Dark Books in Translation For Dark Winter Nights

I find that there’s nothing better for a dark winter night than a dark, strange book. Maybe it’s a thriller or a mystery, or maybe a collection of stories, but I love a good creepy book. I’ve collected here some dark books in translation for cold winter nights. All of these books are short, written by women (who better to really scare you?), and absolutely unsettling.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang, Translated by Deborah Smith

I love Man Booker International Prize–Winner The Vegetarian by Han Kang. It’s a beautiful and provocative story about a woman, Yeong-hye, who begins to have horrible nightmares—of blood and carnage—and in order to clear her mind and rid herself of these dreams she becomes a vegetarian. The story becomes one of control and power as her husband and family try to break her into submission, back into the norms of Korean society. To further emphasize her lack of control, Yeong-hye’s own story is told by others, in three parts, first by her husband, then her brother-in-law, and finally by her sister. It’s a dark, fascinating book that you won’t be able to stop thinking about it.

Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories by Mariana Enriquez, Translated by Megan McDowell 

I was blown away by this collection of dark, macabre short stories set in contemporary Argentina. They are stories of ghosts, disappearances, violence, inequality, and more and I promise that you will be haunted by them. My favorites were stories of obsession like “The Dirty Kid” in which a young professional woman discovers that a local child has been killed and mutilated, and “The Neighbor’s Courtyard,” a story of an ex-social worker who believes her neighbor has a child chained up in the backyard. The collection is reminiscent of Shirley Jackson and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado.

Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, Translated by Sora Kim-Russell 

Nowhere to Be Found follows a nameless narrator’s search not for meaning, but for meaninglessness, in contemporary South Korea. Bae Suah’s young narrator describes her empty existence as she travels through life, barely moved by the disintegrated state of her family and her own poverty and loneliness. Translator Sora Kim-Russell describes it as “a road novel turned inside out, a story of a woman’s journey out of and into desire told as only Bae Suah could tell it.” Blurred descriptions of a life full of trivial banalities are thrown against dark, sadomasochistic sex scenes. The abrupt shifts are disorienting and unsettling and Suah breaks boundaries, constantly, between recollection and memory, facts and fiction.

Fever Dream by Samanta  Schweblin, Translated by Megan McDowell

Translated into English for the first time, Fever Dream is an eerie, absorbing novel about the “power and desperation of family.” A young woman is in a rural hospital clinic, delirious and dying. A boy named David, the son of a friend, waits by her bedside as Amanda tries to piece together how she came to be there and where her own daughter is. But there’s something wrong with David, wrong with the place Amanda finds herself, and maybe something wrong with Amanda too. The writing is tight and sparse but absolutely absorbing and you’ll find yourself racing to the end of this small but powerful book.

This post was originally published on Book Riot.

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A New National Book Award and Another Strike for The New York Times

The National Book Foundation recently announced that it will now present a fifth National Book Award category, honoring a work of fiction or nonfiction that has been translated into English and published in the U.S. The inaugural award will join the other four categories—Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature—and be presented at the 69th National Book Awards Ceremony in the fall.

The decision to create the new award was made unanimously. Executive Director Lisa Lucas states that, “We want American readers to deeply value an inclusive, big-picture point of view, and the National Book Award for Translated Literature is part of a commitment to that principle. The addition of this award lends crucial visibility to works that have the power to touch us as American readers in search of broadened perspective.”

It’s truly wonderful news and I’m thrilled to see more support and resources going toward the promotion of literature in translation.

And the New York Times covered the exciting news and totally fucked it up.

The literature in translation community is a supportive and generous one and all of the increased mainstream recognition of translated works and the category as a whole is because of the passion and hard work of writers, translators, small independent publishers, and devoted booksellers. Which is why completely ignoring the Best Translated Book Awards, an award that has been around since 2007, was started by an extension of a small independent press, Open Letter Books, and gives out $20,000 in prize money (which is double that of the new National Book Award) literally makes no sense to me. Is it shoddy journalism? Was this article just written too quickly? I don’t know. (There are some other small factual hang-ups with this article that I’m choosing to not discuss.)

But maybe the author just wanted to focus on THIS award, you say!

The author discusses other literary awards: “Other literary institutions have also made efforts to highlight works in translation. The PEN America Center has given out a translation prize to highlight international works since the 1960s. In 2015, the Booker Prize Foundation recast its international prize…”

Why does it matter?

It matters because that wonderful community built this award. It was started by a small press and so many others have contributed to its growth and success. By not including it and instead putting off this weird tone where you write things like, “…there’s still a lingering perception that translated literature doesn’t sell well in the United States” and “When other major literary awards have expanded their geographic reach, there’s occasionally been a backlash…” it just makes for a really shitty, weird, poorly researched article. I’m not expecting the Times to be a translation cheerleader, but can we have a slightly better news write-up?

Now, I interned at Open Letter, have reviewed for Three Percent, and have been a supporter of literature in translation in ways both big and small, so I understand that this matters to me in ways that it might not to others, but this is twice now (in my recent memory) that the Timesbook coverage has really missed the mark. Remember when they alienated and enraged the romance community?        

Here’s a happy ending for you though. On Twitter, Lisa Lucas put out a call for a thread to “all the amazing publishers/magazines/awards who put out/champion translated literature!” and the responses are staggering. It’s a true testament to the breadth and depth of the literature in translation community and their support of one another.

This post was originally published on Book Riot.

Indie Press Guide: Great Books from 2017

Are you planning on reading more books from small independent presses as a New Year’s resolution? Maybe you specifically want to read more books in translation? Check out this indie press guide for great books published by indie presses in 2017!

Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press)

This was one of my favorite books of the fall! Intense and strange, feminist and queer, this collection of stories blends genres—notably horror and fantasy—to shape narratives of women and the violence visited upon their bodies. It’s a powerful and enthralling collection and I can’t wait for more from Carmen Maria Machado.

Have you already read Her Body and Other Parties? I’d recommend Fen: Stories by Daisy Johnson, another stunning collection from Graywolf Press.

Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett (Tin House Books)

Rabbit Cake follows Elvis Babbit and her family as they cope with the death of her mother. Hartnett’s understanding of grief is startling and honest. There’s a clever balance of dark humor and grief with these light (sometimes laugh out loud) funny moments. It’s quirky, funny, and an absolute delight. You’ll come away from the book absolutely in love with Elvis and this sweet coming-of-age novel.

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris (Fantagraphics)

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters came highly recommended to me and it didn’t disappoint. Set against the  tumultuous background of 1960s Chicago, Monsters follows ten-year-old Karen Reyes as she tries to solve the murder of her upstairs neighbor, a hauntingly beautiful and damaged Holocaust survivor. Karen loves nothing more than monsters—she is pictured throughout the graphic novel as a “weregirl”—and the book is full of b-rated monster movie posters and covers of monster magazines. The artwork is extraordinary, pen on lined notebook paper, but in a range of styles that perfectly captures the multifaceted nature of the story.

The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza, Translated by Sarah Booker (The Feminist Press)

From award-winning author, translator, and critic Cristina Rivera Garza comes a startling gothic novel of gender, power, and language. In The Iliac Crest, two women invade the unnamed narrator’s home and ruthlessly interrogate him about his identity. They claim to know his great secret and when he fails to give them what they want he finds himself in a sanatorium. And this is the first time its been available in English!

 

Moonbath by Yanick Lahens, Translated by Emily Gogolak (Deep Vellum Publishing)

Moonbath is a beautiful and haunting novel that is at once an intimate family saga that spans four generations of Haitian women and at the same time this broad and sweeping story of a country. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I finished it—it’s lyrical and evocative and the writing will blow you away. It’s not an easy read in many ways; the history of Haiti is often complicated and we watch these women struggle against violence and poverty, but it is such a powerful force of a novel.

I’d also recommend Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi, translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman (also from Deep Vellum) as a powerful pairing to Moonbath.

A Working Woman by Elvira Navarro, Translated by Christina MacSweeney (Two Lines Press)

Elvira Navarro has been named one of the “Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists”and one of the major Spanish voices of the future. In A Working Woman, she explores female friendship, madness, and the bizarre through the story of two roommates, Elisa and Susana. It’s a subtle, interesting novel that you won’t forget anytime soon.

Looking for more great reads from independent publishers? Check out Liberty Hardy’s list of 100 Must-Read Indie Press Books.

This post was originally published on Book Riot as an Indie Press Holiday Gift Guide.

Three Women in Translation to Add to Your #TBR Pile

Looking to add more women in translation titles to your TBR piles? Here are three international authors who might not be on your radar but definitely should be!

Bae Suah

Bae Suah is one of the hottest, most experimental voices coming out of South Korea right now. She’s published numerous novels and short story collections and has won several prestigious awards. Suah is heavily influenced by her work as a translator, having translated several books from German, including works by W.G. Sebald, Franz Kafka, and Jenny Erpenbeck. Nowhere to be Found, one of her first books to appear in English, was longlisted for a PEN Translation Prize and the Best Translated Book Award.

Her most recent work, North Station, translated by Deborah Smith, is a collection of stories that embodies all that Suah is known for in her writing—subverting time and narrative, intellectually stimulating questions of art and life, and epically gorgeous writing.

Josefine Klougart

Josefine Klougart is considered one of Denmark’s most important contemporary writers and she’s often compared to Virginia Woolf and Joan Didion. Two of her three novels have been nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize—arguably one of the most prestigious prizes in Scandinavia. She is currently the editor of Den Blå Port, a literary journal in Denmark.

It’s an impossible task choosing between her two novels currently available in English, so I’m just not going to do it! One of Us Is Sleeping and Of Darkness, both translated by Martin Aitken, are beautiful, haunting novels about loss, blending literary styles and genres.

Valeria Luiselli

Valeria Luiselli is a highly-acclaimed Mexican novelist and essayist. Of the authors on this list, she’s probably the author you’re most familiar with—her writing is incredible and she’s received so much well-deserved buzz! She’s received numerous awards, her work has appeared in publications like The New York TimesMcSweeney’s and The New Yorker, and she’s been a recipient of the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35” award.

The Story of My Teeth, translated by Christina MacSweeney, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Best Translated Book Award and won the Los Angeles Times Prize for Best Fiction. It’s an eccentric and challenging novel about storytelling, lies, and the creation of value and meaning in modern art. Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions is another incredible work by Luiselli that I can’t recommend enough!

This post was originally published on Book Riot.

Three Books in Translation for Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale

Love The Handmaid’s Tale? Check out these great works of international literature, complete with political unrest, elements of dystopian and speculative fiction, and unusual narrative structures.

The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz

Translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette. The Queue is set in an unnamed Middle Eastern city under authoritarian rule. The centralized authority the Gate has risen to power after the “Disgraceful Events,” a failed popular uprising. Citizens are required to obtain permission from the Gate for the most basic of their daily affairs but the Gate never opens and the queue grows longer, until it becomes a permanent and never-ending facet of the city. It’s a powerful and startling novel. Basma Abdel Aziz is also an important activist and figure in Egypt right now (nicknamed “The Rebel”) and this is her first novel.

The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo

Translated from the Finnish by Lola Rogers. Probably the closest in subject matter to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Core of the Sun is a wildly inventive, smart, and wickedly funny dystopian novel set in an alternate Republic of Finland. This alternate state has bred a subspecies of women, known as eloi, for sex and procreation. The eloi are receptive and submissive, beloved for their blonde hair and perfect bodies. Smart and independent women are sterilized. Our protagonist Vanna passes as an eloi with her blonde locks and good looks but is fiercely intelligent. She is desperately looking for her missing sister while also keeping at bay her growing addiction to a powerful, illegal stimulant—the chili pepper. If that’s not enough to tempt you, there’s also a crazy religious cult, chili pepper induced hallucinations, and one of the most jaw dropping opening scenes I’ve ever read.

Human Acts: A Novel by Han Kang

Translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith. In the midst of a student uprising a young boy is killed. His story and the events following the uprising are told in a series of narratives—each chapter from a different perspective: his best friend, his heartbroken mother, a factory worker, an editor facing down government censorship. Together these narratives form a fictionalized account of the South Korean Gwangju Uprising in 1980. Horrific and brutal, Human Acts is not for the faint of heart but it is so beautifully written. If Han Kang and Deborah Smith sound familiar, they’re also the author/translator team of the Man Booker International Prize winner The Vegetarian.

 

Check out the full article on Book Riot.

#WITMonth Stats

Earlier in the month I posted about the dismal percentage of published works in translation that are written by women and I promised more specifics for all of you data junkies. According to Chad Post, Publisher at Open Letter Books and keeper of the largest translation database in publishing, here are the numbers:

First off, the big one: For the data I’ve collected between 2008-20181only 28.7% of the translations in the database were written by women. That’s 1,394 titles out of a grand total of 4,849. That’s not great . . .

Here’s a list of the ten countries that have produced the most total titles written by women:

France 155
Germany 145
Sweden 84
Italy 64
Spain 64
Japan 62
Argentina 49
Russia 43
South Korea 39
Canada [Quebec] 38

Obviously, certain languages are at a disadvantage when you look at their authors by country of origin, so here’s the top ten by language.

French 236
Spanish 186
German 185
Swedish 88
Italian 67
Japanese 60
Russian 46
Arabic 44
Korean 39
Norwegian 37

And, here are the top ten publishers.

AmazonCrossing 194
Dalkey Archive 58
Europa Editions 47
Seagull Books 37
Other Press 28
New Directions 26
Open Letter 24
Atria 19
Feminist Press 17
Penguin 17

Check out the full post on Three Percent.

 

Review: A Greater Music by Bae Suah

Review: A Greater Music by Bae Suah. Translated by Deborah Smith

My latest review on Three Percent!

A Greater Music is the first in a line of steady and much-anticipated releases by Bae Suah from key indie presses (this one published by Open Letter). Building off of the interest of 2016 Best Translated Book Award longlist nominee Nowhere to Be Found, Bae Suah is back, this time with Deborah Smith, translator of the Man Booker Prize winner The Vegetarian and founder of Tilted Axis, a UK-based press dedicated to publishing new works in translation.

In the book’s opening chapters, the narrator—who remains unnamed—falls into an icy river in the suburbs of Berlin. A Korean writer and student living in Germany, she begins to look back over the years, blurring lines between past and present as she examines her relationship with Joachim, her on-and-off, working class boyfriend, and M, her German tutor, a refined and enigmatic young woman she’s in love with. The contrast between these two partners and the tensions around language and class are fascinating, but I had a hard time just getting past how gorgeous the writing was.

The narrator describes M, setting the scene for their many discussions of music and language, “The rain water trickled down M’s pale, almost ghost-like forehead, down over her eyelids, still more sunken after her recent cold, and over her slightly-downward pointed nose. When she tilted her head upward, her lips appeared unbelievably thin and delicate, tapering elegantly even when she wasn’t smiling, flushed red as though suffused by the morning sunlight. The delicate, languidly prominent scaffolding of her cheekbones . . . If books and language were the symbol of M’s absolute world, then music was her inaccessible mind, her religion, her soul.”
The narrative is constantly shifting, pliable, and fluid, in both tense and setting. The construction seems effortless, allowing the narrator to sift through her life, her relationships, and most importantly the end of her relationship with M to find closure in it all. Her memory, one can’t forget, is imperfect—an approximation and perhaps a reinvention.

The style of the writing evokes the very music that seems to drive the story. Smith in an interview with Tobias Carroll for Vol. 1 Brooklyn stated, “When I was translating her, the thing that I was most aware of was trying not to smooth out the weirdness too much. . . . It becomes quite hypnotic when you read it in Korean, and quite lyrical in places as well. She writes a lot about music, and the other thing that her style evokes is that. It’s more about the cadence of the sentence. The core book itself, the structure, is more about variations on a theme, and coming back to certain motifs rather than a straight chronology.”

Thankfully for readers, Bae Suah is prolific and Deborah Smith seems determined to bring these great books to English language readers.