The great Argentine writer César Aira said in an interview once, “The longer a book is, the less it is literature.” I don’t know if I entirely agree with Aira but I do know that I love a good short book! The tight and immaculate structures necessary to really pull something together in less than ~200 pages are nothing less than pure art, a real test for a writer, in my opinion. And I love reading a book in a single sitting, being entirely enmeshed in the novelist’s world for a couple hours or an afternoon. I’ve collected some truly amazing short books in translation here for all to enjoy! Please comment with any favorites I’ve missed and let me know which of the books on the list you love or want to read next.
The Governesses by Anne Serre, translated by Mark Hutchinson
In this U.S. debut from major French writer Anne Serre, three governesses are shut off in a remote country home. They’re supposed to be watching their pupils, but in this “intense, delicious meringue of a novel” they’re off instead having frenzied erotic adventures. It’s an absolute gem—sexy, funny, smart, and some spectacular writing. And all in like 100 pages—I just don’t know how that’s possible. Kirkus calls it “A sensualist, surrealist romp” writing that “each sentence evokes a dream logic both languid and circuitous as the governesses move through a fever of domesticity and sexual abandon.”
An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten, translated by Marlaine Delargy
An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good is dark, funny, and oh so satisfying. Maud is an 88-year-old Swede who has no scruples about solving life’s problems with some lowkey murder. I enjoyed this story collection and have since picked up Helene Tursten’s mystery novels, including the Inspector Irene Huss series and the first installment in her brand new series featuring Detective Inspector Embla Nyström, Hunting Game. An Elderly Lady is also just such a great package—the title is fun and clever, the needlepoint cover is hilarious, and the small trim size finishes it off perfectly.
Slave Old Man by Patrick Chamoiseau, translated by Linda Coverdale
In turns biblical and mythical, Patrick Chamoiseau’s Slave Old Man is a modern epic, a history of the Caribbean, and a tribute to Creole languages, all told—somewhat inexplicably to anyone who’s ever put pen to paper—through the story of one slave old man. Linda Coverdale’s translation sings as she beautifully renders language as lush and vividly alive as the wilderness the old man plunges into in his flight to freedom. A powerful and subversive work of genius by a master storyteller.
The Taiga Syndrome by Cristina Rivera Garza, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Aviva Kana
I’m a huge fan of The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza and translated by Sarah Booker and I couldn’t wait for her most recent book The Taiga Syndrome, Garza’s take on a contemporary Latin American detective novel. The narrative follows an ex-detective as she searches for a missing couple. It’s complicated and genre bending, with nods to fairy tales—Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood specifically—and written in a striking style that’s all her own. The dark, creepy tone really hit the spot for me in the midst of my reading last fall. In a starred review, Kirkus calls it “An eerie, slippery gem of a book” and I just love that description.
The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector, translated by Benjamin Moser
Clarice Lispector’s last novel is a short, strange, tour de force—a masterpiece of a book. In The Hour of the Star, Lispector follows the narrator Rodrigo S.M., a pretentious, cosmopolitan writer describing the act of writing. He is writing about his creation, Macabéa, one of “life’s unfortunates” a woman living in the slums of Rio. She is poor, sickly, and unloved, and yet she lives simply and happily. “Lispector employs her pathetic heroine against her urbane, empty narrator—edge of despair to edge of despair—and working them like a pair of scissors, she cuts away the reader’s preconceived notions about poverty, identity, love, and the art of fiction.”
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.”
Those are just some of the great books that made my list. Check this post out in full on Book Riot.