by Powell's Staff, January 31, 2023 9:07 AM
It may be a new year, this may be a list of new books, but our love for literature in translation hasn’t changed at all, and we are so pleased to be enthusiastically recommending these recent releases.
On this list, you’ll find a Spanish novel where controversy swirls around a Coca-Cola billboard; a Brazilian debut that’s “an intimate portrait of a man's love, shame, and grief”; an examination of “deep history and the navigation of its seeming contradictions” from a French writer, playwright, and literary critic; an experimental biography that's "between a séance and a love letter" from a French-Lebanese poet; a time-looping, quirky, fun novel from a Japanese author; a contemporary novel that reads like an ancient epic from the first Kurdish-language author to be translated into English; “a beautiful and consuming coming-of-age story” from France; a Spanish satire about gender inequity, misogyny, and sexual violence; a witty epic from an award-winning Spanish author; and a Korean story collection that dissects power structures and trauma.
The Words That Remain
by Stênio Gardel (tr. Bruna Dantas Lobato)
Translated from the Portuguese
In this debut novel, author Gardel employs a stream of consciousness style to highlight the emotional turmoil of his characters. Alternating between present and past, the story centers around Raimundo, who as a youth in rural Brazil, falls in love with another boy, Cícero. Their short years of happiness come to an end when their fathers discover their relationship, and Raimundo's only physical reminder of his love for Cícero, besides the marks on his back from his father's belt, is a letter Cícero leaves for him. The contents of the letter, however, remain a mystery for Raimundo for decades since he never had the chance to learn to read and write. Only in his old age does he attend classes to become literate, finally able to read Cícero's last words to him.
With bare, poetic prose and visceral emotion, Gardel's debut is an intimate portrait of a man's love, shame, and grief as he grapples with his desire for men in a society that demands he either change, hide, or die. — Alyssa C.
by Hélène Cixous (tr. Beverley Bie Brahic)
Translated from the French
What a beautiful, thoughtful book this is. The question it asks — and it's a doozy — is how do we live and function thoughtfully in landscapes layered with injustice, pogroms, and genocide, but also beauty, love, and goodness, all mixed up together inextricably? Cixous, a French writer, playwright, and literary critic, writes, here, from her own perspective as someone whose family was almost completely wiped out in the Holocaust. Well-Kept Ruins deals with her complicated thoughts and feelings about the town in Germany where her family had been from, Osnabruck, and which her mother and then she, later, were invited back to in order to witness the Holocaust memorials and the townspeople's contrition for past acts. How can one process such things in a place that looks lovely and harmonious, but that has a history of vicious violence? In lovely, evocatively fragmentary prose, Cixous discusses the strange tidiness of memorials to past injustices in Osnabruck, not only in the 1930s, but also in the 1600s when its citizens tortured and drowned hundreds of witches. Deep history and the navigation of its seeming contradictions have been on the minds of many in recent years, and Well-Kept Ruins is a fascinating addition to the literature. — Jennifer K.
Marina Tsvetaeva: To Die in Yelabuga
by Vénus Khoury-Ghata, (tr. Teresa Lavender Fagan)
Translated from the French
The problem of what is irretrievably lost feeds the sensitive, and sensitizing, heart of Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s Marina Tsvetaeva: To Die in Yelabuga, an experimental biography of the titular twentieth-century Russian poet, translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan. For Khoury-Ghata, this problem of loss – endemic to biographical writing as much as translation – is in fact not a problem, but rather a point of creative departure into an elegiac and non-linear mode of storytelling that addresses Tsvetaeva directly. The result is a moving and much needed tribute to Tsvetaeva, an often overlooked yet supremely influential poet – friend of Rilke, Pasternak, and Mandelstam; lover of men and women; political iconoclast – who died by suicide in obscurity and exile. Something between a séance and a love letter, this is a book that reads like a memory map of harbingers and symbols (“the winding road, the potato field, the cypress”) that, in its radical intimacy with paradox and loss, enlarged my idea of what biographical writing can be. — Alexa W.
How to Turn into a Bird
by María José Ferrada (tr. Elizabeth Bryer)
Translated from the Spanish
This sharp, sweet, compelling novel is told from the perspective eleven-year-old Miguel, as he watches his uncle decide that the Coca-Cola billboard he’s been tasked with maintaining will also be his home. Of course, their small community fixates on this strange decision. Of course, the decision has ripple effects within Miguel’s family. And of course, it’s a delightful and propulsive read, imbued with a fresh, finely wrought, youthful voice and a world seen through Miguel’s innocent, curious eyes. — Kelsey F.
The Last Pomegranate Tree
by Ali Bachtyar (tr. Kareem Abdulrahman)
Translated from the Kurdish
Told in haunting prose, we follow our protagonist, a Kurdish former fighter, as he exchanges one kind of prison for another and searches for a son he has not seen in decades. It is extremely contemporary yet reads in scope like an ancient epic. Here we have houses that feel like whole worlds and men with literal hearts of glass, but these things have much to say about modern conflict. Bachtyar Ali is the first Kurdish-language author to be translated into English, and I hope there will be many more after him. — Alice H.
by Luis Goytisolo (tr. Brendan Riley)
Translated from the Spanish
Goytisolo's witty epic, Antagony, has been compared to Proust's In Search of Lost Time and Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time in the way it processes and reprocesses memories of time and place, pondering memory itself. Its focus on the city of Barcelona during the Franco years invites comparisons to Carlos Ruiz Zafon's Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, but Goytisolo's series (all four parts of which are collected here in English for the first time) preceded Ruiz Zafon's by more than two decades and is a more experimental work that was banned by censors in then-fascist Spain when the first volume came out in 1973. Published in Mexico, it was smuggled into Spain and became an instant classic. Goytisolo has since become an award-winning author and is a member of Real Academia Espanola for his contributions to Spanish literature. Antagony follows the protagonist, Raul Ferrer Gaminde, from boyhood to old age as he navigates his family's alignment with Church and State during the Spanish Civil War and the resulting fascist dictatorship and then becomes a communist agitator in his college years before the authorities catch up with him. The next portion of the narrative is told by cousins and friends of Raul's, giving us fascinating perspectives on what we've already read of Raul's version; there are even novellas included within written by these secondary characters that are distortions of the 'truths' they're recounting to us. Finally, Raul sums it all up and comments on the foregoing as an elderly man, though we have reason to doubt his word to the letter since the book's philosophy is that all narrators are inherently unreliable. The best guide to the game that's being played with perspective, here, is the painting Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez in that it's a tale enveloping other tales with mirrors reflecting events and accounts back and forth in time and space. Throughout, the reader is treated to glorious, poetic passages that describe the deep history, culture, and topography of Barcelona and rural Catalonia, but also the fabulously colorful relatives and friends who populate Raul's universe. It's a fantastic trip of a book that crackles with humor and pathos, and I've immediately put it on my re-read list. — Jennifer K.
The Tatami Galaxy
by Tomihiko Morimi (tr. Emily Baliestieri)
Translated from the Japanese
This book is trippy, quirky fun. Told in four sections, the story focuses on a third-year university student who is disappointed in how his decisions have resulted in a drab, uninteresting life. After a chance encounter with a god, he’s given an opportunity to relive his life, making different decisions that might, hopefully, result in a more interesting and worth-living life. However, in order to change in any meaningful way, he’d have to admit past faults, and he’s a guy, so of course this is something he struggles with. Morimi has so much fun undermining the reader’s expectations. — Kelsey F.
Daughters Beyond Command
by Véronique Olmi (tr. Alison Anderson)
Translated from the French
Three sisters struggle to find their place in the ever-shifting landscape of France in the 1970s. A beautiful and consuming coming-of-age story. The sisters all pursue their different passions — artistic endeavors, animal rights, music — and try to build a life on their own terms, while the politics of the world begin to encroach more and more on their decisions. Daughters Beyond Command is a beautiful saga about a family that finds itself at a crossroads, both personally and politically. The book may be set in the 1970s France, but it often felt super close to home. — Kelsey F.
by Iván Repila (tr. Mara Faye Lethem)
Translated from the Spanish
The name says it all: the titular “ally” is a man, determined to start a feminist revolution. Along the way, he meets his girlfriend at a literary lecture by a female author (whom he’s never read), he starts a “phallic club” meant to provoke feminists, and he tries to understand his own internalized bias. Of course, everything gets out of hand. Hilarious and scathing, The Ally, here in a great translation from Mara Faye Lethem, is a ton of fun. — Moses M.
In the Land of the Cyclops
by Karl Ove Knausgaard (tr. Martin Aitken, Ingvild Burkey, Damion Searls)
Translated from the Norwegian
A new Knausgaard! Or, new-ish: this collection of essays was originally published in hardcover by Archipelago Books (Archipelago publishes all of his hardcovers before FSG publishes them in paperback) back in January 2021. The essays cover a range of topics, from Ingmar Bergman to Sally Mann, from cancel culture to the Northern lights. As sharp and perceptive as we've come to expect from Knausgaard. — Moses M.
by Bora Chung (tr. Anton Hur)
Translated from the Korean
Cursed Bunny is a story collection filled with stories that play with genre (including but not limited to body horror, sci-fi, and fable). The stories look at power structures, trauma, and the general horror of existing in this world (to name only a few of its many topics). It is a surprising, fulfilling, and thrilling collection, beautifully translated by Anton Hur. — Kelsey F.
For more literature in translation, check out our recommendations for books released in November