Having a hard time choosing between all the great books in translation available this time of year? Let WWB's staff, reviewers, and contributors guide you through the best books in translation we read this year. —the Editors
Where There's Love There's Hate, by Silvina Ocampo and Adolfo Bioy Casares (Melville House)
Translated from the Spanish by Suzanne Jill Levine and Jessica Ernst Powell.
An arch, hilariously mannered murder mystery written by two of Argentina's great masters—and a husband and wife, to boot! Translators Suzanne Jill Levine and Jessica Ernst Powell capture Silvina and Bioy with winking and ever-sly precision.
A Man’s Place, by Annie Ernaux (Seven Stories Press)
Translated from the French by Tanya Leslie
Last spring, while wondering if any new works by French author Annie Ernaux had appeared in translation, I realized that I'd never read A Man's Place. First translated in 1992 by the unerring Tanya Leslie, and reissued in 2012 by Seven Stories Press, this slim volume is a portrait of Ernaux’s late father. Her aim, she states, is to neutrally record his “words, tastes, and mannerisms, as well as the main events of his life,” and the result is strangely, inimitably enthralling.
The Infatuations, by Javier Marias (Knopf)
Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa
Of the many excellent translations this year, one of my favorites was The Infatuations by Javier Marias, translated by the incomparable Margaret Jull Costa. Love, honor, passion, and identity all come into play, as what begins as a murder mystery spirals into nothing less than a consideration of the meaning of life, and the deceptively simple plot is revealed as far more profound than it first appears. No, it's not Your Face Tomorrow—what is?—but it's pleasurable, gratifying, thought-provoking.
Netanya by Dror Burstein (Dalkey Archive Press)
Translated from the Hebrew by Todd Hasak-Lowy
Dror Burstein's portrait of a small Israeli town pivots comfortably between trilobites and meteors and it's impossible not to be captivated by the stargazing and the rooting about in the dirt. Burstein draws together the upper movements of the atmosphere of his book with the minute tremors in the earth beneath it with fascinating ease. A musing, lyrical escapade even for those who aren’t closet paleontologists and armchair astronomers.
Some Day by Shemi Zarhin (New Vessel Press)
Translated from the Hebrew by Yardenne Greenspan
Shemi Zarhin is already an acclaimed director in Israel, and this, his first novel, is filled with cinematic details, wry humor, and masterfully interwoven stories of love, lust, and magic, all set on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
Alane Salierno Mason
The Odyssey translated by Gillian Cross and illustrated by Neil Packer; also D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths and D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. The fantastically illustrated, physically astonishing volumes are great (scary, weird, stimulating) read-alouds with kids 6-10.
Kitaro by Shigeru Mizuki (Drawn & Quarterly)
Translated from the Japanese by Jocelyne Allen
This lovingly compiled selection of Japanese manga-great Shigeru Mizuki shares some of the most compelling stories featuring Kitaro, a spirit child whose mission is to rid the world of evil spirits. Translated by Jocelyne Allen and featuring an interesting introduction by Matt Alt, these light, charming tales are an essential insight into the spirit realm that populates the films of Hayao Miyazaki, among many others. Shigeru Mizuki traveled throughout Japan collecting folktales and ghost stories to compile this story, and the fantastical drawings and rich settings show off his storytelling ability and his bizarre sense of humor. Kitaro’s father is a small eyeball who likes to bathe in a teacup and lives in his empty eye socket. What more do you need?
Mythili G. Rao
The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons by Goli Taraghi (W.W. Norton)
Translated from the Persian by Sara Khalili
Goli Taraghi was born in 1939, making her a teenager during Iran’s 1953 coup and a grown woman during the 1979 revolution. These events aren't the subject of her writing, though, just its dramatic backdrop. Instead, her stories chart surprising personal transformations—emotional, psychological, social, intellectual, and even supernatural.
Haruki Murakami's 2011 novel,1Q84, was my favorite book of the year. Nominated for the Man Booker Asia Prize in 2011, and ranked #2 on Amazon's top books of that year, this 1,260-page story transports the reader to the alternate reality of 1Q84, where an unusual pair of childhood sweethearts must battle sinister, unknown forces to be reunited after twenty years. The novel creates a tantalizing world in which parallel realities coexist, and will have readers rooting for the deeply appealing male and female protagonists to find each other before time runs out.
Thinking back to my favorite translated books of 2013, three novels by young Latin American writers immediately come to mind: Alejandro Zambra’s Ways of Going Home, translated by Megan McDowell; Juan Gabriel Vasquez’s The Sound of Things Falling, translated by Anne McLean; and Eduardo Halfon’s The Polish Boxer, translated by Thomas Bunstead, Lisa Dillman, Daniel Hahn, Anne McLean, and Ollie Brock. But for pure otherworldly power and literary grace, Mozambican author Mia Couto’s The Tuner of Silences, translated by David Brookshaw, completely held me under its spell.
The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk (Knopf)
Translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely
The book’s 500 pages surround you with the texture of life in a bygone Istanbul. The obsessive nature of the hero's infatuation with the woman he loves is easy to see, yet his narrative voice is so weirdly compelling that the truth of the situation remains obscured until the end.
Elisa Wouk Almino
The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico by Antonio Tabucchi (Archipelago)
Translated from the Italian by Tim Parks
This collection of short stories captures life as a series of visual impressions that are difficult to pin down or record. Memories are taken from dreams and lived life, though the two realms are never neatly distinguished. Through these stories—which are also paintings and poems—we experience the delight in heartbreak, loss, and melancholy.