From the Syrian Civil War to linked novellas by a 19th-century Austrian writer to the short stories of an early to mid-20th-century Hungarian nobleman, from a “feminist inversion of a domestic drama crossed with Oulipian nursery rhyme” to the conclusions of two wildly different trilogies (one French, one German), from Chile to Korea, Japan to Spain, the month of May offers a trove of newly translated fiction from abroad.
A finalist for the prestigious Herralde Prize in 2018, The Touch System is Chilean author Alejandra Costamagna’s English debut. Weaving disparate formats into a novelistic whole, The Touch System is a stylistic story of family, memory, and identity. Costamagna’s writing has enjoyed praise from the likes of Roberto Bolaño, Alejandro Zambra, Mariana Enríquez, and Daniel Alarcón — and heralds another powerful voice from the Southern Cone.
What do Maggie Nelson, Rachel Cusk, Lydia Davis, Zadie Smith, Elena Ferrante, and Belle Boggs have in common? They’re all fans of Italian author Natalia Ginzburg, of course (we would have also accepted, “they’re each very talented writers”). First published in 1961, translated in 1963, and finally back in print, Voices in the Evening is a novel about life in a small Ital`ian town in the aftermath of World War II. Colm Tóibín, who penned the book’s introduction, says Voices in the Evening is “filled with shimmering, risky, darting observation.”
French playwright and novelist (and actor) Yasmina Reza has won a number of awards for her writing, including two Tony Awards (both for Best Play). Her new novel, Anne-Marie the Beauty, is a short, funny, thoughtful take on memory, aging, and fame.
The third and final book of his The Art of Hearing Heartbeats trilogy, The Heart Remembers finds German author Jan-Philipp Sendker leading his readers back to both Burma and New York. As with the first two books (The Art of Hearing Heartbeats and A Well-Tempered Heart), Sendker once again uses beautiful storytelling to plumb the depths of the human heart and conclude his beloved series.
19th-century Austrian writer Adalbert Stifter was praised by Franz Kafka and Hannah Arendt, and was also an influence to Rainer Maria Rilke, W. G. Sebald, W. H. Auden, Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, Marianne Moore, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and countless others. Motley Stones offers a cycle of linked novellas, including “Rock Crystal” (published previously in a separate standalone NYRB edition), which often focus on natural settings and enigmatic characters.
The final entry in French writer/filmmaker Virginie Despentes’s potent, punchy trilogy (the first volume was shortlisted for the International Booker), Vernon Subutex 3 is full of even more unforgettable misfits and unforgiving cultural critiques. The eponymous antihero’s story comes to a rousing conclusion in Despentes’s “absorbing saga about the evolution of the dispossessed” (Publishers Weekly).
Award-winning French author and Oulipian, Anne Garréta’s debut novel, Sphinx, was a love story written without denoting the gender of the narrator or their love interest (and was included on many of the year’s best-of book lists). Her new one, In Concrete, is a “feminist inversion of a domestic drama crossed with Oulipian nursery rhyme.” Fans of puns, literary games, and wordplay should consider Garréta’s latest a must-read.
Set in 1950s coastal Italy, Meeting in Positano is Goliarda Sapienza’s novel of female friendship — as well as an alluring snapshot of a bygone era. The late Italian writer and actress was probably best known for The Art of Joy, but Meeting in Positano has already enjoyed praise from many fellow authors, including Luanne Rice, who called it “an absolute dream of a novel...full of beauty and yearning, secrets and art. The friendship at the novel's center is so compelling, and ultimately heartbreaking.”
Buenos Aires-born author Jorge Consiglio’s newest novel, Fate, mingles philosophy and humor to explore the role of destiny in the lives of his characters. Called "a moving testament to the beauty and banality of human relationships" by Publishers Weekly, Fate is slim, smart, and sure to have you thinking well beyond its last page.
Set in Aleppo during the ongoing Syrian Civil War, Faysal Khartash’s English-language debut, Roundabout of Death, focuses on the daily life of an unemployed teacher as he takes in the violence and destruction all around him. Jonathan Spyer (author of Days of the Fall: A Reporter's Journey in the Syria and Iraq Wars) calls Roundabout of Death, “A brilliant, kaleidoscopic and claustrophobic portrayal of the Syrian civil war. Khartash's spare prose eloquently conveys horrors that require no rhetorical elevation.”
Whereas Chilean novelist Lina Meruane’s English debut, Seeing Red, was a disquieting, unsettling look at a character’s descent into blindness, her new novel, Nervous System tackles illness and disease more generally, as well as its effects on family. With often haunting prose and storytelling acumen, Meruane’s fiction is a singular experience. Author Sarah Manguso (Ongoingness) says, “Nervous System's dreamy lull belies the slow-motion horror of its plot....I still feel blurrily half-drowned in Meruane's eerie, swirling poetics."
Sara Mesa’s previous novel (her second translated into English), Four by Four, was one of the best of 2020. Her new one, Among the Hedges, is equally good and the tale of a burgeoning friendship between two outcasts: one a young girl, the other an old man — a moving, melancholic story of two outsiders and the lifelong yearning to be seen, understood, and loved. As with the most powerful of fiction, Among the Hedges forces one to confront presumptions and judgements (whether their own or those writ much larger) and broaden their empathy beyond the constraints of reflexive, reactionary thinking.
Crime fiction and a rich character study both, Spanish writer Víctor del Árbol's new novel, Above the Rain blends mystery, thriller, and philosophical page-turner. Set mostly in Spain and Sweden across seven months in 2014, Above the Rain gets quite dark at times, but the malevolent punctuations (brutal as they may be) are tempered and blunted by moments of tenderness, warmth, and even humor. Memory, regret, mortality, time, love, pride, corruption, violence, vengeance, each loom large in del Árbol's latest.
Korean author and translator (Kafka, Sebald, Erpenbeck) Bae Suah has been longlisted for both the Best Translated Book Award and the PEN Translation Prize. Bae’s new novel, Untold Night and Day, is a structurally mesmerizing tale set across a single summer day (and night). Korean Literature Now says, “Untold Night and Day conjures a cityscape — and a state of mind — both viscerally immediate and utterly otherworldly.”
Hungarian writer (and nobleman) Miklós Bánffy (1873-1950) was best known for his Transylvania Trilogy, set in the years leading up to World War I. In English for the first time, Enchanted Night collects stories of “cunning, betrayal and myth” previously untranslated from the under-read 20th-century author.
With a dozen books (and two plays) to her name, French author Emmanuelle Bayamack-Tam makes her English-language debut this month with Arcadia, an award-winning coming-of-age novel set in a utopian commune and exploring notions of identity, gender, and community. French cultural magazine Les Inrockuptibles says, “Subversive, funny, political, erudite, Emmanuelle Bayamack-Tam confirms with [Arcadia] that she is one of the most astonishing female novelists of our time.”
Mieko Kawakami’s previous novel, Breasts and Eggs, was a publishing sensation (and winner of the prestigious Akutagawa Prize). Her latest novel, Heaven, focuses on the bullying of two young 14-year-olds. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly writes: “Kawakami unflinchingly takes the reader through the abyss of depraved, dehumanizing behavior with keen psychological insight, brilliant sensitivity, and compassionate understanding. With this, the author’s star continues to rise.”