2012 is upon us and I am finally settling into it. As the 2011 reading list trails off, I am already piling up what to read in 2012. Again, it is that time of year were last year’s translated novels are being bandied about, each one being sized up as a potential long-lister for the Best Translated Book Awards. This is an arduous process that ultimately boils down to passion and plain, good writing. With that in mind, the anticipation for what will make next year’s list is simmering with each new publisher catalog I receive.
I can’t possibly list everyone novel that I want to read, I can only go through some of my favorite publishers’ offerings and give you a heads up on what to look out for when you’re meandering the aisles of your local indie or loading up your online shopping carts. Let’s take a look:
You knew I was going to bring them up, didn’t you? They’re that good. So let me run down some of their new titles for the first half of the year…
As Though She Were Sleeping
is an homage to dreaming, “the only way of escaping oppression, be it
familial, religious, or political.” Milia’s response to her new husband
and to the Middle East of 1947 is to close her eyes and float into
parallel worlds where identities and faces shift, and where she can
converse with the dead and foresee the future. As the novel progresses,
Milia’s dreams become more navigable than the strange and obstinate
“reality” she finds herself in.
Milan Kundera says of Hrabal that he “embodies as no other the
fascinating Prague. He couples people’s humor to baroque imagination.”
Hrabal’s work has been translated into twenty-seven languages. His most
popular novels include Closely Watched Trains and I Served the King of England. Harlequin’s Millions
is set in a home for the elderly, full of eccentric characters
reminiscing about their lives and their changing country. The central
characters are as playful as they are stubborn and melancholy, forever
gazing back into their personal and collective history with transcendent
Chevillard’s characters in Prehistoric Times remind us of the
inhabitants of Beckett’s world: dreamers who in their savage and
deductive folly try to modify reality. The writing, with its
reservations, its burlesque variations, its accelerations and ruptures,
takes us into a frightening and jubilatory delirium, where the beginning
of the story is forever deferred. With an entirely original voice and
mind, Chevillard asks looming, luminous, and very funny questions about
who we are, where we come from, and where we might be going.
Winner of the Brage Award, the Book of the Year Prize in Morgenbladet, the P2 Listeners’ Prize, and the Norwegian Critics’ Prize
Nominated for the Nordic Council Literary Prize
A Norwegian Marcel Proust. This nerve-striking, addictive piece of hyper-realism, by the Norwegian Critics’ Prize-winning author of A Time For Everything, has created a phenomenon throughout Scandinavia. Written as though his very life were at stake.
Almost ten years have passed since Karl O. Knausgaard’s father drank himself to death. He is now embarking on his third novel while haunted by self-doubt. Knausgaard breaks his own life story down to its elementary particles, often recreating memories in real time, blending recollections of images and conversation with profound questions in a remarkable way. Knausgaard probes into his past, dissecting struggles–great and small–with great candor and vitality. Articulating universal dilemmas, this masterpiece opens a window into one of the most original minds writing today.
A moving memorial to the author’s mother and, in the words of Paris-Match, “one of the most beautiful love stories ever written.” Shortly after Albert Cohen left France for London to escape the Nazis, he received news of his mother’s death in Marseille. Unable to mourn her, he expressed his grief in a series of moving pieces for La France libre, which later grew into Book of My Mother. Achingly honest, intimate, and moving, this memoir-in-glimpses is a tribute to all mothers.
Reminiscent of Cortázar’s Cronopios and Famas, this incandescent
collection of lyrical and often nightmarish visions—now in English for
the first time—is a feast for the senses and mind. At once raw,
chiaroscuro, unearthly, and musical, these dreamscapes shed light on the
human condition, history, isolation and connection, death and rebirth.
Warning: these bite-sized pieces may detonate within.
The Croatian writer Miljenko Jergovic, whose remarkable debut collection of stories, Sarajevo Marlboro
– winner of the Erich Maria Remarque Peace Prize – was published by
Archipelago, has masterfully created a novel which draws the reader into
an episodic, profoundly personal recounting of a childhood destroyed by
war. Narrated from one boy’s perspective, Mama Leone’s
episodic events are held together by several recurring motifs rather
than a historical or narrative chronology. Dazzling, rhapsodic, and
above all humane, Jergovic has created a novel that is simultaneously
ultra-modern, grotesque, and suspenseful.
Open Letter Books
With their colorful, distinct cover designs and their superb choices, it looks like Open Letter is really hitting their stride this year. Eccentric, quirky and necessary, the books they’ve chosen to publish all look like they’re worth reading.
The Smoke of Distant Fires
By Eduardo Chirinos
Translated from the Spanish
G. J. Racz
The Smoke of Distant Fires contains thirteen new poems from the
contemporary Peruvian poet, essayist, critic, translator, and children’s
book author, Eduardo Chirinos. Precisely organized and formally
inventive, each poem in the collection is itself a collection of ten
numbered stanzas, and each of the stanzas themselves are fully formed
poems, a series of rhythmic, elliptical fables from a fully
recognizable, yet wholly original, world.
The third collection of Chirinos’s poetry to appear in English, The Smoke of Distant Fires
signals an exciting new direction in Chirinos’s poetics—its multivocal
stanzas, evocative intertextuality, and enigmatic transparency join
forces to perform a poignant interrogation of what it means to write
poetry in the early twenty-first century.
The Cyclist Conspiracy
By Svetislav Basara
Translated from the Serbian
Randall A. Major
The Cyclist Conspiracy tells the tale of a secret Brotherhood
who meet in dreams, gain esoteric knowledge from contemplation of the
bicycle, and seek to move in and out of history, manipulating events;
the Brothers are part of a conspiracy so vast and so secret that, in
many cases, the conspirators themselves are unaware of their
participation in it. Told through a series of “historical
documents”—memoirs, illustrations, letters, philosophical treatises,
blue prints, and maps—the novel details the story of these interventions
and the historical moments where the Brotherhood has made their
influence felt, from the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand to a lost
story of Sherlock Holmes.
Masterfully intertwining the threads of waking and dreams into the
fabric of the present, the past, and the future, Svetislav Basara’s
Pynchon-esque The Cyclist Conspiracy is a bold, funny, and imaginative romp.
Children in Reindeer Woods
By Kristin Omarsdottir
Translated from the Icelandic
Eleven-year-old Billie lives at a ‘temporary home for children’ called
Children in Reindeer Woods, which she discovers one afternoon, to her
surprise, is in the middle of a war zone. When a small group of
paratroopers kill everyone who lives there with her,and then turn on
each other, Billie is forced to learn to live with the violent,
innocent, and troubled Rafael, who decides to abandon the soldier’s life
and become a farmer, no matter what it takes.
A lyrical and continually surprising take on the absurdity of war and the mysteries of childhood, Children in Reindeer Woods is a moving modern fable.
My First Suicide
By Jerzy Pilch
Translated from the Polish
Neither strictly a collection of stories nor a novel, the ten pieces that comprise My First Suicide
straddle the line between intimate revelation and drunken confession.
These stories reveal a nostalgic and poetic Pilch, one who can pen a
character’s lyrical ode to the fate of his father’s perfect chess table
in one story, examine a teacher’s desperate and dangerous infatuation
with a student in the next, and then, always true to his obsessions,
tell a remarkably touching story that begins by describing his
narrator’s excitement at the possibility of a three-way with the
seductive soccer-fan, Anka Chow Chow.
The stories of My First Suicide combine irony and humor, anecdote and gossip, love and desire with an irresistibly readable style that is vintage Pilch.
By Sergio Chejfec
Translated from the Spanish
When he reads about a mysterious explosion in the distant countryside,
the narrator’s thoughts turn to his disappeared childhood friend, M, who
was abducted from his home years ago, during a spasm of political
violence in Buenos Aires in the early 1970s. He convinces himself that M
must have died in this explosion, and he begins to tell the story of
their friendship through a series interconnected vignettes, hoping in
this way to reanimate his friend and relive the time they spent together
wandering the streets of Buenos Aires.
Sergio Chejfec’s The Planets is an affecting and innovative exploration of mourning, remembrance, and friendship by one of Argentina’s modern masters.
Dalkey keeps growing and offering the high quality novels and translations that we have come to expect form them. They hold a special place in my Oulipian heart.
The Book of Emotions
By Joao Almino
Translated by Elizabeth Jackson
Isolating these moments in his memory and attempting to analyze them much like a lens, he envisions “a haiku stripped of rhetoric that captures only what is in front of the camera.” Yet, deprived of his sight, the photographer now must reconstruct his experiences as a series of affective snapshots, a diary of his emotions as they were frozen on this or that day. The result, then, is not the description of a remembered image, but of the emotional memory the image evokes. João Almino here gives us a trenchant portrait of an artist trying to close the gap between objective vision and sentimental memory, leafing through a catalog of his accomplishments and failures in a violent, artificial, universal city, and trying to reassemble the puzzle that was his life.
By Jacques Roubaud
Translated by Ian Monk
The third “branch” of Jacques Roubaud’s epic, Proustian Great Fire of London, Mathématique: is also an excellent entrance into the series. Adopting math as a career relatively late in his studies, Roubaud here narrates his difficulties both personal and pedagogical, while also investigating the role of mathematics in his life as a remedy to all the messiness of lived experience. “I sought out arithmetic,” he writes, “to protect myself. But from what? At the time, I would probably have replied: from vagueness, from a lack of rigor, from ‘literature.’” But mathematics also provide a refuge from human fears, and from coping, eventually, with tragedies like the death of his wife Alix. As with the previous volumes of The Great Fire of London, Mathématique: is a riveting and humorous anecdotal memoir as well as a fiendishly digressive fiction about the functions of memory and the written word.
Why the Child is Cooking in the Polenta
By Aglaja Veteranyi
Translated by Vincent Kling
A nomadic family of circus performers, refugees from Romania, travels through Europe and Africa by caravan. The mother’s death-defying act causes constant anxiety for her two daughters, who voice their fears through a grisly communal fairy tale about a child being cooked alive in polenta—but their real life is no less of a dark fable, and one that seems just as unlikely to have a happy ending. An actor and performance artist as well as a poet and novelist, Veteranyi was acclaimed for her seemingly “artless” narrative voice, in which pain and hilarity always vie for the upper hand—a voice at once lyrical and jaded, prurient and spiritual, comical and horrifying.
By Edouard Leve
Translated by Lorin Stein
In this brilliant and sobering self-portrait, Edouard Levé hides nothing from his readers, setting out his entire life, more or less at random, in a string of declarative sentences. Autoportrait is a physical, psychological, sexual, political, and philosophical triumph. Beyond “sincerity,” Levé works toward an objectivity so radical it could pass for crudeness, triviality, even banality: the author has stripped himself bare. With the force of a set of maxims or morals, Levé’s prose seems at first to be an autobiography without sentiment, as though written by a machine —until, through the accumulation of detail, and the author’s dry, quizzical tone, we find ourselves disarmed, enthralled, and enraptured by nothing less than the perfect fiction . . . made entirely of facts.
The Family of Pascual Duarte
By Camilo Jose Cela
Translated by Anthony Kerrigan
Back in action and sooo good! (Okay, I am pushing a little backlist. Sue me.)
New York Review Books
The tortured sophisticate of the bunch, NYRB consistently puts out delicious new titles and fantastic reprints of classics. It’s difficult to ignore their discerning taste. Zweig, anyone?
Translated by Damion Searls
The first English-language collection of stories by the great Dutch writer, Nescio.
J. H. F. Grönloh was a successful Dutch
businessman, executive of the Holland-Bombay Trading Company and father
of four, with a secret life: under the pseudonym Nescio (Latin for “I
don’t know”), he wrote a series of short stories that went unrecognized
at the time but that are now widely considered the best prose ever
written in Dutch.
Nescio’s stories look back on the enthusiasms
of youth with an achingly beautiful melancholy comparable to the work of
Alain-Fournier and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He writes of young dreams from
the perspective of adult resignation, but reinhabits youthful ambition
and adventure so fully that the later perspective is the one thrown into
doubt—and with language as fresh as when it was written a century ago.
His last long story, written and set during World War II, is a remarkable evocation of the Netherlands in wartime and a hymn to our capacity to take refuge in memory and imagination.
is great literature—capturing the Dutch landscape and scenes of
Amsterdam with a remarkable poetry, and expressing the spirit of the
country of businessmen and van Gogh, merchants and visionaries. This
first translation of Nescio into English—all the major works and a broad
selection of his shorter stories—is a literary event.
By Stefan Zweig
Translated by Anthea Bell
In Stefan Zweig’s Confusion, a venerable privy councilor approaching
the end of his career adds a “secret page” to the
public record of his accomplishments, confessing the true
story of his youthful initiation into the delights and perils
of intense scholarship. After a first semester in Berlin more
devoted to amorous adventures with local shop girls than
books, he makes a fresh start in a small university town in
central Germany where a professor’s brilliant lecturing style
sparks a new all-consuming passion for learning and reading.
He takes lodgings above the apartment of the professor and
his wife and is soon a regular visitor there, dining with them
on a daily basis and successfully inspiring the older man to
make a fresh attempt to complete his magnum opus. And yet
the professor’s enthusiasm for his devoted protégé alternates
with cold scorn and sudden dismissals, leaving the perplexed
student crippled by feelings of inadequacy and rejection,
feelings only the professor’s frustrated young wife seems to
understand. But the secret anguish behind the older man’s
apparently irrational cruelty will not so easily out…
Laying bare the fraught relationship between human instincts
and higher callings, physical longing and the desire for knowledge,
muddled emotions and the quest for intellectual clarity,
Zweig’s intoxicating novella probes the mysteries of the creative
process and the limits of sublimation.
Memoirs of a Revolutionary
By Victor Serge
Translated by Peter Sedgwick
Victor Serge is one of the great men of the twentieth century,
anarchist, revolutionary, agitator, theoretician, historian of his
times, and a fearless truthteller. Here Serge describes his upbringing
in Belgium, the child of a family of exiled Russian revolutionary
intellectuals, his early life as an activist, his time in a French
prison, the active role he played in the Russian Revolution, as well his
growing dismay at the Revolutionary regime’s ever more repressive and
murderous character. Expelled from the Soviet Union, Serge went to
Paris, and barely escaped the Nazis to find a final refuge in Mexico. Memoirs of a Revolutionary
describes a thrilling life on the frontlines of history and includes
brilliant portraits of politicians from Trotsky and Lenin to Stalin and
of major writers like Alexander Blok and Andrey Bely. Above all, it
captures the sensibility of Serge himself, that of a courageous and
singularly appealing advocate of human liberation who remained undaunted
in the most trying of times.
Peter Sedgwick’s fine translation of Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary
was cut by a fifth when it was first published in 1963. This new
edition is the first in English to present the entirety of Serge’s book.
By Nicolai Gogol
Translated by Donald Rayfield
Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls is an undisputed masterpiece of world
literature. The tale of Chichikov, an affably cunning con who
establishes a thriving trade in “dead souls”—serfs who though no longer
alive can still, he finds, be profitably sold—is at the same time a
brilliant spoof of a corrupt society, full of the living dead. Most
important, however, Gogol’s great novel is a sheer delight, a book
spilling over with humor and passion and absurdity, and fed by an
unflagging stream of stylistic invention. At once a phantasmagoria and a
work of careful, if not a little mind-boggling, realism, Dead Souls is a supremely living work of art.
Rayfield’s new translation at last provides English readers with a
version of this great novel that does justice to the wonderful richness
of the original. Noting the theatrical nature of Gogol’s inspiration and
style, Rayfield has given his English sentences a pitch and presence
that allows them to be spoken aloud throughout. He also presents a much
fuller text than has previously been available to English readers of the
controversial second part of the book, which Gogol sought to destroy.
synoptic text draws on remaining sections of both the first and second
drafts of this second part, revealing it as a major literary achievement
in its own right.
By Ramon de Valle-Inclan
Translated by Peter Bush
The first great twentieth-century novel of dictatorship, and the
avowed inspiration for García Márquez’s The Autumn of the Patriarch and Roa Bastos’s I, the Supreme, Tyrant Banderas
is a dark and dazzling portrayal of a mythical Latin American
Republic in the grip of a monster. Valle-Inclán, one of the masters of
Spanish modernism, combines the splintered points of view of a cubist
painting with the campy excesses of 19thcentury serial fiction to paint
an astonishing picture of a ruthless tyrant facing armed revolt.
It is the Day of the Dead, and revolution has broken out, creating
mayhem from Baby Roach’s Cathouse to the Harris Circus to the deep
jungle of Tico Maipú. The tyrant steps forth, assuring all that he is
in favor of freedom of assembly and democratic opposition. Meanwhile,
his secret police lock up, torture, and execute students and Indian
peasants in a sinister castle by the sea where even the sharks have
tired of a diet of revolutionary flesh. Then the opposition strikes
back. They besiege the dictator’s citadel, hoping to bring justice to a
downtrodden, starving populace.
Peter Bush’s new translation
of Valle-Inclán’s seminal novel, the first into English since 1929,
reveals a writer whose tragic sense of humor is as memorably grotesque
and disturbing as Goya’s in his The Disasters of War.
By Jean-Paul Sartre
Edited by Ronald Abronson and Adrian Van Den Hoven
Philosopher, novelist, playwright, biographer, journalist, and
activist, Jean-Paul Sartre was also—and perhaps above all—a great
essayist. The essay was uniquely suited to Sartre because of its
intrinsically provisional and open-ended character. It is the perfect
form in which to dramatize the existential character of our deepest
intellectual, artistic, and political commitments. This new selection
of Sartre’s essays, the first in English to draw on the entire ten
volumes of his collected essays as well as previously unpublished work,
includes extraordinarily searching appreciations of such writers and
artists as Faulkner, Bataille, and Giacometti; Sartre’s great address
to the French people at the end of the occupation, “The Republic of
Silence”; sketches of the United States from his visit in the 1940s;
reflections on politics that are both incisive and incendiary;
portraits of Camus and Merleau-Ponty; and a candid reckoning with his
own career from one of the interviews that ill-health made his prime
mode of communication late in life. Together they add up to an
unequaled portrait of a revolutionary and sometimes reckless thinker
and writer and his contentious, difficult but never less than
interesting times. The essays have been translated by several
By Pascal Mercier
Translated by Shaun Whiteside
Philipp Perlmann, prominent linguist and speaker at a gathering of
renowned international academics in a picturesque seaside town near Genoa,
is struggling to maintain his grip on reality. Derailed by grief and no
longer confident of his professional standing, writing his keynote
address seems like an insurmountable task and, as the deadline
approaches, Perlmann realizes that he will have nothing to present to
his expectant colleagues. Terrorstricken, he decides to plagiarize the
work of Leskov, a Russian colleague, and breathes a sigh of short-lived
relief once the text has been submitted. But when Leskov’s imminent
arrival is announced and threatens to expose Perlmann as a fraud,
Perlmann’s mounting desperation leads him to contemplate drastic
An exquisite, captivating portrait of a mind slowly unraveling, Perlmann’s Silence is a brilliant, textured meditation on the complex interplay between language and memory, and the depths of the human psyche.
Writing the Life of Ona Simaite
By Julija Sukys
with a limp and an accent, she is invisible to most. Certainly no one
recognizes her as the warrior and revolutionary she was, when again and
again she slipped into the Jewish ghetto of German-occupied Vilnius to
carry food, clothes, medicine, money, and counterfeit documents to its
prisoners. Often she left with letters to deliver, manuscripts to hide,
and even sedated children swathed in sacks. In 1944 she was captured by
the Gestapo, tortured for twelve days, and deported to Dachau.
Julija Šukys follows the letters and journals—the “life-writing”—of
this woman, Ona Šimaitė (1894–1970). A treasurer of words, Šimaitė
carefully collected, preserved, and archived the written record of her
life, including thousands of letters, scores of diaries, articles, and
press clippings. Journeying through these words, Šukys negotiates with
the ghost of Šimaitė, beckoning back to life this quiet and worldly
heroine—a giant of Holocaust history (one of Yad Vashem’s honored
“Righteous Among the Nations”) and yet so little known. The result is at
once a mediated self-portrait and a measured perspective on a
remarkable life. It reveals the meaning of life-writing, how women write
their lives publicly and privately, and how their words attach them—and
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats
By Jan-Philipp Sendker
Translated by Kevin Willarty
A poignant and inspirational love story set in Burma, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats spans
the decades between the 1950s and the present. When a successful New
York lawyer suddenly disappears without a trace, neither his wife nor
his daughter Julia has any idea where he might be…until they find a love
letter he wrote many years ago, to a Burmese woman they have never
heard of. Intent on solving the mystery and coming to terms with her
father’s past, Julia decides to travel to the village where the woman
lived. There she uncovers a tale of unimaginable hardship, resilience,
and passion that will reaffirm the reader’s belief in the power of love
to move mountains.
Me and You
By Niccolo Ammaniti
Translated by Kylee Doust
From internationally best-selling author Niccolò Ammaniti, comes a
funny, tragic, gut-punch of a novel, charting how an unlikely alliance
between two outsiders blows open one family’s secrets. Lorenzo Cumi is a
fourteen-year-old misfit. To quell the anxiety of his concerned,
socially conscious parents, he tells them he’s been invited on an
exclusive ski vacation with the popular kids. On the morning of the
trip, Lorenzo demands that his mother drop him off before they arrive at
the train station, insisting that his status will be compromised if he
shows up accompanied by his mother. Reluctantly, she agrees, and as soon
as she is safely out of the vicinity, he turns around and makes his way
back to his neighborhood, to put his real plan in motion: for one
blessed week, Lorenzo will retreat to a forgotten cellar in his family’s
apartment building, where he will live in perfect isolation, keeping
the adult world at bay.
But when his estranged half-sister,
Olivia, shows up in the cellar unexpectedly, his idyll is shattered, and
the two become locked in a battle of wills—forced to confront the very
demons they are each struggling to escape.
Evoking the fierce intensity and the pulse-quickening creepiness of I’m Not Scared, Ammaniti’s best-selling first novel, Me and You is a breathtaking tale of alienation, acceptance, and wanting to be loved by “a fearsomely gifted writer” (The Independent).
When the Night
By Cristina Comencini
Translated by Marina Harss
Manfred, a surly mountaineer recently abandoned by his wife, rents the
upstairs apartment in his home in the Dolomites to Marina, a woman from
the city, and her difficult young son. Deeply suspicious by nature,
especially of women, Manfred spies obsessively on Marina, in whose
shortcomings as a mother he finds resonances of his own mother’s
desertion of him in childhood. When Marina’s frustration over her son’s
refusal to eat or sleep leads her to harm the child, Manfred steps in,
and the silent power struggle between them escalates. Yet Manfred’s
attraction to Marina is as powerful as his distrust. In this alternately
shocking and moving novel, Cristina Comencini has created a complex,
psychologically profound portrait of two damaged, vulnerable people and
the painful bond that develops between them as they are drawn into each
By Riikka Pulkkinen
Translated by Lola M. Rogers
Elsa is dying. Her husband, Martti, and daughter Eleonoora are
struggling to accept the crushing thought that they are soon to lose
her. As Elsa becomes ever more fragile, Eleonoora’s childhood memories
are slipping away. Meanwhile, Eleonoora’s daughter Anna spends her time
pondering the fates of passersby. For her the world is full of stories.
But the story that will change her forever is the one about Eeva, her
mother’s nanny, whom her grandparents have been silent about for years.
Eeva’s forgotten story, which Anna first learns of when she discovers an
old dress of Eeva’s, is finally revealed layer by layer. The tale that
unfolds is about a mother and daughter, about how memory can deceive
us—and sometimes that is the most merciful thing that can happen.
That’s it for now, readers. I am sure there are more great books to come and many that I have left out, but these are gems to be sure. Drop me a line with you thoughts.