Seaside or poolside, hiking or biking, on the road or off from work, June brings not only the start of summer (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere), but, ideally, more leisure time to indulge the season’s easy livin’ — which, of course, is always better with a book. Among this month’s bounty of literature in translation, we have a brilliant, diaristic Mexican novel, a Bosnian generational epic, Flemish historical fiction, early 20th-century Hindi short stories, Patti Smith-approved Argentine lit, Tolstoy-inspired tales from Brazil, a Norwegian existential novel, Cuban detective fiction, an utterly sublime work from post-Arab Spring Egypt, and more.
Prolific Argentine writer César Aira is one of the most enigmatic and entertaining authors at work today. His new novel, The Divorce, is his 18th (!) rendered into English and is as delightfully idiosyncratic as any of his previous outings. Aira’s slim but mighty books are a whole world unto themselves and The Divorce might well be one of the best yet. Speaking of singular figures, the inimitable Patti Smith penned the foreword to this little gem.
The first of his books to appear in English translation, Emilio Fraia’s Sevastopol collects three stories that each convey a tale of loss, memory, and resignation. The Brazilian author, featured in Granta’s original “Best of Young Brazilian Novelists” issue (2012), was inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s Sevastopol Sketches in crafting these wonderfully told personal portraits of defeat and thwarted hope.
Egyptian writer Sonallah Ibrahim, now in his mid-80s, has had a long, storied career (which included a five-year stint as a political prisoner), with several of his books available in English. Warda, billed as Ibrahim’s masterpiece, is an epic story spanning decades and borders. Politics, revolution, memory, and intrigue loom large in a novel about one of history’s most tumultuous geopolitical eras.
Slovak anesthesiologist-turned-playwright/director/actor/novelist Viliam Klimácek gave up his medical practice to focus on theater and his writing (winning several awards in the process). His historical novel, The Hot Summer of 1968, unfurls following the turbulent events of the spring and summer of 1968, which culminated in the Soviet invasion of Prague. Klimácek focuses on those who chose to flee and emigrate — and the lives of the Czech diaspora in the years afterwards. A timeless tale of starting over a new country, Klimácek’s historical fiction was also adapted for the stage.
Perhaps the most interesting Norwegian writer at work today, Dag Solstad has been acclaimed by the likes of Lydia Davis, Per Petterson, Haruki Murakami, Nobel laureate Peter Handke, among many others. The fifth of his works translated into English, Novel 11, Book 18 — indeed his 11th novel and 18th book overall — is the existential tale of a man ruminating on decisions he made nearly two decades prior. Winner of the Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature, Solstad’s newest isn’t to be missed.
Mohamed Kheir’s Slipping, his first book to appear in English, is simply breathtaking. The Egyptian author’s novel is set in the aftermath of the Arab Spring and features staggeringly beautiful and bewitching imagery. Sadness and sublimity entangle in a work American War author Omar El Akkad calls "a brilliant, lucid dream of a book....There are shards of magic to be found on every page of this novel."
Flemish author (and playwright) Jeroen Olyslaegers’s first novel rendered into English, Will, is set in Nazi-occupied Antwerp — and was inspired by his own grandfather’s collaboration during World War II. The Times (UK) named Will their Historical Fiction Book of the Year, calling it “A brilliant, uncomfortable exploration of the moral compromises necessary to live alongside evil.”
Bosnian-Croatian author Miljenko Jergovic is among the most significant Balkan writers of his generation. His previous books, including the story collection Marlboro Sarajevo, have won a number of awards. A generational family epic, Jergovic’s newest novel, Kin, spans the breadth of 20th-century Yugoslavia. In a starred review, Kirkus calls Kin, “A masterwork of modern European letters that should earn the author a wide readership outside his homeland.”
Twice shortlisted (and longlisted another time) for the International Booker Prize, Yan Lianke has been called “China’s most controversial novelist” by the New Yorker — and his novels are currently banned in his home country. Yan is also considered to be an annual contender for the Nobel Prize. His new novel, Hard Like Water, is a funny, emotional tale of two lovers set against the background of the Cultural Revolution.
Mexican writer Brenda Lozano was included on the 2017 Hay Festival’s Bogotá39 list of the best Latin American fiction writers under the age of 40. Her first work available in English amply demonstrates that the honor couldn’t have been more well deserved. Loop is a notebook/journal-style novel written from the perspective of a nameless narrator as she muses discursively on nearly everything while waiting for her boyfriend to return from an overseas trip. Loop is tremendous fun and an immensely rewarding read.
The debut novel from Catalan writer Marta Orriols, Learning to Talk to Plants is a book about grief and living after loss. Billed as “devastating and darkly funny,” Orriols’s first work of fiction (she also has a story collection) to appear in English was awarded the 2018 Òmnium Cultural Prize for the best Catalan novel.
Cuban journalist and novelist Leonardo Padura’s detective fiction has been acclaimed the world over (the crime series Four Seasons in Havana, now streaming on Netflix, was adapted from his Mario Conde novels). In his new novel, The Transparency of Time, Detective Conde takes on the case of a stolen black Madonna statue in a literary thriller that dazzles with a combination of history and intrigue.
A follow-up to her bestselling novel, And the Birds Rained Down, Canadian author Jocelyne Saucier’s new work, And Miles to Go Before I Sleep, is the tale of a woman’s disappearance while on a trip through Quebec. With themes of aging, dignified death, and more, Saucier has been recommended for fans of Nobel laureate Alice Munro.
Pseudonymous German author Anna Seghers (1900-1983) had a literary career spanning a half-century and is perhaps best known for her novels, The Seventh Cross (1939) and Transit (1944). The Dead Girls’ Class Trip collects stories from over 40 years, many of which are available in English for the very first time. Hurricane Season author Fernanda Melchor says, “Anna Seghers was an admirable woman in many ways, but above all she was a remarkable humanist: she became a model of cultural resistance and ideological struggle who cut across borders, and who, still today, thanks to her work, transcends time and lives on in our memory.”
French author Tanguy Viel’s The Disappearance of Jim Sullivan is a metafictional tale (incorporating elements from several genres) about the disappearance of a man who was investigating… the disappearance of a man. The French Review says, "Tanguy Viel's parody/pastiche of the American novel is subtle and experimental; it tells a story at the same time as it implicitly poses questions about the narrative structure it is deploying."
The winner of several awards in her native Italy, The Year of Our Love is the first of Caterina Bonvicini’s works to appear in English. A fated love story about class and society, The Year of Our Love spans nearly 40 years of Italian history. Jhumpa Lahiri, author of Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake, calls Boncivini’s book “sweeping, surprising, and bristling with specificity, this novel combines the best ingredients of a love story with unflinching snapshots of a contemporary Italy roiled by violence, corruption, and social upheaval. The clarity, honesty, and veracity of Bonvicini’s writing will conquer you from page one.”
A novel with a bookseller protagonist, written by a former bookseller, and named the German Booksellers' Favorite Book of the Year?! That’s pretty much the bookselling Triple Crown and it’s no wonder Mariana Leky’s What You Can See From Here is an international bestseller available in nearly two dozen languages. Leky’s first book to appear in English is a moving tale of life, love, and loss in a small German town.
Hindi writer Bhuwaneshwar (1910-1957) led a troubled life, which, despite some early success, ultimately ended in poverty, alcoholism, mental illness, and homelessness. His literary output included one-act plays, poems, and short fiction. Wolves and Other Stories collects a dozen stories, each in English for the first time. Saudamini Deo, the book’s translator, describes him thus, “Bhuwaneshwar may well have written his own life, reminding us that existence, no matter what, will evaporate into the nothingness of an untraceable dream. The wolves of our certain fate are approaching, he said, and we are afraid to look at them. In the end, the wolves will eat us.”
Author, musician, film director, and politician Zülfü Livaneli has been described by Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk “an essential force in Turkey’s musical, cultural, and political scene.” His latest novel to appear in English, Disquiet is a melancholic story of religious violence set in the Middle East. All the Shah’s Men author Stephen Kinzer calls Disquiet “timeless and urgently contemporary....as rich in character and imagery as it is potent in moral clarity.”