The days are getting longer and spring is in the air. Admittedly I’m writing this in the midst of another snowstorm in New England and it doesn’t feel anything like spring, but supposedly it’s coming. And while I wait for better weather, I can enjoy the spring 2022 new releases in translation. There’s something for everyone this season, with exciting debuts, thoughtful nonfiction, stunning poetry collections, and so much more. Readers will be particularly excited to see new titles from favorite authors like Olga Tokarczuk, Elena Ferrante, and Yūko Tsushima, and beloved translators like Jennifer Croft, Ann Goldstein, and Geraldine Harcourt.
I’ve poured over the catalogs and galleys and highlighted just some of the best spring 2022 new releases in translation, and because there’s just so much to choose from, I’ve added notes for others you should seek out as well! Looking over the lists I noticed there was even more incredible literature translated from Spanish this season than usual, more than I could fit into this list, so if you need just a few more suggestions check out The Wonders by Elena Medel, translated by Lizzie Davis and Thomas Bunstead, Linea Nigra: An Essay on Pregnancy and Earthquakes by Jazmina Barrera, translated by Christina MacSweeney, and Portrait of an Unknown Lady by Maria Gainza, translated by Thomas Bunstead.
Jawbone by Mónica Ojeda, translated by Sarah Booker
Ecuadorian writer Mónica Ojeda was included on the Bógota39 list of the best 39 Latin American writers under 40 in 2017, and in 2019 she received the Prince Claus Next Generation Award. Jawbone is her English-language debut and it follows Fernanda and Annelise, two inseparably close friends at an elite Catholic school that become ever more involved in the occult with their school friends. “It’s only fun if it’s dangerous” says Annelise, perfectly capturing the reading experience of this chilling nightmare of girlhood and adolescence, full of body horror, pleasure, and pain.
Blood Feast: The Complete Short Stories of Malika Moustadraf, translated by Alice Guthrie
Malika Moustadraf is a feminist icon in contemporary Moroccan literature but she’s not well known outside of the country. Blood Feast reckons with this loss, bringing together a complete collection of her vivid and compelling short stories―on gender, sexuality, class, illness, and more. Moustadraf is a brilliant observer and thinker and her short stories are razor-sharp and endlessly thrilling. I’m especially grateful for translator Alice Guthrie’s extensive and nuanced translator’s note and all of the Moroccan people she credits with this important work of literary recovery.
And don’t miss Violets by Kyung-Sook Shin, translated by Anton Hur.
Tender by Ariana Harwicz, translated by Annie McDermott and Carolina Orloff
Motherhood, womanhood, lust, death, madness. There’s a reason so many readers, myself included, are obsessed with Ariana Harwicz’s dark and relentlessly good writing. Harwicz is one of the most radical figures in contemporary literature, often compared to Nathalie Sarraute, Virginia Woolf, and Sylvia Plath. Tender is the third and final book in her “Involuntary Trilogy” after Die, My Love and Feebleminded, and it finds us again in the French countryside, this time following Harwicz’s unnamed narrator’s complex and destructive relationship with her teenage son.
The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Jennifer Croft
First published in Poland in 2014, The Books of Jacob has long been discussed as one of the Nobel Prize winning author Olga Tokarczuk’s most important and ambitious novels. In fact, the Nobel Prize committee described it as her magnum opus. And now, thanks to Booker International Prize–winning translator Jennifer Croft, it’s available in English. Set in mid-18th century Europe and based on historical figures and events, the novel follows Jacob Frank, a charismatic self-proclaimed messiah, and his followers. It’s next to impossible to capture this vast and expansive epic in a few words but I’d encourage everyone to read this clever, funny, and unimaginably rich work for themselves.
In the Margins: On the Pleasures of Reading and Writing by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein
In The Margins collects four new essays by Elena Ferrante, author of the Neapolitan Novels, and most recently The Lying Life of Adults. In these new essays, Ferrante writes about her literary influences and her beginnings as a reader and a writer. She discusses the work of artists she’s drawn to, including Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein, and Ingeborg Bachmann, among others. Thoughtful and engaging, these essays are another fascinating glimpse into Ferrante’s art and mind.
And don’t miss All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami, translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd ― especially for fans of Kawakami’s debut novel Breasts and Eggs.
You Can Be the Last Leaf: Selected Poems by Maya Abu Al-Hayyat, translated by Fady Joudah
Maya Abu Al-Hayyat is the director of the Palestine Writing Workshop and author of four novels, many children’s books, and four poetry collections. You Can Be the Last Leaf is her first collection to be published in English, translated by acclaimed poet Fady Joudah. It includes poems from her four collections published over two decades, allowing readers to witness the breadth of her talents. As Joudah writes in his foreword, “the multifarious Palestinian voice lives on in [her] words, ordinary as grief and daily as laughter.” And there is so much grief and laughter in this collection, loss and love, as we watch the poet over time in an unending occupation. This unceasing violence seeps into her interior world too, her home and mind. But she still fiercely demands space for desire, laughter, and hope.
Woman Running in the Mountains by Yūko Tsushima, translated by Geraldine Harcourt
Yūko Tsushima is considered one of the most important Japanese writers of her generation, known for stories that center women’s lives. I’ve always known and loved her for her painfully beautiful novel Territory of Light, which follows a woman starting her life over again with her young daughter after being left by her husband. The translation by Geraldine Harcourt is particularly exquisite and I was thrilled to discover that this early work would be published. Set in 1970s Japan, Woman Running In the Mountains is another story of a young, single mother striving to find her place in the world. It’s an equally bracing novel of single parenthood but with an expansiveness and shimmering beauty that ultimately feels like a powerful act of defiance.
And don’t miss When Women Kill by Alia Trabucco Zerán, translated by Sophie Hughes.
This Is Us Losing Count: Eight Russian Poets by Alla Gorbunova, Irina Kotova & others, translated by Elina Alter & others
I’ve loved the Calico series from Two Lines Press since its inception. The series presents vanguard works of translated literature in strikingly designed―and eminently collectible―editions. This stunning bilingual collection features eight contemporary Russian poets and seven translators. I was struck by the range of voices in the collection, diverse in age, style, and from all over Russia―some are overtly political, queer, and feminist, while others are more quietly subversive. Through each distinctive section of the collection there is the through line of memory and time, of past and present, and ultimately of the future. This Is Us Losing Count is a fascinating glimpse into modern Russian poetry that leaves me longing for more.
This post was originally published on Book Riot.
The mornings are crisp. The days are shorter. And the fall books are here! Autumn is always a busy time of year for books, with publishers releasing their big titles in the hope of capturing the interest of readers looking to settle in to the season with a good book or shopping for the holidays. But doesn’t this fall feel even more stacked with great new releases? I suspect a combination of factors—including shifting printer schedules because of the pandemic and publishers deciding not to publish their buzziest new books last fall because of the election—might have something to do with it, but regardless, I think it was always going to be a great season for new releases in translation.
While this season has something for everyone with exciting debuts, stunning poetry collections, and so much more, this season feels marked to me by new books from authors and translators known and loved by literature in translation readers, with new titles from Hiromi Kawakami, Fleur Jaeggy, Helene Tursten, and Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, and acclaimed translators like Margaret Jull Costa and Janet Hong. I’ve poured over the catalogs and galleys and highlighted just some of the best fall 2021 new releases in translation and because there’s just so much to choose from I’ve added notes for others you should seek out too!
Empty Wardrobes by Maria Judite de Carvalho, translated by Margaret Jull Costa
Maria Judite de Carvalho is considered one of Portugal’s most important writers and so it’s a cause for celebration to see her ferocious 1966 novel, Empty Wardrobes, translated into English for the first time by the incomparable Margaret Jull Costa. Empty Wardrobes is a novel of women’s consciousness, of the untold lives of women as they navigate a world shaped by and for men. In her staggeringly brilliant introduction Kate Zambreno writes, “I couldn’t believe this consciousness had finally been rendered in literature, the consciousness of so many women familiar yet unknowable, no longer muted, not saturated with sanctimony but alive, alive with rage transmuting disdain into hilarity by sheer force, alive with intense paroxysms of sadness.” As you read it, you might ask yourself, as I did, is that my heart in my throat or a scream that can’t get out?
And don’t miss Cuíer, a bilingual anthology of queer Brazilian writers and the newest addition to the Calico Series from Two Lines Press.
The Waiting by Keum Suk Gentry-Kim, translated by Janet Hong
Inspired by her own family’s history and the accounts of other separated Korean families, Keum Suk Gendry-Kim has created another powerful story of colonization and war, and the ordinary people caught in their wake. Like its devastating predecessor, Grass, also translated by Janet Hong, The Waiting is composed of stark and evocative black and white illustrations. Janet Hong’s masterful translation captures every nuance of emotion, the pain and heartbreak of this history, the agony of hope, in language that is at once sharp and subtle.
Three Novels by Yuri Herrera, translated by Lisa Dillman
To celebrate their 10th anniversary season, acclaimed independent publisher And Other Stories has released this stunning new edition of the work of Yuri Herrera, as their 100th title. This volume brings together the three novels that have made Herrera one of the best loved and most revolutionary writers of the millennium: Kingdom Cons, Signs Preceding the End of the World, and The Transmigration of Bodies. Herrera’s novels of borders, migration, and violence are beyond anything that we might expect as they traverse into the realms of myth, epic, and fairytale. The translation and especially the notes from award-winning translator Lisa Dillman are a master class for translators, writers, and lovers of language alike. It’s clearer than ever in this collected volume—this is a staggering work of genius.
The Water Statues by Fleur Jaeggy, translated by Gini Alhadeff
First published in 1980 and dedicated to Ingeborg Bachmann, The Water Statues is a strange and beguiling novella of family, wealth, and obsession told in fragments of narration and dialogue, set up at times almost like a play. An undeniable master of the short form, Fleur Jaeggy is known for her short, piercing, and yet still lush singular style and translator Gini Alhadeff has skillfully captured it, each word is so carefully chosen and each sentence, like “The eyes were flat as Alpine lakes that sweetly reflect celestial inequities” and “It is perhaps needless to say that they felt they had entered a dream, or a catastrophe, or simply a new life,” is dizzyingly beautiful. And be sure to read this rare interview with Jaeggy recently published in The New Yorker.
A Dove in Free Flight: Poems by Faraj Bayrakdar, translated by the New York Translation Collective
“The freedom within us is more powerful than the prisons we are in.” And so begins Syrian poet and political dissident Faraj Bayrakdar’s beautiful and important testament to the power of language, of poetry more specifically. These poems were written during his long imprisonment, smuggled out of prison, and published by friends without his knowledge to mobilize international pressure for his release. The poems themselves are intimate and powerful, of love, despair, freedom, and memory—of the body and of the soul. They pulse with a bright clarity. This is not art for art’s sake but art for life’s sake in its truest sense. Also included in the book is the fascinating story behind the collection’s translation into English—in a post-9/11 New York City where a group of students in acclaimed writer Elias Khoury’s Arab Prison Literature course at NYU decided to collectively translate the poems—an introduction by editors Ammiel Alcalay and Shareah Taleghani, a “Portrait of the Poet” by Elias Khoury, and an interview with Bayrakdar after his release.
An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed by Helene Tursten, translated by Marlaine Derlargy
Maud is back! Everyone’s favorite octegenarian muderer has returned for more delightful and sinister mayhem. In six irresistible interlocking stories, Maud journeys to Africa and revisits memories of past…let’s call them indiscretions. Marlaine Delargy captures all that is sharp and darkly funny in Helene Tursten’s clever social satire. Fans of Tursten will also enjoy spotting detectives Irene Huss and Embla Nyström from her two other series, both also set in Sweden.
Em by Kim Thúy, translated by Sheila Fischman
“The word em refers to the little brother or little sister in a family; or the younger of two friends; or the woman in a couple. I like to think the word em is the homonym of the verb aimer, “to love,” in French, in the imperative: aime.” From the award-winning and internationally bestselling author of Ru, Mãn, and Vi, comes Em, a powerful novel of war, trauma, and exile. In short vignettes, Thúy weaves the lives of linked characters as if they were threads, set against the backdrop of Vietnamese history, such as events like Operation Babylift and the Mỹ Lai massacre. There is a raw, unsettlingly beautiful quality to Sheila Fischman’s translation, her own magical intertwining of poetry and prose that sings with Thúy’s storytelling. I’d recommend this one to fans of The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai and The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui.
Last Words on Earth by Javier Serena, translated by Katie Whittemore
A striking debut inspired by the life of Roberto Bolaño, Last Words on Earth follows the life of struggling writer Ricardo Funes who finally publishes an incredibly successful novel only for the dramatically altered trajectory of his literary career to be cut short by terminal lung cancer. This haunting novel of passion and art is told through the voices of Funes’s best friend, his wife, and himself. Like in her translation of Sara Mesa’s Four by Four, translator Katie Whittemore has proven herself to be a revelation, especially when it comes to multi-voiced novels. Last Words on Earth is also the first of a three-book-project conceived by Open Letter that revolves around ideas of art, integrity, and fame.
And don’t miss Ganbare! Workshops on Dying by Katarzyna Boni, translated by Mark Ordon, the first work on nonfiction published in Open Letter’s new Polish Reportage Series. I’d recommend this one for fans of Svetlana Alexievich and Emmanuel Carrère.
People From My Neighborhood by Hiromi Kawkami, translated by Ted Goosen
It’s no secret I’m a big fan of award-winning and bestselling Japanese author Hiromi Kawakami. Her writing is intricate and deep, often beautifully subtle with a restlessness that I’m drawn to. This new collection of 26 short “palm of the hand” stories—fictions small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand—is a perfect extension of all she does so well in her other books, like Strange Weather in Tokyo and its companion short novel Parade, both translated by Allison Markin Powell. It blends the mundane with the mysterious, it is both a story of everyday life and people, but—as is usually the case with Kawakami—there’s a strange, unusual element that’s endlessly fascinating.
This post was originally published on Book Riot.
August is Women in Translation Month! Roughly 30% of books published in English translation are written by women, according to numbers pulled from the translation database started by Three Percent and Open Letter and now hosted by Publishers Weekly. Founded by literary blogger Meytal Radzinski and now in its eighth year, Women in Translation Month was started to promote women writers from around the world and combat this dreadfully low statistic. As summer rolls around each year, I go through catalogs and read a stack of galleys and pick out some of the titles by women in translation I’m most excited about published in June, July, and August.
And it’s another great summer for books by women in translation. Exciting debuts, literary thrillers, powerful social novels, and so much more. And whether it’s just something about publishing this summer or the books I’ve been drawn to recently, but there are a lot of new short story collections. So if you’d like to dip in and out of some incredible short fiction—or for the nonfiction fans, a stunning collection of essays—in these last days of summer, you’re in luck. Check out these hot summer 2021 new releases by women in translation!
October Child by Linda Boström Knausgård, translated by Saskia Vogel
“I wish I could tell you about the factory, but I can’t anymore. And soon I’ll no longer be able to remember my days or nights or why I was born.” Based on Knausgård’s own experiences, October Child revolves around the four years the narrator, also a writer, spent confined for periods of time in a psychiatric ward, receiving electroconvulsive therapy and her desperate struggle to retain her memories. Deftly written and stunningly translated by author and translator Saskia Vogel, October Child joins the ranks of Knausgård’s other haunting and sensitive portrayals of mental health and family—Welcome to America, translated by Martin Aitken, and The Helios Disaster, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles—but is a powerful addition with its examination of memory and the creative mind.
Variations on the Body by María Ospina, translated by Heather Cleary
In her brilliant debut collection, María Ospina reckons with the body, more specifically the female body, with stories of women and girls across Bogotá society in the 1980s and ’90s. With hints of connection between the stories, Ospina presents a vivid and nuanced portrayal of the lives of these women — their desires, obsessions, and fears in a time of violence. Heather Cleary feels more medium than translator, flawlessly channeling the voices of these women both individually and as a chorus. In the vein of Guadalupe Nettel’s Bezoar, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine, and the short story collections of Mariana Enriquez, Things We Lost in the Fire and The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, both translated by Megan McDowell.
Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung, translated by Anton Hur
“Grandfather used to say, ‘When we make our cursed fetishes, it’s important that they’re pretty.’” While Bora Chung’s genre-defying collection of short stories won’t exactly curse you, it’s highly likely that by the time you finish this collection, you’ll be more than a little obsessed with its intense beauty. Wide ranging and varied, Chung’s stories pull from horror, science fiction, and fantasy with a powerful feminist and anti-capitalist lens. Chung has a background in Slavic literature and translates modern literary works from Russian and Polish into Korean, which is another fascinating influence on her work. Acclaimed Korean translator Anton Hur captures all of the collection’s multitudes, from its moments of sheer terror to its sharp humor and beauty. These gripping stories of power and trauma are perfect for fans of Ha Seong-nan, translated into English by Janet Hong.
Migratory Birds by Mariana Oliver, translated by Julia Sanches
Migratory Birds is the latest addition to the Undelivered Lectures Series, an impressive new narrative nonfiction series from publisher Transit Books. From the Berlin Wall to the underground city of Cappadocia, Mariana Oliver’s debut collection is a thoughtful and intimate meditation on movement and memory, language and place. Oliver artfully blends history, travel writing, and glimmers of her own fascinating life in language that is wise and warm, precise and poetic, all exquisitely captured—like a photograph of a rare and fleeting bird—by translator Julia Sanches.
Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro, translated by Frances Riddle
Claudia Piñeiro is a critically acclaimed and bestselling crime writer in her native Argentina with a growing following internationally. Blending crime fiction with incisive political commentary, she is the third most translated Argentinean author, after Borges and Cortázar. Notably, she was also an active figure in the legalization of abortion in Argentina, among other campaigns like the #NiUnaMenos movement against femicide. Elena Knows follows a 63-year-old mother with Parkinson’s who investigates her daughter’s death, believing the hasty suicide ruling to be a mistake. Thoughtfully structured and thrillingly executed by translator Frances Riddle, Elena Knows is a powerful story of mothers and daughters, illness, and society’s control of women’s bodies.
The Woman in the Purple Skirt by Natsuko Imamura, translated by Lucy North
Winner of the Akutagawa Prize, The Woman in the Purple Skirt is a chilling psychological thriller that has received rave reviews from Japanese authors like Sayaka Murata, Yoko Ogawa, and Hiromi Kawakami. The voyeuristic novel is told from the perspective of a narrator who watches the Woman in the Purple Skirt, an unusual and quiet woman in the neighborhood. The narrator knows the woman’s daily routine intimately and even begins to intercede in the Woman in the Purple Skirt’s life, setting off a riveting chain of events. Told in a thrillingly deadpan style artfully composed by translator Lucy North, The Woman in the Purple Skirt is a compelling novel of loneliness and obsession.
Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge, translated by Jeremy Tiang
If, like me, you came away from Two Lines Press’s collection of speculative Chinese fiction That We May Live thinking endlessly about the flourishing beasts, you’ll be glad to know that there are more strange beasts from one of the most impressive writers in contemporary Chinese literature, Yan Ge, and intoxicatingly translated by the brilliant Jeremy Tiang. In the fictional Chinese city of Yong’an, an amateur cryptozoologist is commissioned to uncover the stories of its many beasts. From joyous beasts to flourishing beasts and heartsick beasts, the narrator uncovers the lives of Yong’an’s strange and beautiful creatures for the transfixed readers. This fantastical and atmospheric urban novel is both a detective story and a heady meditation on life, love, and identity.
Four Minutes by Nataliya Deleva, translated by Izidora Angel
“Four Minutes is a novel about people on the margins of society. Different storylines interlace in order to tell one story: about the invisibility.” With this praise from author Georgi Gospodinov, additional praise from the incredible Wioletta Greg, and Open Letter’s extensive history of publishing brilliant Bulgarian and Eastern European authors, I knew I had to get ahold of this novel as soon as I could. At the center of Four Minutes is Leah, a woman struggling with the trauma of her childhood as an orphan, now trying to adopt a child herself but coming up against policies that discriminate against her as a gay woman. Thoughtfully placed around Leah’s story are standalone narratives of other people often marginalized in our world. In Izidora Angel’s insightful translation, Deleva’s honest and direct prose is startlingly beautiful and deep.
This post was originally published on Book Riot.
I’ve long loved Japanese literature and over the years with each passing August I’ve picked up more and more books translated from Japanese for Women in Translation Month. Hiromi Kawakami, Yuko Tsushima, Yoko Ogawa, and so many others have become some of the authors I recommend and return to most often. Here I’ve collected some of my contemporary favorites, 20 must-read Japanese books by women in translation. And if you’re looking to read a book on Japanese translation itself, I highly recommend Polly Barton’s brilliant and stunning reflection of language and life, Fifty Sounds.
Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima, translated by Geraldine Harcourt
Territory of Light follows a woman starting her life over again with her young daughter after being left by her husband. Her new Tokyo apartment is awash in light but she finds herself falling further into darkness and depression. As time passes, she confronts her new reality and makes plans for the future. It is a painful and honest journey, one that will ring true to many who have had to remake their life in a new image after loss, but it’s so beautifully told. The translation is particularly exquisite. “At once tender and lacerating, luminous and unsettling, Yuko Tsushima’s Territory of Light is a novel of abandonment, desire, and transformation.”
Manazuru by Hiromi Kawakami, translated by Michael Emmerich
Twelve years have past since Kei’s husband disappeared and left her alone with their 3-year-old daughter, Momo. Still haunted by the disappearance, Kei keeps returning to the seaside town of Manazuru to remember and connect to something just out of reach. Manazuru is a beautifully subtle and profound story of loss and memory. There’s this restless quality to the novel that’s utterly gorgeous and—as is usually the case with Kawakami—there’s a strange, unusual element that I wouldn’t dare spoil for you! Find your way into the other works of Hiromi Kawakami with this reading pathways post.
The Lonesome Bodybuilder: Stories by Yukiko Motoya, translated by Asa Yoneda
I loved this collection of strange and wonderful stories. Winner of the Akutagawa Prize and the Kenzaburo Oe Prize, Motoya is a magician—she takes mundane, daily life and just twists it into these amazingly clever and fantastic tales. In these stories, a newlywed notices that her husband’s features are sneakily sliding around his face to match hers, umbrellas are more than they seem, women are challenging their boyfriends to duels, and you might want to reconsider dating the girl next door.
The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada, translated by David Boyd
In Hiroko Oyamada’s English language debut The Factory, three characters find work at a sprawling industrial factory. They settle into their new jobs and they soon realize that their lives have slowly (or is it quickly? Time doesn’t seem to make sense any more) been taken over by the factory. Reality dissolves, strange creatures begin to appear, and the list of unanswered questions about this unusual factory grows longer. Winner of the Shincho Prize for New Writers.
The Hole by Hiroko Oyamada, translated by David Boyd
The Hole is a surreal and atmospheric novel reminiscent of Lewis Carroll, David Lynch, and Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro. Asa and her husband move to a remote home in the countryside after her husband transfers jobs. A chance encounter with a strange creature leads Asa to a series of bizarre circumstances as she tries to find her place in this new world. It’s especially impressive to see Oyamada create such a sensory rural novel, full of the lethargic, sticky heat of summer and the buzz of cicadas, after seamlessly crafting the industrial setting in her debut novel The Factory, also translated by David Boyd.
Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami, translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd
Published in Japan in 2008, Mieko Kawakami’s novella Breasts and Eggs won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize and the praise of authors like Yoko Ogawa and Haruki Murakami. This newly expanded novel is Kawakami’s first to be published in English and has already been hailed as a “feminist masterwork.” Breasts and Eggs is an intimate and striking novel of women’s bodies and agency in modern Japan, following three women—sisters Natsu and Makiko and Makiko’s daughter Midoriko—as they reflect on and determine their futures.
The Sky Is Blue With A Single Cloud by Kuniko Tsurita, translated by Ryan Holmberg
Drawn & Quarterly has the most fantastic offerings of literature in translation and so I was thrilled to hear about The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud, the first collection of stories by the “visionary and iconoclastic feminist cartoonist” Kuniko Tsurita to be available in English. Tsurita was the first and only regular female contributor in the legendary alt-manga monthly Garo and this collection reclaims her historical and literary importance. I particularly loved Gabrielle Bellot’s piece in The Atlantic about the collection—in her thoughtful review, Bellot discusses the ways in which Tsurita broke both gender and genre norms in her art.
Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri, translated by Morgan Giles
Kazu is a ghost that haunts Ueno Park—where he had previously lived in one of its homeless villages until the time of his death—but when you’ve finished this elusive and devastating novel, Kazu will begin to haunt you too. Described as a work of “post-tsunami literature and a protest against the 2020 Tokyo Olympics” and a novel for our times for its scathing critiques of the imperialist and capitalist systems, Tokyo Ueno Station hits even harder in the wake of the pandemic as vulnerable populations worldwide have been impacted disproportionately and the gulf between rich and poor grows at alarming rates.
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori
Keiko Furukura has worked at a convenience store for 18 years, comfortable in the patterns and norms of the store and its customers but aware of her family and society’s general disappointment in her. When a young man enters her life she has the chance to change everything—if she wants to. From one of Japan’s most exciting contemporary writers, Convenience Store Woman is a dark, funny, and compelling novel with a heroine that defies convention and description.
Earthlings by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori
In this hotly anticipated followup to Convenience Store Woman, Sayaka Murata and translator Ginny Tapley Takemori return with another strange and unconventional novel of what it means to be an outsider. Eleven-year old Natsuki has always felt different, but finds solace in her plush hedgehog Piyuut and summers with her cousin Yuu. The pair come to believe that they are aliens (as is Piyuut, from the planet Popinpobopia) and this belief and their bond begins a bizarre and at times shocking coming-of-age story. Like Convenience Store Woman, Earthlings looks closely at societal expectations and pressures to conform to dizzying effect.
Spring Garden by Tomoka Shibasaki, translated by Polly Barton
Spring Garden follows Toro, a divorced man living in an older apartment complex that’s about to be demolished in a rapidly urbanizing Japan. Toro is drawn into an unusual relationship with Nishi, an artist living upstairs who tells him about her interest in the sky-blue house next door to the complex. The house soon becomes symbolic to both Taro and Nishi “of what is lost, of what has been destroyed, and of what hope may yet lie in the future for both of them.” This poignant novella of memory and loss left me stunned. Part of Pushkin Press’s incredible Japanese Novellas Series, which I’ve found to be a great resource for discovering new authors.
Where the Wild Ladies Are by Yoko Matsuda, translated by Polly Barton
This surprising and clever collection of stories draws inspiration from traditional Japanese ghost and yōkai tales, many of which have been immortalized as kabuki or rakugo theatrical performances. Strange, poignant, and at times delightfully funny, these feminist retellings explore and critique roles and expectations for women in contemporary Japan and beyond. I’d recommend it to fans of The Lonesome Bodybuilder: Stories by Yukiko Motoya, translated by Asa Yoneda.
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder
I’m in awe of Yoko Ogawa and always excited to see her newest project—her range is incredible, from books like her touching novel The Housekeeper and the Professor to her terrifying collection of stories Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales, and now The Memory Police. On an unnamed island, objects are disappearing. First it’s small things that go missing and many of the people on the island are unaware of the changes. But it soon escalates and the citizens who can recall the lost objects live in fear of the Memory Police. Ogawa’s writing is always stunning—haunting in its own spare, powerful way—and The Memory Police is a masterful take on an Orwellian novel of state surveillance.
Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder
Revenge is an intricately interwoven collection of stories about grief, death, and yes, revenge, where each story stands alone but also connects in surprising ways to its fellows. This layered effect coupled with the subtle calm of Yoko Ogawa’s prose in a thrilling translation by acclaimed translator Stephen Snyder makes the disturbing elements of these stories feel even more chilling. If you like Revenge, I would recommend Ogawa’s The Diving Pool: Three Novellas and Hotel Iris, both also translated by Snyder.
A True Novel by Minae Mizumura, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter
While this much loved and admired novel is often described as a loose retelling of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights set in Japan, A True Novel is so much more than that. First serialized in the monthly literary journal Shincho and published in two volumes, A True Novel is a rich and and masterfully crafted story of lovers set against a fascinating and important moment in Japanese history. It is a powerful and haunting examination of Japan’s post-war westernization and its struggle to retain its identity in a moment of economic upheaval. And new from Minae Mizumura and translator Juliet Winters Carpenter, I’d also recommend An I-Novel, a semi-autobiographical and “formally daring novel that radically broke with Japanese literary tradition” when it was published in 1995.
Toddler Hunting and Other Stories by Taeko Kong, translated by Lucy North and Lucy Lower
Kenzaburo Oe calls Taeko Kono—winner of Japan’s top literary prizes: the Akutagawa, the Tanizaki, the Noma, and the Yomiuri—“the most carnally direct and the most lucidly intelligent woman writing in Japan,” and it’s hard to disagree after reading the unsettling and striking stories in Toddler Hunting. Pleasure and pain mix in the lives of the women and girls of Taeko Kono’s stories, as scenes of sadomasochism and obsession veil her sharp attacks at the ideals of motherhood and femininity.
Lady Joker Volume 1 by Kaoru Takamura, translated by Allison Markin Powell and Marie Iida
Kaoru Takamura has been hailed as “one of Japan’s great modern masters” and since its 1997 publication, Lady Joker has become a cultural touchstone in Japan, taught in classrooms and adapted for film and television, with millions of copies sold. It was inspired by the unsolved and real-life Gilco-Moringa kidnapping case perpetrated by “the Monster with 21 Faces.” An immense and extraordinary feat of writing and translation that has been long-awaited in English, Lady Joker is at once a thriller and a sweeping cultural history of Japan, a love story and a work of poignant social commentary. The second volume is set to be published in summer 2022.
Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami, translated by Allison Markin Powell
Shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize and the International Foreign Fiction Prize, Strange Weather in Tokyo is a sweet and poignant story of love and loneliness. Tsukiko is 38, lives alone, works in an office, and is not entirely satisfied with her life when she runs into a former high school teacher, who she knows as sensei, at a bar one night. They talk and over time this hesitant intimacy grows into something more. It’s a “moving, funny, and immersive tale of modern Japan and old-fashioned romance” while also managing to be this quiet, understated beauty of a book.
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto, translated by Megan Backus
Banana Yoshimoto is one of the most popular Japanese novelists around the world and despite her extensive catalog, her debut novel Kitchenremains her best-loved book. First published in 1988, Kitchen caused such a frenzy that the media dubbed the buzz around her work “Bananamania” and its English translation by Megan Backus followed in 1993—published with a companion story “Moonlight Shadow.” A beautiful and tender story of transience and love, Kitchen examines the exhaustion of young people in contemporary Japan and the ways that tragedy shapes a person’s life through the stories of heroine Mikage and her friend Yoichi and his mother, who take Mikage in when her grandmother dies.
The Emissary by Yoko Tawada, translated by Margaret Mitsutani
Yoko Tawada is one of the most fascinating writers of our time, writing stories, novels, poems, plays, and essays in both Japanese and German. Winner of the 2018 National Book Award for Translated Literature, The Emissary is her most recent novel. After an unnamed but possibly nuclear disaster, Japan has cut itself off from the rest of the world. Children are now born ancient and frail and rely entirely on their newly vigorous grandparents to care for them. In Tawada and translator Margaret Mitsutani’s gifted hands this dystopian meditation on mortality and modern Japan is both chilling and tender, haunting and hopeful.
This post was originally published on Book Riot.
With new releases from Elena Ferrante, Scholastique Mukasonga, Sayaka Murata, Dubravka Ugresic, and acclaimed translators Ann Goldstein, Jordan Stump, Ginny Tapley Takemori, and Ellen Elias-Bursać, this past fall was always going to be an astonishingly good season for new books in translation but it blew away even my high expectations! I’m thrilled to select some of the best fall 2020 books in translation and highlight the incredible range of titles available—including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
The Hole by Hiroko Oyamada, translated by David Boyd
The Hole is a surreal and atmospheric novel reminiscent of Lewis Carroll, David Lynch, and Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro. Asa and her husband move to a remote home in the countryside after her husband transfers jobs. A chance encounter with a strange creature leads Asa to a series of bizarre circumstances as she tries to find her place in this new world. It’s especially impressive to see Oyamada create such a sensory rural novel, full of the lethargic, sticky heat of summer and the buzz of cicadas, after seamlessly crafting the industrial setting in her debut novel The Factory, also translated by David Boyd. Oyamada won the Shincho Prize for New Writers for The Factory and the Akutagawa Prize for The Hole and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Fauna by Christiane Vadnais, translated by Pablo Strauss
In her first work of fiction, Christiane Vadnais depicts a lush and eerie vision of a near-future marked by climate change. In ten linked pieces, translated by Pablo Strauss, she writes of contaminated and overflowing bodies of water, new and increasingly strange creatures, and an overwhelming wildness that hangs over everything. A lone biologist trying to understand and survive this new world is the thread that holds the pieces together. Everything is alive in Fauna. And uncertain. “But there is a peace of sorts at the heart of a downpour so precious and violent.”
Cristina Rivera Garza’s latest book Grieving is a hybrid collection of short crónicas, journalism, and personal essays on systemic violence in contemporary Mexico and along the U.S.-Mexico border. She writes that grieving, and collective grief, is an act of resistance against state and systemic violence and details the importance of art, specifically writing, in a grieving process that is also a “powerful mode of seeking social justice.” For fans of her complicated and striking works of fiction The Iliac Crest and The Taiga Syndrome, Grieving may seem like a departure but instead it only feels like an extension of Rivera’s Garza’s genius.
Twenty-three years after the disappearance of his mother, the nameless narrator of Ramifications is self-confined to his bed. He spends his days folding origami, extracting the symmetrical veins from leaves, and going over the details of the summer his mother disappeared to join the Zapatista uprising, or so he’s been led to believe. That is, until he makes a surprising discovery. From one of the rising stars of Latin American literature, Ramifications is a rich and enthralling examination of memory, masculinity, and trauma.
Home: New Arabic Poems is the second book in Two Line Press’s new Calico series, following That We May Live: Speculative Chinese Fiction. The series presents vanguard works of translated literature in strikingly designed (and eminently collectible) editions. This beautiful bilingual collection features nine poets from all over the Arabic speaking world and eleven translators. I was overwhelmed by these powerful poems, yes, of politics, war, and migration, but more importantly of the everyday, of home—making it unlike any contemporary collection of Arabic poetry I’ve ever read.
“Of the first poets, we hear rumors, but have no poems.” And so begins acclaimed poet and translator Dan Beachy-Quick in his introduction to his translation of six poets of the Greek lyric tradition: Simonides, Anacreon, Archilochus, Theognis, Alcman, and Callimachus. Beachy-Quick remedies this loss with a thoughtfully collected anthology of poems of the ancients—poems that despite their age sing with a fresh vibrancy. Beachy-Quick is both translator and guide through the stone ruins and his insightful and beautiful introductions to each poet are a joy in and of themselves. Part of Milkweed’s Seedbank Series that aims to preserve and bring ancient, historical, and contemporary works from cultures around the world to readers, Stone-Garland is a collection to cherish.
Building on the brilliance that is Bad Friends—also translated by Janet Hong—Nineteen is a collection of short coming-of-age stories that Korean cartoonist Ancco created over the course of her early 20s. These stories have all of the raw tenderness and strength of Bad Friends but portray a wider array of families and relationships. If Bad Friends is the first striking piece of art that captures your attention when you walk into the room, then Nineteen with its varying artistic styles and clamor of voices, is the wider exhibition of Annco’s work that keeps you endlessly looping around the gallery.
This surprising and clever collection of stories draws inspiration from traditional Japanese ghost and yōkai tales, many of which have been immortalized as kabuki or rakugo theatrical performances. Strange, poignant, and at times delightfully funny, these feminist retellings explore and critique roles and expectations for women in contemporary Japan and beyond. I’d recommend it to fans of The Lonesome Bodybuilder: Stories by Yukiko Motoya, translated by Asa Yoneda
In her new collection of stories, critically acclaimed author of Cockroaches and most recently The Barefoot Women, Scholastique Mukasonga writes of Rwanda—its people and animals and the land itself. In deeply moving and beautiful prose, Mukasonga writes semi-autobiographically of the power of women and family and the resilience of the Tutsi people. You see and feel everything in Mukasonga’s prose, translated by the renowned Jordan Stump, the scents and sounds of the cows and the solemn, spiritual moment of milking, the warmth of the sun, and the inconceivable pain, but also resolve, of a survivor.
“These essays are written on the skin of the times.” Winner of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, Dubravka Ugresic returns with another astonishing collection of essays. In turns wickedly funny and then startlingly bleak, Ugresic writes brilliantly of modern life and culture, of politics and people, with surprising cultural references ranging from Lenin’s corpse to La La Land and the World Cup. But it’s her penetrating critique of nationalism and historical revisionism that carries through the collection and strikes closest to the heart.
Tourist season is over. The weather has turned. And Herman’s wife and child are missing. For the first time ever, the family extended their stay, in the village where they spend their summers, into September rather than returning to Paris. Is this, he wonders, why his family has mysteriously vanished? Herman’s search for his family leads him deeper into a community with strange customs and even stranger people. A psychologically chilling and masterful story of power, privilege, and entitlement.
Elena Ferrante fans will rejoice to see The Lying Life of Adults, Elena Ferrante’s first novel in five years, since the conclusion of the Neapolitan quartet. Like the Neapolitan novels, The Lying Life is also set in Naples and follows a young girl, Giovanna, from adolescence to adulthood. But The Lying Life is moodier, edgier—an intense and cutting novel of family, class, and womanhood. Giovanna’s story begins when she overhears her beloved father saying that she is “very ugly” and has the face of her estranged Aunt Vittoria. This remark opens up a crack in Giovanna’s life and she begins a desperate search for her Aunt, throwing her headlong into the lives (and lies) of the adults she had loved and trusted mere moments before.
In this hotly anticipated followup to Convenience Store Woman, Sayaka Murata and translator Ginny Tapley Takemori return with another strange and unconventional novel of what it means to be an outsider. Eleven-year old Natsuki has always felt different but finds solace in her plush hedgehog Piyuut and summers with her cousin Yuu. The pair come to believe that they are aliens (as is Piyuut, from the planet Popinpobopia) and this belief and their bond begins a bizarre and at times shocking coming-of-age story. Like Convenience Store Woman, Earthlings looks closely at societal expectations and pressures to conform to dizzying effect.
This post was originally published on Book Riot.