare gem — a romantic character study, a social novel, and a feminist critique on patriarchy and capitalism. Suat Dervis explores the depths of social conditioning, the emptiness of chasing wealth, and the freedoms — imagined or actual — provided by lust and desire.”
Author and playwright Laurent Gaudé has been the recipient of France’s highest literary honor, the Prix Goncourt. Salina: The Three Exiles is a story of “violence and suffering, vengeance and passion” about a mother thricely exiled and the son (one of three) who must tell the tale of her harrowing life. French literary radio host Bernard Lehut (RTL) calls Salina, “Beautiful, powerful, and moving. Between African tale and ancient tragedy, tinged with universal and very modern accents, Laurent Gaudé has written a brief novel that is insanely powerful.”
Called “the undisputed master of the modern Indian short story” by Salman Rushdie, Sadaat Hasan Manto died in 1955 at the age of 42 — and was honored in 2012 by the Pakistani government with a posthumous civil decoration. Considered one of the greatest Urdu writers of all-time, The Dog of Tithwal collects short stories from throughout his truncated career — which included the publication of over 20 short story collections in all. The New York Times said, “Saadat Hasan Manto has a good claim to be considered the greatest South Asian writer of the 20th century. In his work, written in Urdu, he incarnated the exuberance, the madness, the alcoholic delirium of his time, when the country he loved cleaved into two and set upon each other.”
Mexican novelist Mario Bellatin is one of the most enigmatic (and entertaining) writers at work today. His 1994 novel, Beauty Salon, was originally translated into English in 2009, but has since fallen out of print. In a brand-new translation by David Shook, Bellatin’s allegorical novel about a pandemic now has a different resonance (Beauty Salon is considered to be a commentary on AIDS throughout Latin America). The New York Times says, “Like much of Mr. Bellatin's work, Beauty Salon is pithy, allegorical and profoundly disturbing, with a plot that evokes The Plague by Camus or Blindness by José Saramago.”
A dystopian debut novel from German writer Helene Bukowski, Milk Teeth is a timely tale of climate change and motherhood. Matt Bell, author of Appleseed and In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, says, “Like Sophie Mackintosh in The Water Cure or Diane Cook in The New Wilderness, Helene Bukowski imagines a pocket landscape where the concerns of our world can be contained and considered, a defamiliarized place that skews increasingly uncanny without ever becoming unrecognizable. Written with precision and poise, Milk Teeth is a moving depiction of survival and perseverance, and of how we might choose new families and communities in the face of an increasingly hostile world.”
The late Jean-Patrick Manchette ranks among France’s best crime fiction and noir thriller writers. His debut novel, The n’Gustro Affair, is a “thinly veiled retelling” of the real-life 1965 disappearance and murder of Moroccan pol and opposition leader, Mehdi Ben Barka. Riffraff bookstore co-owner Tom Roberge, writing in the Los Angeles Review of Books, says, “Manchette’s characters are men and women who have been thoroughly beat down by capitalism and the false promises of democracy….The reader is always aware of larger forces working behind the main plot, molding the individual characters and their relationships to each other. The author does not condemn them any more or less than society does. He merely asks: How the hell did it all come to this?”
A must-read especially for fans of Roberto Bolaño, Javier Serena’s Last Words on Earth is a remarkable work inspired by the late Chilean master. Told from three different perspectives, the Spaniard’s novel is the story of fictional Peruvian poet and novelist Ricardo Funes. At times somber, at others exuberant, Last Words on Earth portrays the author as fallible human being, contending equally with success, illness, and literary legacy. Reinhardt’s Garden author (and bookseller!) Mark Haber says, “More than a novel about Roberto Bolaño, Last Words on Earth is a story about passion, sacrifice, and the uncompromising pursuit of literature. Not simply for fans of the writer, but anyone touched by the power of books and writing.”
Danish writer, poet, and translator Harald Voetmann’s English debut, Awake, is a comic tale of the life of first-century Roman naturalist and philosopher Pliny the Elder — and the first novel in a trilogy focusing on historical figures (Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe and German mystic Othlo of St. Emmeram to follow). Icelandic author Sjón says, “With a scholar’s knowledge and a poet’s playfulness, Harald Voetmann brings us into the mind and times of its protagonist, Pliny the Elder. Visceral and lyrical, entertaining and provoking, it evokes a dazzling world on the brink of destruction, resounding with our own conflicted age.”
The recipient of several awards in his home country, Warning to the Crocodiles is the newly translated novel from Portuguese author (and perennial Nobel contender) Antonio Lobo Antunes. Set following Portugal’s Carnation Revolution, Lobo Antunes tells of that tumultuous era through the memories of four women. Often compared to Faulkner, Céline, and Conrad, the late critic Harold Bloom called him “one of the living writers who will matter most” — praise which might actually be understated given just how exceptional Lobo Antunes’s novels truly are.
From the Norwegian author of the autobiographical fiction hexalogy My Struggle comes an epic new work. The Morning Star focuses on nine characters and melds the mundane and the metaphysical. Norwegian tabloid Dagbladet says, “Diabolically good….Karl Ove Knausgaard masterfully connects the magical, mysterious and supernatural in the novel to a critical idea that nature has a message; it ’speaks’ to us. To follow his leaps of thought is a diabolical feast.”
Shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize and included on President Obama’s summer reading list, Benjamín Labatut’s When We Cease to Understand the World is “a fictional examination of the lives of real-life scientists and thinkers whose discoveries resulted in moral consequences beyond their imagining.” His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman says, “When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut is the strangest and most original book I’ve read for years. It hovers in a state between fiction and non-fiction, or wave and particle, and makes an account of modern mathematics and science into something as eerie as a great ghost story.”
Cameroonian author Max Lobe’s English debut, A Long Way From Douala, is a coming-of-age road trip tale told in vignettes. Featuring two friends traversing the Central African country after the death of one of their fathers, A Long Way From Douala follows the young protagonists as they “grapple with grief, sexuality, and dreams of leaving.” Author Michela Wrong says, “Redolent with the sights, sounds, and smells of modern Cameroon, this is in fact a classic road trip, a Homeric quest in which our two young heroes may not discover what they were seeking but learn a great deal about themselves, each other, and the state of Africa. A jostling, poignant tale, it left me hungry for more.”