Okay, so if you’ve ever met me in person, there is a strong chance you’ve heard my “We Need More Works in Translation” speech. Once I get going, it’s basically a train you can’t stop. And I’m not even the tiniest bit sorry because, hey, We Need More Works in Translation.
Now, when Mallory O’Meara reached out and asked if I’d like to put something together about books in translation she and Brea Grant could share for an upcoming episode of their podcast, Reading Glasses, I about fell out of my chair. Hells to the yes, you don’t have to ask me twice. (Mallory has been on the receiving end of my Translation speech.)
My first thought was, “What will I pick? How can I narrow the list to only a few selections? Her podcast isn’t called Reading Mission Impossible, how can she expect me to narrow this down? [Insert Life is so Unfair speech here.]”
But then I thought, “I’ll create a list to tempt readers into falling down the translation rabbit hole with me!”
So, with that in mind, I decided to do a list half of books I read (#1-5) and loved and half with books I bought and am dying to read (#6-10).
Book #1: Out by Natsuo Kirino
I read this book while I was stationed in Japan. I bought it in a Tokyo bookstore, read the entire thing on a bus ride, and immediately wanted more. It is a suspenseful, literary mystery where a single murder brings co-workers closer and takes them down a very unexpected path.
Book #2: The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Whew, this book. This one was a mind-bender where you are never really certain who is losing touch with reality. As the publisher states, it is “a beautiful, unsettling novel about rebellion and taboo, violence and eroticism, and the twisting metamorphosis of a soul.”
Book #3: Wicked Weeds by Pedro Cabiya
A Caribbean zombie novel? How could anyone resist?! I couldn’t, that’s for sure. This is more of a literary zombie novel where we follow along as a dead man searches for his lost humanity. Don’t worry, it has moments of levity that will make you laugh.
I actually bought the UK version from Pushkin Press as soon as I heard about it. It is YA and it is Ah. May. Zing. I have the second one waiting for me already but want to reread the first one before delving in. It is a story about young women growing up, learning how to survive in a world that shows them little respect.
Book #5: Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse
Black Rain is centered on a young woman caught in the radioactive fallout, a black rain, in Hiroshima after the atomic bomb dropped. I was stationed a short distance outside Hiroshima, spent time at the Peace Park and museum built as a remembrance for all that was lost, and reading this novel is difficult to put into words. Ibuse used diaries and interviews to give the narrative voice and it is powerful. I am constantly recommending this book because it needs to be read.
Svetlana is a journalist by trade. For this collection she interviewed hundreds of people directly impacted and engaged with the horrific nuclear accident in Belarus in 1986. This book was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2015 but even without the win, this is a book that needs to be read. The people deserve to have their stories heard and remembered.
Book #7: Trafalgar by Angélica Gorodischer
This novel-in-stories was originally published in Argentina in 1979. That’s right, decades later it manages to find a home at Small Beer Press for an English-reading audience. I love everything Small Beer produces and when I stumbled on this one I had to have it. Most of the stories are bright and happy, a definite departure from my typical darker reads, but I trust Small Beer to steer me true.
Book #8: Chess Story by Stefan Zweig
I’ve come across books from Zweig in countless recommendation lists. But I don’t often see this novella listed. It is a suspenseful mystery told via a chess game on board a ship. I have a thing for board games and mysteries so I decided this would be my entry point for Zweig.
I stumbled upon this one when browsing NetGalley one day and knew it needed to be on my shelf. Described by the publisher as “a sweeping tale of faith and friendship, tradition and modernity, love and unexpected, bitter betrayal” I was instantly sold. Plus, it is set in modern day Turkey and I can’t recall the last book I read set in Turkey, modern or otherwise. This will be the beginning of me fixing that.
I honestly can’t recall when I first came across this title, but I know it was a few years ago. It sat on my “to-buy” list for a long time before moving up in the world to my “bought now read” shelves. Despite hating clowns, I am fascinated by stories surrounding the circus. In this surreal novel, the circus comes to a small Hungarian town and mysterious events begin to frighten the citizens.
I hope you enjoyed this list! Whittling it down to only ten titles was much harder than I anticipated. I could keep going, so if you need even more recommendations, let me know! I love chatting about books, always and forever.