Each month, Tobias Carroll shares a handful of recently released or forthcoming titles in translation that he’s especially excited about. This month's selection includes books translated from Korean, Mongolian, Finnish, Spanish, Japanese, and Uzbek.
From Honford Star | Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung, translated from the Korean by Anton Hur | Fiction | 256 pages | ISBN 9781916277182 | US$14.35
What the publisher says: “Cursed Bunny is a genre-defying collection of short stories by Korean author Bora Chung. Blurring the lines between magical realism, horror, and science-fiction, Chung uses elements of the fantastic and surreal to address the very real horrors and cruelties of patriarchy and capitalism in modern society.”
What Tony’s Reading List says: “Overall, Chung’s collection is an impressive English-language debut, with Hur doing a great job with his smooth version of these twisted fairy tales. Be warned, though—as impressive as it is, it’s certainly not a book for the faint of heart (or the squeamish of stomach). I’m not usually that affected by fiction, but there were a few times while reading this when I felt a little uneasy.”
What I say: As someone who endeavors to read widely and has a longstanding fondness for writing that eludes genre barriers, Cursed Bunny was catnip for me. But what made this book truly transcendental was the sense of absolute dread that many of its stories summoned. Chung’s work fits neatly beside that of Brian Evenson and Kelly Link—cerebral fiction that might give you nightmares.
From Columbia University Press | Suncranes and Other Stories: Modern Mongolian Short Fiction by various authors, translated from the Mongolian by Simon Wickhamsmith | Fiction | 296 pages | ISBN 9780231196772 | US$25.00
What the publisher says: “Writers employ a wide range of styles, from Aesopian fables through socialist realism to more experimental forms, influenced by folktales and epics as well as Western prose models. They depict the drama of a nomadic population struggling to understand a new approach to life imposed by a foreign power while at the same time benefiting from reforms, whether in the capital city Ulaanbaatar or on the steppe.”
What Paperback Paris says: “Suncranes and Other Stories showcases a range of powerful voices from Mongolia’s modern literary traditions. Spanning the years following the socialist revolution of 1921 through the early twenty-first century, these stories offer vivid portraits of nomads, revolution, and the endless steppe.”
What I say: Can one book aptly sum up an entire nation’s fiction over the course of a century? This one gives it an impressive try. As the stories move forward in time, it’s fascinating to see how different literary movements become prominent, then fall by the wayside. Hopefully, this will lead to more work from many of these writers appearing in English translation.
From Bloomsbury | The Woman from Uruguay by Pedro Mairal, translated from the Spanish by Jennifer Croft | Fiction | 160 pages | ISBN 9781635577334 | US$24.00
What the publisher says: “Lucas Pereyra, an unemployed writer in his forties, embarks on a day trip from Buenos Aires to Montevideo to pick up fifteen thousand dollars in cash. An advance due to him on his upcoming novel, the small fortune might mean the solution to his problems, most importantly the unbearable tension he has with his wife.”
What The Chicago Review of Books says: “In his latest novel, celebrated Argentinian writer and poet Pedro Mairal works through the familiar trope of bungling male sexual desire to reflect more philosophically on the nature of intimate relationships, and the ways in which we can so perniciously lose our individualism in the connections we form.”
What I say: A character who should know better making terrible decisions has been at the heart of a lot of notable literature over the years, and The Women from Uruguay falls squarely into this tradition. What helps it to stand out are the small, lived-in details that Mairal works in—and the unsettling specificity of his protagonist’s moral and financial dilemmas.
From Pantheon | Bolla by Pajtim Statovci, translated from the Finnish by David Hackston | Fiction | 240 pages | ISBN 9781524749200 | US$26.00
What the publisher says: “From the author of National Book Award finalist Crossing comes an unlikely love story in Kosovo with unpredictable consequences that reverberates throughout a young man’s life—a dazzling tale full of fury, tenderness, longing, and lust.”
What Publishers Weekly says: “Statovci sustains a deeply somber tone as the characters struggle to endure while looking back on a sad past of missed opportunity, ‘exhausted by that speck of freedom.’ It’s an eloquent story of desire and displacement, a melancholy symphony in a heartbreaking minor key.”
What I say: Pajtim Statovci’s Bolla abounds with harrowing situations, from its narrator’s struggles with a homophobic and repressive society to the longstanding effects of conflict in the Balkans at the end of the twentieth century. The incorporation of mythic elements contrasts with the specificity of the main plotline, but neither aspect of this novel winds up where you expect it to.
From Tilted Axis Press | Manaschi by Hamid Ismailov, translated from the Uzbek by Donald Rayfield | Fiction | 264 pages | ISBN 9781911284574 | UK£9.99
What the publisher says: “A radio presenter interprets one of his dreams as an initiation by the world of spirits into the role of a Manaschi, a Kyrgyz bard and shaman who recites and performs the epic poem, Manas, and is revered as someone connected with supernatural forces.”
What The Calvert Journal says: “Bekesh, a radio presenter, wakes from a dream believing he has been initiated into the spirit world as a Kyrgyz healer. As he embarks on the Sisyphean task of reciting the manas—a poem of a million verses—Bekesh reflects on mortality, cultural identity, and the slippery nature of storytelling itself.”
What I say: Hamid Ismailov’s Manaschi brings together a host of qualities—it’s a book about family and tradition, a work set in a changing corner of the world, and a meditation on the challenges of making art in a region rife with conflict. As this novel proceeds along its winding path, it arrives at an array of unexpected places, revelations, and tragedies.
From Counterpoint Press | Colorful by Eto Mori, translated from the Japanese by Jocelyne Allen | Fiction | 224 pages | ISBN 9781640094420 | US$16.95
What the publisher says: “A beloved and bestselling classic in Japan, this groundbreaking tale of a dead soul who gets a second chance is now available in English for the very first time.“
What Kirkus Reviews says: “Naoki Prize winner Mori tackles a fraught topic with empathy, humor, and grace. The soul’s wry narration keeps the tone light while the simple yet powerful plot beautifully illustrates the impact that perspective can have on one’s mental health.”
What I say: The concept at the heart of Eto Mori’s Colorful feels timeless, but the novel also grapples with depression, familial strife, and the bleakest elements of young adulthood with candor and compassion. The result is a taut and bittersweet novel that will likely resonate with readers of all ages.
Looking for more reading suggestions? Check out Tobias Carroll’s recommendations from last month.
Disclosure: Words Without Borders is an affiliate of Bookshop.org and will earn a commission if you use the links above to make a purchase.