Sometimes the books that make the most impact come from a little farther afield than right around the corner. With that in mind, I want to spend a moment to celebrate some of the best books in translation of 2016.
But first, a disclaimer. I obviously have not read all of the 3% of books in the US that have been translated from another language into English. This list also does not account for differences in markets. For example, Australian publishers likely have different books in translation than American ones. And finally this list is in no particular order because I am far too indecisive to rank the books.
With that, let’s begin.
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Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell
Fever Dream revolves around a child and a dying woman. Bit by bit it uncovers the beautiful and horrifying tale of how the woman came to be dying. It contains some wonderful uses of language.
A Cup of Rage by Raduan Nassar, translated by Stefan Tobler
Apart from having a magnificent title, A Cup of Rage is a excellent book that captures the passion and weakness of man. It tells the story of a pair of lovers who play a game of power in order to dominate one another. Think a rapid pace Les Liaisons Dangereuses. This particular translation was a long time coming since the original Brazilian publication occurred in the 1970’s. (And I cheated with this one; it isn’t going to be fully released in English until January.)
Cabo de Gata by Eugen Ruge, translated by Anthea Bell
This book is for all of the authors and cat lovers out there. It follows a writer who ends up in a small Andalusian fishing village. Though he has faced one disaster after another, he finds hope there in the form of a feral cat who he befriends.
Ema the Captive by César Aira, translated by Chris Andrews
This tale explores the life of Ema who is wrenched from her home in Argentina and forced to work as a sex slave at a military fort. Though the book could have ended up being an altogether horrifying one, Aira manages to infuse it with an appreciation of the human spirit.
Among Strange Victims by Daniel Saldaña París, translated by Christina MacSweeney
This book tells two stories: the first is of an office worker named Rodrigo who stumbles into marriage with his bosses secretary, and the second is of the Spanish academic who romances Rodrigo’s mother.
Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada, translated by Susan Bernofsky
This book is miraculous, and if it doesn’t win a dozen different awards, I will be heartbroken. It explores the stories of three generations of polar bears who are circus performers and literary giants. The grandmother bear, born in Soviet Russia, writes a best selling autobiography. The mother bear ends up working in an East German circus. And the youngest of the bears is reared in a Leipzig zoo. The book is absurd and beautiful in all of the best ways.
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These are just a few recent books in translation that caught my eye. I hope that you have the chance to read some of them – I’m rooting for Memoirs of a Polar Bear in particular – and if you do, stop by to let me know what you thought of them! If I’ve overlooked any great ones, let me know that in the comments as well. Books in translation do deserve their time to shine after all.