Here’s a idea for a book club theme — a year of books that have been translated into English from their original language. There are so many great books written in languages other than our own — classics as well as newcomers. Now, here’s the idea for the reading list you make for your book club. Because I’m a bit old, I imagine the reading list/bookmark being given out as a series of mock CDs made of card stock in a CD holder that boasts a fictional language school where you can learn 12 languages in a year. The CD’s inside the holder will be circular cutouts of the book cover and can be used as book marks with a blank side in case you want to make any notes.
This is the crazy kind of thing I like to do for a ta-da moment of presentation. In the past, I’ve done book marks, maps, diaries, calendars, coupon booklets — this would be the biggest one I’ve done, though not necessarily the most time consuming. Obviously, the CD is a dying format and the twelve bookmarks inside will be worthless to anyone reading on a Kindle app but it’s a fun little memento for your year of reading with your friends.
Even if you don’t go in for all the presentation ideas described above, a year of novels translated from other languages is a great idea for a book club. I like to pick out 3-4 choices for each month, copy and paste summaries, usually the Goodreads summaries (thank you Goodreads) and give copies to the ladies to vote on their favorites. After hounding them mercilessly to get the ballots back to me, I tally the votes! If the voting is close/tied within a particular category, I choose the book that will even things out the distribution — give everyone about the same number of books. Most of the time the reading list gives each person about 5-7 of the books for which she voted.
Regarding the book choices, I don’t want to give the impression of expertise — I look at many literary sites and I choose things that sound good to me. I’ve read some of the books on this list, most I have not read. Since we started the book club, I’ve read 100 books with the girls and 600 more on my own, but I am not nearly as scholarly in my discussion of them as many of the reviewers I read. I am mostly a girl who likes a theme, a party favor and a garnish — things like that. With all that said, here are the books titles and summaries for the theme of Lost in Translation.
- Choose between three novels translated from Dutch/Flemish
The Dinner by Herma Koch, translated by Sam Garrett Novelist Herman Koch’s fifth novel takes place in a well-known Amsterdam restaurant (a thinly disguised De Kas) popular with the upwardly mobile. Two brothers and their wives meet for dinner and as the evening wears on some very unsavoury truths emerge. The narrator is disillusioned and deeply cynical former teacher Paul. Although he and his wife Claire seem to enjoy a happy home life, free from the hypocrisy he lays at his politician brother’s door, it transpires that his son has committed a disgusting and cold-blooded crime. Paul may have mislaid his moral compass but his vicious comments on middle-class tastes are right on target.
The Evenings by Gerard Reve, translated by Sam Garrett The Evenings was published in 1947. It chronicles ten days in the life of 23 year-old Frits Egters which also happen to be the last ten days of the year 1946. Frits works in an office, lives with his parents and finds both frustrating. Frits’ encounters with friends and family show his unerring and merciless eye for the desolate minutiae of life: the decay that comes with passing time – a friend is going prematurely bald – , the dreary lives of his parents, and his own less than promising future. A book that makes you laugh and cringe at the same time.
War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans, translated by David McKay Shortly before his death in 1981, Stefan Hertmans’ grandfather gave him a couple of filled exercise books. Stories he’d heard as a child had led Hertmans to suspect that their contents might be disturbing, and for years he didn’t dare to open them. When he finally did, he discovered unexpected secrets. His grandfather’s life was marked by years of childhood poverty in late-nineteenth-century Belgium, by horrific experiences on the frontlines during the First World War and by the loss of the young love of his life. He sublimated his grief in the silence of painting. Drawing on these diary entries, his childhood memories and the stories told within Urbain’s paintings, Hertmans has produced a poetic novelisation of his grandfather’s story, brought to life with great imaginative power and vivid detail. War and Turpentine is an enthralling search for a life that coincided with the tragedy of a century—and a posthumous, almost mythical attempt to give that life a voice at last.
2. Choose between four novels translated from French
Melville, A Novel by Jean Giono, translated by Paul Eprile In the fall of 1849, Herman Melville traveled to London to deliver his novel White-Jacket to his publisher. On his return to America, Melville would write Moby-Dick. Melville: A Novel imagines what happened in between: the adventurous writer fleeing London for the country, wrestling with an angel, falling in love with an Irish nationalist, and, finally, meeting the angel’s challenge—to express man’s fate by writing the novel that would become his masterpiece. Eighty years after it appeared in English, Moby-Dick was translated into French for the first time by the Provençal novelist Jean Giono and his friend Lucien Jacques. The publisher persuaded Giono to write a preface, granting him unusual latitude. The result was this literary essai, Melville: A Novel—part biography, part philosophical rumination, part romance, part unfettered fantasy. Paul Eprile’s expressive translation of this intimate homage brings the exchange full circle.
The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain (no translator is credited other than Gallic Books) Dining alone in an elegant Parisian brasserie, accountant Daniel Mercier can hardly believe his eyes when President François Mitterrand sits down to eat at the table next to him. Daniel’s thrill at being in such close proximity to the most powerful man in the land persists even after the presidential party has gone, which is when he discovers that Mitterrand’s black felt hat has been left behind. After a few moments’ soul-searching, Daniel decides to keep the hat as a souvenir of an extraordinary evening. It’s a perfect fit, and as he leaves the restaurant, Daniel begins to feel somehow …different.
Blue Self-Portrait by Noémi Lefebvre, translated by Sophie Lewis This novella takes place during an airplane flight. The woman narrator, who never reveals her name, is transitioning during the international flight between languages, and some of the story’s focus is on caring enough about something to want to express it in a different tongue. But it’s also interwoven with a romantic encounter with a German-American pianist-composer, and its dark comedy plays out in memories of Berlin and an obsession with Arnold Schoenberg’s self-portrait. Sophie Lewis’s translator’s note at the end of the book provides a fascinating coda.
Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou, translated by Helen Stevenson Mabanckou’s new novel centers on the patrons of a run-down bar in the Congo. In a country that appears to have forgotten the importance of remembering, a former schoolteacher and bar regular nicknamed Broken Glass has been elected to record their stories for posterity. But Broken Glass fails spectacularly at staying out of trouble as one denizen after another wants to rewrite history in an attempt at making sure his portrayal will properly reflect their exciting and dynamic lives. Despondent over this apparent triumph of self-delusion over self-awareness, Broken Glass drowns his sorrows in red wine and riffs on the great books of Africa and the West. Brimming with life, Broken Glass is a mocking satire of the dangers of artistic integrity.
3. Choose between five novels translated from German
The Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum, translated by Basil Creighton A grand hotel in the center of 1920s Berlin serves as a microcosm of the modern world. Among the guests of the hotel is Doctor Otternschlag, a World War I veteran whose face has been sliced in half by a shell. Day after day he emerges to read the paper in the lobby, discreetly inquiring at the desk if the letter he’s been awaiting for years has arrived. Then there is Grusinskaya, a great ballerina now fighting a losing battle not so much against age as against her fear of it. Herr Preysing also checks in, the director of a family firm that isn’t as flourishing as it appears, who would never imagine that Kringelein, his underling, a timorous petty clerk he’s bullied for years, has also come to Berlin, determined to live at last now that he’s received a medical death sentence. All these characters and more, with all their secrets and aspirations, come together and come alive in the pages of Baum’s delicious and disturbing masterpiece.
The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated by Susan Bernofsky Winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the Hans Fallada Prize, The End of Days, by the acclaimed German writer Jenny Erpenbeck, consists essentially of five “books,” each leading to a different death of the same unnamed female protagonist. How could it all have gone differently?—the narrator asks in the intermezzos. The first chapter begins with the death of a baby in the early twentieth-century Hapsburg Empire. In the next chapter, the same girl grows up in Vienna after World War I, but a pact she makes with a young man leads to a second death. In the next scenario, she survives adolescence and moves to Russia with her husband. Both are dedicated Communists, yet our heroine ends up in a labor camp. But her fate does not end there….
Sand by Wolfgang Herrndorf, translated by Tim Mohr Herrndorf called this his “idiot-novel,” about bumbling French detectives investigating a quadruple murder at a North African hippie commune in 1972. Carl, suffering from amnesia, is pursued by men as retaliation for actions Carl can’t remember, and a Swedish spy is involved in black market arms deals. These and other assorted European characters act against a background of high political tension. Eleven Israeli athletes have been murdered at the Munich Olympics and an anti-imperialist rebellion may be brewing. The anarchy of Herrndorf’s plot should appeal to fans of Catch-22 and Pynchon.
Cabo de Gata: A Novel by Eugen Ruge, translated by Anthea Bell Sometimes a cat comes into your life when you least expect it. An unnamed writer finds himself in Cabo de Gata, a sleepy, worn-down Andalusian fishing village. He’s left behind his life in Berlin, which it turns out wasn’t much—an ex-girlfriend, a neighborhood that had become too trendy for his taste. Surrounded by a desolate landscape that is scoured by surprisingly cold winds (not at all what he expected of southern Spain), he faces his daily failures: to connect with the innkeeper or any of the townsfolk, who all seem to be hiding something; to learn Spanish; to keep warm; to write. At last he succeeds in making an unlikely connection with one of the village’s many feral cats. Does the cat have a message for him?
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, translated by Carol Brown Janeway Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany.When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover—then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder.
4. Choose between three novels translated from Hungarian
The Door by Magda Szabó, translated by Len Rix A busy young writer struggling to cope with domestic chores, hires a housekeeper recommended by a friend. The housekeeper’s reputation is one built on dependable efficiency, though she is something of an oddity. Stubborn, foul-mouthed and with a flagrant disregard for her employer’s opinions she may even be crazy. She allows no-one to set foot inside her house; she masks herself with a veil and is equally guarded about her personal life. And yet Emerence is revered as much as she is feared. As the story progresses her energy and passion to help becomes clear, extinguishing any doubts arising out of her bizarre behaviour. A stylishly told tale which recounts a strange relationship built up over 20 years between a writer and her housekeeper. After an unpromising and caustic start benign feelings develop and ultimately the writer benefits from what becomes an inseparable relationship. Simultaneously we learn Emerence’s tragic past which is revealed in snapshots throughout the book.
Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb, translated by Len RixA major classic of 1930s literature, Antal Szerb’s Journey by Moonlight (Utas és Holdvilág) is the fantastically moving and darkly funny story of a bourgeois businessman torn between duty and desire. Mihály has dreamt of Italy all his life. When he finally travels there, on his honeymoon with Erszi, he soon abandons his new wife in order to find himself, haunted by old friends from his turbulent teenage days: beautiful, kind Tamas, brash and wicked Janos, and the sexless yet unforgettable Eva. Journeying from Venice to Ravenna, Florence and Rome, Mihály loses himself in Venetian back alleys and in the Tuscan and Umbrian countryside, driven by an irresistible desire to resurrect his lost youth among Hungary’s Bright Young Things, and knowing that he must soon decide whether to return to the ambiguous promise of a placid adult life, or allow himself to be seduced into a life of scandalous adventure.
The Paul Street Boys by Ferenc Molnar, translated by Louis Rittenberg Easily one of the most well-loved novels in Hungarian culture, this is a classic that is still part of the curriculum for those at elementary school. As such it’s not a complex novel, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable one. It focuses on the eponymous Paul Street boys, a gang of kids who find their cherished turf – a patch of abandoned land – under assault from a rival gang. Though it’s set before the turn of the 20th century, it’s a timeless tale of the thrills of youth, the bonds of friendship and how strength of character can be found in even the unlikeliest of people.
5. Choose between three novels translated from Italian
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, translated by William Weaver“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.” — from Invisible Cities In a garden sit the aged Kublai Khan and the young Marco Polo — Mongol emperor and Venetian traveler. Kublai Khan has sensed the end of his empire coming soon. Marco Polo diverts his host with stories of the cities he has seen in his travels around the empire: cities and memory, cities and desire, cities and designs, cities and the dead, cities and the sky, trading cities, hidden cities. As Marco Polo unspools his tales, the emperor detects these fantastic places are more than they appear.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein Book one in the Neapolitan quartet about two friends growing up in post-war Italy is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted family epic by Italy’s most beloved and acclaimed writer, Elena Ferrante. Beginning in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples, Ferrante’s story spans almost sixty years, as its protagonists, the fiery and unforgettable Lila, and the bookish narrator, Elena, become women, wives, mothers, and leaders. Book one in the series follows Lila and Elena from their first fateful meeting as ten-year-olds through their school years and adolescence. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists.
Aracoeli by Elsa Morante, translated by William WeaverAracoeli is the story of an aging man’s attempt to recover the past and get his life on track in the process. The Aracoeli of the title is the narrator’s deceased mother, who grew up in a small Spanish town before marrying an upper-class Italian navy ensign. The idyllic years she spends with her only son―Manuel, the narrator of the novel―are shattered when she contracts an incurable disease (probably syphilis) and becomes a nymphomaniac. Now, at the age of 43, Manuel, an unattractive, self-loathing, recovering drug addict who works a dead-end job at a small publishing house, decides to travel to her hometown in Spain in order to look for her. Filled with dreams and remembrances the novel creates a Sebaldian landscape of memory out of this painful journey, painting a portrait that is both touching and bleak.
6. Choose between three novels translated from Japanese
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa, translated by Stephen SnyderShe is an astute young Housekeeper, with a ten-year-old son, who is hired to care for him. And every morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to each other anew, a strange and beautiful relationship blossoms between them. Though he cannot hold memories for long (his brain is like a tape that begins to erase itself every eighty minutes), the Professor’s mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past. And the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her young son. The Professor is capable of discovering connections between the simplest of quantities–like the Housekeeper’s shoe size–and the universe at large, drawing their lives ever closer and more profoundly together, even as his memory slips away.
Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yōko Tawada, translated by Susan Bernofsky Memoirs of a Polar Bear stars three generations of talented writers and performers―who happen to be polar bears. Three generations (grandmother, mother, son) of polar bears are famous as both circus performers and writers in East Germany: they are polar bears who move in human society, stars of the ring and of the literary world. In chapter one, the grandmother matriarch in the Soviet Union accidentally writes a bestselling autobiography. In chapter two, Tosca, her daughter (born in Canada, where her mother had emigrated) moves to the DDR and takes a job in the circus. Her son―the last of their line―is Knut, born in chapter three in a Leipzig zoo but raised by a human keeper in relatively happy circumstances in the Berlin zoo, until his keeper, Matthias, is taken away…
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto, translated by Megan Backus
An exquisitely written, ultimately hopeful novel about grief by an author whose prose has been compared to that of Marguerite Dumas and Anne Tyler, this book is slim but absolutely packed with emotion about love and loss. Our main character, Mikage, has lost every member of her family but is welcomed into the affectionate home of a young man, Yuichi, and his transgender mother, Eriko, who runs a gay night club. Mikage teaches herself to cook, and the process becomes a passion, an art, and a lifestyle that helps her work through her pain: “Perhaps because to me a kitchen represents some distant longing engraved on my soul.” Her relationships with Yuichi and Eriko are tender, bittersweet, and unforgettable.
7. Choose between three books translated from Korean
Human Acts by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith In her follow-up to The Vegetarian, Han drops readers into a mass of deteriorating corpses that came to a gruesome end: the student demonstrators of South Korea’s 1980 Gwangju Uprising. A 15-year-old boy searching for his missing friend enters a school where bodies are being collected and doesn’t leave alive. In the five chapters that follow, using Rashomon-like shifts in perspective, Han bears witness to what happened inside the death-filled building, as well as the decades-long, hellish aftermath for those who managed to get out. A Gwangju native, Had adds her own urgent history in the epilogue, erasing any remotely comforting distance the word “novel” might have provided. Lest readers think these events are specific to this place, this time, these people, Han demonstrates how inhumane human acts are “imprinted in our genetic code,” citing massacres in Nanjing, Bosnia, and “all across the American continent when it was still known as the New World.”
The Island by Chul-woo Lim, translated by Inrae You and Louis Vinciguerra With its unique style and heart warming stories, The Island has attracted widespread public attention since it was published in Korea in 1991. The bulk of the work recounts childhood memories and has its primary setting the authors island home. The Island is essentially a novel of remembrance. It is also a novel infused with traditional and still living Korean folk beliefs and folk customs. The novel helps the reader gain a sympathetic understanding of the Korean people and culture and also captures a universal element that links it with other traditional cultures. The Island is a book about people who are rather simple and uneducated, even coarse and crude, but who embrace everything life offers, even the shadowy side of it. The Island also reveals that there is no situation in life that absolutely lacks humor and love. While reading this book, people will experience both deep sorrow and joy and sometimes will even burst out in laughter. And their hearts will swell with the realization that they share not only a universal human condition with the Korean people but also a common spirit.
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin, translated by Chi-Young Kim The Korean title of this indelible novel, Omma rul put’ak hae, contains a sense of commanding trust that is missing in its English translation: “I entrust Mommy [to you].” That trust is irreparably splintered when ‘Mom’ disappears after becoming separated from her husband on a busy Seoul Station platform. In four distinct voices, the character of Mom—a rural farmwoman whose “hands could nurture any life”—is reassembled by her eldest daughter, whose books Mom couldn’t read; her eldest son, for whom she could never do enough; her husband, who never slowed down; and finally, Mom herself, as she wanders through memories both strange and familiar. Shin’s breathtaking novel is an acute reminder of how easily a family can fracture, how little we truly know one another, and how desperate need can sometimes overshadow even the deepest love.
8. Choose between three books translated from Norwegian
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson translated by Anne Born We were going out stealing horses. That was what he said, standing at the door to the cabin where I was spending the summer with my father. I was fifteen. It was 1948 and one of the first days of July. Trond’s friend Jon often appeared at his doorstep with an adventure in mind for the two of them. But this morning was different. What began as a joy ride on “borrowed” horses ends with Jon falling into a strange trance of grief. Trond soon learns what befell Jon earlier that day—an incident that marks the beginning of a series of vital losses for both boys. Set in the easternmost region of Norway, Out Stealing Horses begins with an ending. Sixty-seven-year-old Trond has settled into a rustic cabin in an isolated area to live the rest of his life with a quiet deliberation. A meeting with his only neighbor, however, forces him to reflect on that fateful summer.
The Bird Tribunal by Agnes RavatnTV presenter Allis Hagtorn leaves her partner and her job to take voluntary exile in remote house on an isolated fjord. But her new job as housekeeper and gardener is not all that it seems, and her silent, surly employer, 44-year-old Sigurd Bagge, is not the old man she expected. As they await the return of his wife from her travels, their silent, uneasy encounters develop into a chilling, obsessive relationship, and it becomes clear that atonement for past sins may not be enough. Haunting, and powerful The Bird Tribunal is a taut, exquisitely written psychological thriller.
The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas, translated by Elizabeth Rokkan Commonly seen as the legendary Norwegian writer’s masterpiece, this story tells the tale of Siss and Unn, two friends who have only spent one evening in each other’s company. But so profound is this evening between them that when Unn inexplicably disappears, Siss’s world is shattered. The Ice Palace is written in prose of a lyrical economy that ranks among the most memorable achievements of modern literature.
9. Choose between three books translated from Polish
Swallowing Mercury by by Wioletta Grzegorzewska, Wioletta Greg, translated by Eliza Marciniak Wiola lives in a close-knit agricultural community. Wiola has a black cat called Blackie. Wiola’s father was a deserter but now he is a taxidermist. Wiola’s mother tells her that killing spiders brings on storms. Wiola must never enter the seamstress’s ‘secret’ room. Wiola collects matchbox labels. Wiola is a good Catholic girl brought up with fables and nurtured on superstition. Wiola lives in a Poland that is both very recent and lost in time. Swallowing Mercury is about the ordinary passing of years filled with extraordinary days. In vivid prose filled with texture, colour and sound, it describes the adult world encroaching on the child’s. From childhood to adolescence, Wiola dances to the strange music of her own imagination.
The Pianist by by Władysław Szpilman, translated by Anthea Bell The last live broadcast on Polish Radio, on September 23, 1939, was Chopin’s Nocturne in C# Minor, played by a young pianist named Wladyslaw Szpilman, until his playing was interrupted by German shelling. It was the same piece and the same pianist, when broadcasting resumed six years later. The Pianist is Szpilman’s account of the years in between, of the death and cruelty inflicted on the Jews of Warsaw and on Warsaw itself, related with a dispassionate restraint borne of shock. Szpilman’s family were deported to Treblinka, where they were exterminated; he survived only because a music-loving policeman recognized him. This was only the first in a series of fatefully lucky escapes that littered his life as he hid among the rubble and corpses of the Warsaw Ghetto, growing thinner and hungrier, yet condemned to live. Ironically it was a German officer, Wilm Hosenfeld, who saved Szpilman’s life by bringing food and an eiderdown to the derelict ruin where he discovered him. Szpilman originally published his account in Poland in 1946, but it was almost immediately withdrawn by Stalin’s Polish minions as it unashamedly described collaborations by Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Poles and Jews with the Nazis. In 1997 it was published in Germany after Szpilman’s son found it on his father’s bookcase.
House of Day, House of Night by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones Nowa Ruda is a small town in Silesia, an area that has been a part of Poland, Germany, and the former Czechoslovakia in the past. When the narrator moves into the area, she discovers everyone–and everything–has a story. With the help of Marta, her enigmatic neighbor, the narrator accumulates these stories, tracing the history of Nowa Ruda from the its founding to the lives of its saints, from the caller who wins the radio quiz every day to the man who causes international tension when he dies straddling the border between Poland and Czechoslovakia. Each of the stories represents a brick and they interlock to reveal the immense monument that is the town. What emerges is the message that the history of any place–no matter how humble–is limitless, that by describing or digging at the roots of a life, a house, or a neighborhood, one can see all the connections, not only with one’s self and one’s dreams but also with all of the universe. Richly imagined, weaving anecdote with recipes and gossip, Tokarczuk’s novel is an epic of a small place.
10. Choose between three books translated from Russian
Aetherial Worlds: Stories by Tatyana Tolstaya, translated by Anya Migdal Russia isn’t all gulags and gangsters, as many of the works translated into English sometimes convey. In Tolstaya’s short stories, readers meet ordinary Russians engaged in the familiar daily activities that comprise modern life. Shopping, driving, working, eating, loving, raising children. They are a few of the aspects that Tolstaya brings her comic eye to and produces stories that are both droll and sad, a depiction of lives that haven’t turned out the way they were planned. Her quirky writing, which also borders on the poetic, will keep readers guessing as they begin each new tale.
The Funeral Party by Ludmilla Ulitskaya, translated by Cathy Porter August 1991. In a sweltering New York City apartment, a group of Russian émigrés gathers round the deathbed of an artist named Alik, a charismatic character beloved by them all, especially the women who take turns nursing him as he fades from this world. Their reminiscences of the dying man and of their lives in Russia are punctuated by debates and squabbles: Whom did Alik love most? Should he be baptized before he dies, as his alcoholic wife, Nina, desperately wishes, or be reconciled to the faith of his birth by a rabbi who happens to be on hand? And what will be the meaning for them of the Yeltsin putsch, which is happening across the world in their long-lost Moscow but also right before their eyes on CNN? This marvelous group of individuals inhabits the first novel by Ludmila Ulitskaya to be published in English.
The Aviator by Evgenij Vodolazkin, translated by Lisa C HaydenA man wakes up in a hospital bed, with no idea of who he is or how he came to be there. The only information the doctor shares with his patient before urging him to write down every thought and feeling that comes to mind is the young man’s name: Innokenty Petrovich Platonov. As Innokenty starts to write, out pours a kaleidoscope of images, faces and events, weaving the story of a young man in Russia in the early twentieth century, through the turbulence of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath. As Innokenty begins to build a vivid picture of his former life, only one question remains: how is he able to remember the start of the twentieth century, when the pills by his bedside were made in 1999?
11. Choose between five books translated from Spanish
The Time in Between by María Dueñas, translated by Daniel Hahn This sweeping novel, which combines the storytelling power of The Shadow of the Wind with the irresistible romance of Casablanca, moves at an unstoppable pace. Suddenly left abandoned and penniless in Morocco by her lover, Sira Quiroga forges a new identity. Against all odds she becomes the most sought-after couture designer for the socialite wives of German Nazi officers. But she is soon embroiled in a dangerous political conspiracy as she passes information to the British Secret Service through a code stitched into the hems of her dresses.
News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel García Márquez, translated by Edith GrossmanThis book by the Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez chronicles the 1990 kidnappings of ten Colombian men and women–all journalists but one–by the Medellín drug boss Pablo Escobar. The carefully orchestrated abductions were Escobar’s attempt to extort from the government its assurance that he, and other narcotics traffickers, would not be extradited to the United States if they were to surrender. An international best-seller, News of a Kidnapping combines journalistic tenacity with the breathtaking language and perception that distinguish the writings of Gabriel García Márquez. It draws us unto into a world that, like some phantasmagorical setting in a great García Márquez novel, we can scarcely believe exists–but that continually shocks us with its cold, hard reality.
Affections by Rodrigo Hasbún, translated by Sophie Hughes A haunting novel about an unusual family’s breakdown—set in South America during the time of Che Guevara and based on the life of Third Reich cinematographer Hans Ertl. Inspired by real events, Affections is the story of the eccentric, fascinating Ertl clan, headed by the egocentric and extraordinary Hans, once the cameraman for the Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl. Shortly after the end of World War II, Hans and his family flee to Bolivia to start over. There, the ever-restless Hans decides to embark on an expedition in search of the fabled lost Inca city of Paitití, enlisting two of his daughters to join him on his outlandish quest into the depths of the Amazon, with disastrous consequences. Set against the backdrop of the both optimistic and violent 1950s and 1960s, Affections traces the Ertls’s slow and inevitable breakdown through the various erratic trajectories of each family member. Hasbún weaves a masterfully layered tale of how a family’s voyage of discovery ends up eroding the affections that once held it together.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, translated by Lucia Graves Barcelona, 1945 – just after the war, a great world city lies in shadow and a boy named Daniel awakes on his eleventh birthday to find that he can no longer remember his mother’s face. To console him, Daniel’s widowed father, an antiquarian book dealer, initiates him into the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a repository for books forgotten by the world, waiting for someone who will care about them again. Daniel’s father coaxes him to choose a volume from the spiraling labyrinth of shelves, one that, it is said, will have a special meaning for him. And Daniel so loves the novel he selects, The Shadow of the Wind by one Julian Carax, that he sets out to find the rest of Carax’s work. To his shock, he discovers that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book this author has written.
Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra, translated by Megan McDowell , Written in the form of a standardized test, Multiple Choice invites the reader to complete virtuoso language exercises and engage with short narrative passages via multiple-choice questions that are thought-provoking, usually unanswerable, and often absurd. It offers a reading experience in which the reader participates directly in the creation of meaning. Full of humor, melancholy, and anger, Multiple Choice is about how a society is affected by the legacies of the past and the conviction that, rather than learning to think, we are trained to obey and repeat. Serious in its literary ambition but playful in its execution, Multiple Choice confirms Alejandro Zambra as one of the most important writers working in any language.
12. Choose between three books translated from Swedish
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, translated by Henning Koch Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time? Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.
The True Deceiver, Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Teal Snow has been falling on the village all winter long. It covers windows and piles up in front of doors. The sun rises late and sets early, and even during the day there is little to do but trade tales. This year everybody’s talking about Katri Kling and Anna Aemelin. Katri is a yellow-eyed outcast who lives with her simpleminded brother and a dog she refuses to name. She has no use for the white lies that smooth social intercourse, and she can see straight to the core of any problem. Anna, an elderly children’s book illustrator, appears to be Katri’s opposite: a respected member of the village, if an aloof one. Anna lives in a large empty house, venturing out in the spring to paint exquisitely detailed forest scenes. But Anna has something Katri wants, and to get it Katri will take control of Anna’s life and livelihood. By the time spring arrives, the two women are caught in a conflict of ideals that threatens to strip them of their most cherished illusions.
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, translated by Rod Bradbury It all starts on the one-hundredth birthday of Allan Karlsson. Sitting quietly in his room in an old people’s home, he is waiting for the party he-never-wanted-anyway to begin. The Mayor is going to be there. The press is going to be there. But, as it turns out, Allan is not… Slowly but surely Allan climbs out of his bedroom window, into the flowerbed (in his slippers) and makes his getaway. And so begins his picaresque and unlikely journey involving criminals, several murders, a suitcase full of cash, and incompetent police. As his escapades unfold, we learn something of Allan’s earlier life in which – remarkably – he helped to make the atom bomb, became friends with American presidents, Russian tyrants, and Chinese leaders, and was a participant behind the scenes in many key events of the twentieth century.