Here are some of our favorite books in translation from 2012!
My pick is Second Person Singular by Sayed Kashua, trans. by Mitch Ginsburg, an engrossing story about chance, fate and identity. Told from the dual points of view of an upwardly mobile Israeli Arab lawyer, and a young Palestinian social worker who takes a job caring for a paraplegic Jewish man, the novel combines a Tolstoy-inspired plot with a fascinating look at the evolving socio-cultural codes of contemporary Israel/Palestine.
Gold Mountain Blues by Zhang Ling, Penguin Canada, 2012, trans. by Nicky Harman: From Canton to Canada, this is a sweeping epic, taking in four generations of a migrant family for whom Lear-like tragedy constantly looms: “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport.” A fine narrative, beautifully written.
One of my favorites this year was Enrique Vila-Matas's Dublinesque. Another of the great Spanish author's intertextual romps, starting from the Larkin poem that gives the book its title and careening through Joyce, Beckett, the death of print, and the life of literature. Wittily translated by Anne McLean and Rosalind Harvey.
Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf : A long overdue read for me, but a glorious one well worth the wait – just remembering it makes we want to go read it again. As a translation it is a hardy testament to the power of a gifted translator, and Seamus Heaney’s introduction is a poetic marvel in its own right.
HHhH by Laurent Binet, trans. by Sam Taylor: A breathtaking, breathless novel that continually crosses from fiction to memoir to nonfiction. Suspenseful and heartfelt.
Three Strong Women by Marie Ndiaye, trans. by John Fletcher: the writing has a cumulative effect. By the end, I couldn't pull myself away. Is this a novel? By the last story, I didn't care about its definition. Wonderful, precise, heartrending work.
Woes of the True Policeman, by Roberto Bolaño, trans. by Natasha Wimmer: It sometimes feels as though Bolaño only wrote one sprawling novel, and Woes of the True Policeman would appear to be merely an unpolished prequel to 2666. Yet, when he begins weaving through seemingly disparate threads in that oddly compelling reportorial style, among others, we remember why we love his work.
Satantango, by László Krasznahorkai, trans. by George Szirtes: It's difficult to capture this novel in a sentence; I'd only say that maybe it's mis-named: Instead of a tango, the novel feels more like the ironic scherzo of Shostokovich's piano quintet – full of a giddy or even manic dance masking a profound sadness.
The Serious Game by Hjalmar Soderberg, trans. by Eva Claeson: Republished this year, Soderberg's classic was originally published in Sweden 100 years ago. Henning Mankell called it ” A love story that has barely aged at all. It is still touching, evocative and vivid.” A page-turner with heft.
Despite its title, Lygia Fagundes Telles’s The Girl in The Photograph, trans. by Margaret A. Neves, is really about three young women—college girls who live in a Catholic boarding house somewhere in Brazil. First published in 1973 at the height of the country’s military dictatorship, the book uses the girls’ contrasting personal dramas and diaphanous inner monologues to tease out a pointed critique of the country’s political repression.
Three Messages and a Warning collects thirty-four of what editors Eduardo Jiménez May and Chris N. Brown call “contemporary Mexican short stories of the fantastic.” Less dependent on ingenious plots and advanced technology than their American counterparts, these stories of lovesick mermaids, urban lions, and lovers out of time take place in a twilight realm of ambiguity.
I don't feel like I am an expert, but I did LOVE Juan Pablo Villalobos' Down the Rabbit Hole, trans. Rosalind Harvey (FSG), which was a perfect, bite-sized, super-charming story. You really can't go wrong with precocious children, hat collections, drug lords, and pygmy hippopotamuses. And I, like everyone, am also really into Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle: Book One, trans. Don Bartlett (Archipelago). It's amazing that he can pull off this depressing epic tale, charm people with it, and get them clamoring to read the next five tomes. I am one of those clamoring.