20 Must-Read Japanese Books by Women in Translation

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 WomanEarthlings 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.

Best Fall 2020 Books In Translation

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.”

Grieving: Dispatches From a Wounded Country by Cristina Rivera Garza, translated by Sarah Booker

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 SyndromeGrieving may seem like a departure but instead it only feels like an extension of Rivera’s Garza’s genius. 

Ramifications by Daniel Saldaña París, translated by Christina MacSweeney

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 by Iman Mersal, Samir Abu Hawwash, Ines Abassi & Others, translated by Hodna Nuernberg & Others

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. 

Stone-Garland: Six Poets from the Greek Literary Tradition, translated by Dan Beachy-Quick

“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.

Nineteen by Anncco, translated by Janet Hong

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.

Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko 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

Igifu by Scholastique Mukasonga, translated by Jordan Stump

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. 

The Age of Skin: Essays by Dubravka Ugresic, translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać

“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. 

That Time of Year by Marie NDiaye, translated by Jordan Stump

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.

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein

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.

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 WomanEarthlings looks closely at societal expectations and pressures to conform to dizzying effect. 

This post was originally published on Book Riot.

7 Summer 2020 New Releases by Women in Translation

Women in Translation Month has ended but the joy of celebrating and reading women in translation doesn’t have to. With great summer 2020 releases like these, you’ll be able to stock up well into next year.

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.

Vernon Subutex 2 by Virginie Despentes, translated by Frank Wynne

Vernon Subutex 1 was a wild, provocative, rock and roll romp around Paris and its people and I’m so thrilled to see this next part in writer and filmmaker Virginie Despentes’s trilogy arrive in the U.S. In this second novel, we continue to follow former record shop owner Vernon Subutex as all of Paris (or so it feels) swirls around him, searching for answers that only he can provide. Despentes’s satire—expertly translated by the great Frank Wynne—is tongue in cheek if you’re biting your cheek so hard it bleeds, oh and with a cigarette thrown in for good measure. 

The Frightened Ones by Dima Wannous, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette

Dima Wannous’s English-language debut The Frightened Ones is a haunting novel of present-day Syria and collective trauma, told through alternating chapters from the point of view of Suleima, the novel’s protagonist, and a woman in an unfinished manuscript that feels eerily similar. I’d recommend this radical and disorienting psychological novel to fans of the The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz, also translated by Elisabeth Jaquette, and Death is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa, translated by Leri Price—specifically if you’re looking for more novels sets in contemporary Syria. This book was a Finalist for the 2018 International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-Eun, translated by Lizzie Buehler

Jungle is a travel agency that specializes in disaster tourism and as one of its top top employees, Yona crafts travel packages to places wrecked by disasters ranging from tsunamis and earthquakes to nuclear disasters and war. Until, that is, she tries to stop her supervisor from sexually harassing her and ends up with a paid “vacation” to assess a poorly reviewed and unprofitable vacation package. The Disaster Tourist is a clever and darkly compelling eco-thriller and satire of the exploitation—of people, nations, and the natural world—inherent in tourism and our society generally.

Bezoar: And Other Unsettling Stories by Guadalupe Nettel, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine

If you’ve been dying for more Guadalupe Nettel after reading the sharp and stunning After the Winter, translated by Rosalind Harvey, then you’re in luck. In the vein of Silvina Ocampo, Cristina Rivera Garza, and Samanta Schweblin, each story in this collection is beautifully crafted and uniquely unsettling. The stories are varied—a medical photographer is infatuated with the eyelid of a young woman, a man comes to a new understanding of the natural world and his own marriage after meeting a gardener, a woman’s odor in an unlikely place drives a man to search for her—but feel connected by Nettel’s elusive prose and their strange, sensory, and obsessive nature.

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 of 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.

Bluebeard’s First Wife by Ha Seong-nan, translated by Janet Hong

In this hotly anticipated follow up to Flowers of Mold, Ha Seong-nan and translator Janet Hong return with another unnerving collection of stories that proves to be even more psychologically chilling than the first. It’s Ha Seong-nan’s subject matter that surprises, it all feels so normal, so possible. There is no haunted house in Ha Seong-nan’s stories—it’s your own house, your own neighbor, your own life where Ha Seong-nan’s horror lies. And what could be more truly terrifying?

Looking for even more great new releases? Check out the Indie Press Roundup: 10 Great New Releases for Summer, featuring more Women in Translation recommendations like Grove by Esther Kinsky, translated by Caroline Schmidt!

This post was originally published on Book Riot.

10 Works of Korean Literature in Translation for Fans of Parasite

If you loved the critically acclaimed and astonishing film Parasite—directed by Bong Joon-ho, with a screenplay cowritten by Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won—and you’re looking for more great Korean artistry to scratch that itch, look no further than the incredible books in translation coming out of South Korea right now. Many of these novels have themes similar to the ones explored in Parasite, some capture the tone and mood of the film, and others feel quite different but have the genius, the same ingenuity of Parasite

The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith

I love Man Booker International Prize winner The Vegetarian by Han Kang and it’s a great place to start this list. 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

Mina by Kim Sagwa, translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton

Author and translator Don Lee Choi calls Kim Sagwa “South Korea’s young, brilliant, fearless writer” and it’s hard to argue after reading Sagwa’s shocking and powerful debut, Mina. Sagwa captures all that’s complicated about adolescence in Mina but goes further, portraying a disaffected generation cracking under the pressures of perfection and the drive for success in a time that could only be our own. If you want more Kim Sagwa, pick up her newest release (also about young adults) B, Book, and Me translated by Sunhee Jeong.

Autobiography of Death by Kim Hyesoon, translated by Don Mee Choi

“While I was writing these poems, I was probably possessed by a ghost, listening to death, then I held death in my hand and entered the house of death.” In 49 poems—one for each day that the spirit roams after death before it enters the cycle of reincarnation—Kim Hyesoon writes of death, tragedy, and trauma. Powerful and haunting, this collection translated by Don Mee Choi “gives voice to those unjustly killed during Korea’s violent contemporary history” and grapples with the “structure of death” that we’re all living in, individually and collectively. Complete with striking drawings by Fi Jae Lee and a fascinating interview and translator’s note that captures the fierce intelligence of both author and translator, Autobiography of Death feels like one of the most important books I’ve ever read.

Blood Sisters by Yideum Kim, translated by Jiyoon Lee

Blood Sisters, the debut novel from celebrated poet Kim Yideum, tells the story of Jeong Yeoul, a college student coping with the aftermath of the violent suppression of student demonstrations in South Korea. With painfully honest and vivid prose, Yideum paints the picture of the environment Jeong Yeoul faces. It’s an all too familiar narrative, the mistreatment and devaluation of women and the constant threat of sexual violence. In the midst of this undercurrent of unrest, Jeong Yeoul is trying to figure out who she is and who she wants to be⁠—a thought provoking and powerful novel

Flowers of Mold & Other Stories by Seong-Nan Ha, translated by Janet Hong

“If you’re looking for a book that will make you gasp out loud, you’ve found it.” So says Kirkus and dozens of other publications and reviewers who can’t stop talking about Flowers of Mold, myself included. Unnerving, haunting, captivating, these ten stories follow ordinary characters going about their lives—they have a nightmare, lend their neighbor a spatula, or find out their landlord wants to sell their building. But something disturbing lies just below the surface. One small crack and everything’s unleashed. “The latest in the trend of brilliant female Korean authors to appear in English, Ha cuts like a surgeon, and even the most mundane objects become menacing and unfamiliar under her scalpel.” And stay tuned for Bluebeard’s First Wife, another collection by Seong-Nan Han and translated by Janet Hong that comes out in June

The White Book by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith 

Han Kang has followed up her Booker Prize–winning novel The Vegetarian with some truly astonishing books, including Human Acts and the much-anticipated The White Book, her newest release. While on a writer’s residency, a nameless narrator reckons with the death of her older sister, who died only a few hours old and left an inedible mark on the narrator and her family. She writes about this tragedy in a series of unique and profound reflections “through the prism of the color white.” The White Book is a gorgeous and startling meditation on death and grief.

Human Acts by Han Kang, translated 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. I would pair reading it with another book on this list, Autobiography of Death by Kim Hyesoon and translated by Don Mee Choi, a poetry collection that also touches on issues of trauma and history.

The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun, translated by Sora Kim-Russell

In this intense, psychological thriller, Oghi has woken up in the hospital after a car accident that took his wife’s life and left him severely injured and incapacitated. His mother-in-law becomes his caretaker and moves him home, only to neglect him as she throws herself into digging a hole, a giant pit, in the front yard, where her daughter’s beloved garden once thrived. Here the genius of the book becomes fully evident, as Hye-Young Pyun creates a fast-paced and all consuming story with a bedridden narrator. Unable to move or communicate, Oghi searches desperately for a way to escape while also going over the difficult truths of his life and marriage—truths his mother-in-law is now well-aware of. A novel of secrets, isolation, and grief, The Hole is a tightly-executed feat of writing.

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 Suah breaks boundaries, constantly, between recollection and memory, facts, and fiction.

North Station by Bae Suah, translated by Deborah Smith

Bae Suah is one of the hottest, most experimental voices coming out of South Korea right now. She’s published numerous novels (including Nowhere to Be Found, also on this list) 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. 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.

This post was originally published on Book Riot.

5 Poetry Collections by Women in Translation

Looking to read more poetry in translation? It was one of my reading goals this year, and I knew that I specifically wanted to read more poetry by women in translation. It was some of the most rewarding reading of my life and I’m thrilled to share these recommendations. From Vietnam to Denmark, these collections are from all over the world and are full of the power and brilliance I’ve come to associate with the stellar poetry being published in English translation right now, often by small independent publishers. So much gratitude to them and all those involved in the publication of these incredible collections!

The Iraqi Nights by Dunya Mikhail, translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid

I’ve been eyeing Dunya Mikhail’s poetry collections for a while now and was finally spurred on to pick them up after seeing her new and fourth collection, In Her Feminine Sign, in bookstores. Her third collection, The Iraqi Nights, is a beautiful and poignant examination of violence and war but also a story of hope and endurance. Mikhail references The One Thousand and One Nights in her title and takes the book and the figure of Scheherazade as a focal point—her poems similarly spinning stories to help those affected endure the long night that is war. In addition to being an acclaimed poet, Mikhail’s also a journalist and the author of The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq, translated by Mikhail and Max Weiss.

Third-Millennium Heart by Ursula Andkjær Olsen, translated by Katrine Øgaard Jensen

Winner of the 2018 National Translation Award, Third-Millennium Heart is a radical and compelling exploration of desire, power, and creation from one of Denmark’s most important contemporary poets. The poems are sparse and aggressive, often building on each other, but in turn also dismantling previous ideas, an aptly described series of “declarations and retractions” in which Olsen takes on the patriarchal and capitalist structures of the Western world. I found myself racing through these poems, driven on by Katrine Øgaard Jensen’s masterful translation and the pulsing thrill of the collection. On finishing the book I felt lightheaded—totally overwhelmed and enthralled by its power, I hadn’t even realized I had been holding my breath.

Spring Essence: The Poetry of Hô Xuân Huong, translated by John Balaban

This collection and its author—an 18th century concubine who went on to become one of the most important and well-known poets in Vietnam—are endlessly fascinating. Hidden within demure and often picturesque descriptions of everyday life and nature are racy and suggestive poems “which used double entendre and sexual innuendo as a vehicle for social, religious, and political commentary”—a feat that held personal risk for the poet. The poems are immensely clever and I’m in awe of her skill, layering meaning and defying conventions in each and every piece. This collection is also unique in that it presents the English translation alongside the calligraphic Nôm writing system in which the poems were written and their modern Vietnamese equivalent.

Autobiography of Death by Kim Hyesoon, translated by Don Mee Choi

“While I was writing these poems, I was probably possessed by a ghost, listening to death, then I held death in my hand and entered the house of death.” In 49 poems—one for each day that the spirit roams after death before it enters the cycle of reincarnation—Kim Hyesoon writes of death, tragedy, and trauma. Powerful and haunting, this collection translated by Don Mee Choi “gives voice to those unjustly killed during Korea’s violent contemporary history” and grapples with the “structure of death” that we’re all living in, individually and collectively. Complete with striking drawings by Fi Jae Lee and a fascinating interview and translator’s note that captures the fierce intelligence of both author and translator, Autobiography of Death feels like one of the most important books I’ve ever read.

Caravan Lullabies by Ilzė Butkutė, translated by Rimas Uzgiris

I was recently introduced to Periscope, an imprint from A Midsummer Night’s Press entirely devoted to poetry by women in translation, and read through all of their excellent work by women poets around the globe in a joyous mad dash. I’m particularly fond of Caravan Lullabies by the Lithuanian poet Ilzė Butkutė for its striking imagery—magicians, acrobats, circuses, and more traverse through these poems—set against beautiful scenes of home—quiet nights, lullabies, and the odd mischievous cat. One of my favorites in this collection might be the last poem, where the poet asks, “Is it easy to be a poet, / sharing a home with a cat?” and answers with a resounding no.

This post was originally published on Book Riot.

20 Must-Read Short Story Collections by Women in Translation

While looking back at my reading over the last few years, I noticed that many of my favorite books have been short story collections by women in translation. This came as a surprise to me initially—I hadn’t realized I had even read that many short story collections—but once I began to look these books over again I was struck anew by their brilliance. And so I sought out others to round out a list from around the world that will hopefully bring as much joy to you as the reading and compiling did for me. Because boy was compiling this list of 20 must-read short story collections by women in translation a pleasure! I dipped in and out of these stories with utter amazement, finding something for every mood, whim, and desire.

Do you want to laugh? Maybe pick up An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good or The First Prehistoric Serial Killer. Is it October and you want to be utterly terrified and not sleep for days? There are so many options, from Revenge to Flowers of Mold to The Houseguest. Do you want to read a story so achingly perfect that you’ll never try to write again? Well, there are more than a few stories like that in these collections, but I would start by flipping to almost any story in The Woman Who Borrowed Memories. The list could go on. I wish you many hours of happy reading!

The Houseguest by Amparo Dávila, translated by Audrey Harris and Matthew Gleeson 

The horrors of The Houseguest are rarely described on the page. They lurk in the margins. They haunt the shadows. And it’s this thrilling psychological tension that leaves you gasping for air after each story of desire, paranoia, and isolation. Carmen Maria Machado writes that “Each of these stories is equal parts Hitchcock film and razor blade: austere, immaculately crafted, profoundly unsettling, and capable of cutting you. Amparo Dávila is Kafka by way of Ogawa, Aira by way of Carrington, Cortazár by way of Somers, and I’m so grateful she’s in translation.” And do you really need more than that?

Thirteen Months of Sunrise by Rania Mamoun, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette 

In this beautiful debut collection, Sudanese author, journalist, and activist Rania Mamoun crafts a complex and moving portrait of contemporary Sudan. It’s a uniquely urban collection as Mamoun reflects on the isolation that can come with urban life, but she also depicts powerful stories of human connection and love. You’ll feel these stories deeply in Elizabeth Jaquette’s thoughtful translation.

The First Prehistoric Serial Killer: And Other Stories by Teresa Solana, translated by Peter Bush

I love this short story collection and don’t think it gets nearly the attention it deserves! It is one of the funniest books, especially if you like dark humor. Very odd things happen in Teresa Solana’s stories. Statues decompose and stink out galleries. Two old grandmothers are vengeful killers. The first prehistoric serial killer is afoot, but so is the first detective. The collection also includes an interesting and fun web of stories that explore the darker side of Barcelona. Clever and effortlessly funny, this collection is a gem.

Mouthful of Birds: Stories by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell

Samanta Schweblin, author of the literary sensation Fever Dream, returns with her first short story collection translated into English. Like Fever Dream, I was struck by the elusive, almost unsatisfactory nature of the stories. Some are strikingly short. Others are carefully crafted to confound. All leave you wanting more and thinking about them long after. Strange and fantastic, dark and disturbing, the stories in Mouthful of Birds are sure to please fans of Schweblin’s uniquely unsettling style.

The Woman Who Borrowed Memories: Selected Stories by Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Teal and Silvester Mazzarella

If you’ve ever read Tove Jansson’s classic The Summer Book, a novel that “distills the essence of the summer—its sunlight and storms—into twenty-two crystalline vignettes,” then you won’t be surprised that Jansson’s short stories are also exquisite. Dealing with many of the same themes as her longer works, her stories touch on art, nature, isolation and so much more—the various stages between sunlight and storm, the spectrum of shades between light and dark. In her introduction, Lauren Groff writes, “We read Tove Jansson to remember that to be human is dangerous, but also breathtaking, beautiful.”

Aetherial Worlds: Stories by Tatyana Tolstaya, translated by Anya Migdal

This fascinating collection from one of Russia’s most important contemporary writers transcends ordinary realities into dazzling other worlds of folklore and fantasy, “rendered with the emotional insight of Chekhov, the surreal satire of Gogol, and a unique blend of humor and poetry all her own.” Rich and clever, these stories explore politics, identity, love, and loss in Tolstaya’s masterful voice. After finishing it, I rushed out to get her collection of essays Pushkin’s Children: Writings on Russia and Russians, translated by Jamey Gambrell.

The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector, translated by Katrina Dodson

Gathered from the nine collections published during her lifetime, The Complete Stories captures Clarice Lispector in all of her “darkness and dazzle.” The stories, written during her adolescence all the way up until her death, are inventive and haunting, often about women at various stages of their lives. Some are more traditional than the novels she’s come to be known for, but as a whole the collection is a great way to “get” (or grasp at, at least) a sense of Lispector and her prose. You can dip in and out of these stories—86 in the hardcover and 89 in the paperback with three newly discovered stories—but I would recommend picking them up early in your reading of Lispector. Find your way into the other works of Clarice Lispector with this reading pathways post.

The Sea Cloak & Other Stories by Nayrouz Qarmout, translated by Perween Richards

Author, journalist, and women’s rights campaigner Nayrouz Qarmout draws from her own experiences growing up in a Syrian refugee camp as well as her current life in Gaza in this collection of stories that looks at what it means to be a woman in Palestine today. Qarmout thoughtfully weaves together stories of conflict and strife with tales of ordinary life, resulting in a deep and moving collection.

The Lonesome Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya, translated by Asa Yoneda 

I loved this collection of quirky 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 strange 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. I’d recommend this collection to fans of Hiromi Kawakami.

I Am the Brother of XX by Fleur Jaeggy, translated by Gini Alhadeff

Once you’ve read one book by Fleur Jaeggy—an undeniable master of the short form—you won’t want to read much else until you’ve finished all of her work. In these stories, which are so emblematic of her short, piercing style, Jaeggy writes of madness, obsession, and violence and “contrives to somehow stealthily possess your mind” with her “champagne gothic worlds [that are] seething with quiet violence.” Her prose has been compared to shards of glass and cut gems and while I won’t add to the descriptions, I will warn you now—you won’t come away from these stories unscathed.

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.

Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories by Mariana Enríquez, 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.

Flowers of Mold & Other Stories by Ha Seong-Nan, translated by Janet Hong 

“If you’re looking for a book that will make you gasp out loud, you’ve found it.” So says Kirkus Reviews and dozens of other publications and reviewers who can’t stop talking about Flowers of Mold, myself included. Unnerving, haunting, captivating, these ten stories follow ordinary characters going about their lives—they have a nightmare, lend their neighbor a spatula, or find out their landlord wants to sell their building. But something disturbing lies just below the surface. One small crack and everything’s unleashed. “The latest in the trend of brilliant female Korean authors to appear in English, Ha cuts like a surgeon, and even the most mundane objects become menacing and unfamiliar under her scalpel.”

The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington, translated by Kathrine Talbot and Anthony Kerrigan

For the first time, all of surrealist artist and writer Leonora Carrington’s short stories have been collected in one definitive volume, many of which are translated from French and Spanish. The result is a fiercely intelligent and fantastical collection. The stories themselves are pure flights of imagination, ranging from biting satire to the macabre, and even some outrageously comedic tales. A strange and surreal treat!

Arid Dreams: Stories by Duanwad Pimwana, translated by Mui Poopoksakul

Duanwad Pimwana, an important literary figure in contemporary Thai literature, hit the U.S. literary scene by storm last April with two new books, both translated by Mui Poopoksakul. Bright, published by Two Lines Press, was the first-ever novel by a Thai woman to appear in translation. And Pimwana made her short story English debut with Arid Dreams, published by Feminist Press. In Arid Dreams, Pimwana turns her keen eye and sharp wit on modern Thailand, as she explores issues of class and gender in insightful and subtly subversive stories.

Forgotten Journey by Silvina Ocampo, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Katie Lateef-Jan

“Silvina Ocampo is one of our best writers. Her stories have no equal in our literature,” wrote Jorge Luis Borges. Now for the first time in English translation, readers can delight in all of the strange brilliance that is Silvina Ocampo’s first collection of stories, Forgotten Journey. Published alongside her novella The Promise, this collection is primarily concerned with the lives of young women and girls. Often menacing and strange, each story has a thrill to it, a dark joy that keeps you fixed to the collection. In her foreword, Carmen Boullosa writes of the often cited comparison between Ocampo and Julio Cortázar but argues instead that, “While in his fabulous stories Cortázar discovered the unreal in everyday life, Silvina enters real, detailed, intimate spaces, which she observes with an eye that is intimate, real and detailed, and yet an eye from another world.”

Toddler Hunting and Other Stories by Taeko Kono, translated by Lucy North 

Kenzaburo Oe calls Taeko Kono “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 of Taeko Kono’s stories, as scenes of sadomasochism and obsession veil her sharp attacks at the ideals of motherhood and femininity.

Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder 

I’m in awe of Yoko Ogawa—she’s published more than 20 works of fiction and nonfiction and has won every major Japanese literary award. Her range is incredible, from books like this dark collection to her touching novel The Housekeeper and the Professor and her latest The Memory Police, her take on an Orwellian novel of state surveillance. 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 Ogawa’s prose makes the disturbing elements of these stories feel even more chilling.

Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang, translated by Karen S. Kingsbury 

Eileen Chang is one of the great writers of twentieth century China, and her first collection in English, Love in a Fallen City, introduced many readers to her incredible short stories. In this collection, written when Chang was still in her 20s, the stories swirl around themes of love, loss, and family, combining “an unsettled, probing, utterly contemporary sensibility, keenly alert to sexual politics and psychological ambiguity, with an intense lyricism that echoes the classics of Chinese literature.”

A Nail, A Rose by Madeleine Bourdouxhe, translated by Faith Evans

Neglected for decades, interest in Belgian author Madeleine Bourdouxhe’s work has seen a resurgence and I’m so thrilled to have been introduced to her work through this collection. Praised by Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex and close friends with Russian revolutionary writer Victor Serge, Bourdouxhe was a fascinating feminist writer. Like her critically acclaimed novels Marie and La Femme de Giles, her short stories tell the inner lives of ordinary, primarily working class, women in elegant and vivid prose. And I so appreciated the wealth of detail in translator Faith Evans’s introduction.

This post was originally published on Book Riot.

Fall 2019 New Releases In Translation

The days are shorter. The nights are colder. The books are coming at a rate that few can keep up with. It must be fall! And what a season it is, with a new Krasznahorkai novel, the U.S. release of the Man Booker International Prize Winner Celestial Bodies, some exceptional nonfiction, and so much more! Check out these fall 2019 new releases in translation.

Parade: A Folktale by Hiromi Kawakami, translated by Allison Markin Powell

In her afterword, Hiromi Kawakami describes Parade as a “memento of a story that has ended.” The word memento is a lovely and fitting description for this small companion story to Kawakami’s bestselling novel Strange Weather in Tokyo. Set on a lazy summer afternoon, Tsukiko is telling Sensei a story of her childhood, of how one day she awoke to find two tengu—winged creatures of Japanese folklore—by her bed. They became her constant companions and showed her that there’s more to the world than she thought. A moving story of kindness with the subtle and beautiful writing Kawakami’s known for and captivating illustrations by Takako Yoshitomi, Parade will prove to be a precious keepsake for fans of Kawakami and Strange Weather in Tokyo. Find your way into the other works of Hiromi Kawakami with this reading pathways post.

The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada, translated by David Boyd

In Hiroko Oyamada’s English language debut The Factory, three characters find work at an 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. I suspect that this strange and surreal tale might fill part of the Convenience Store Woman–sized hole in many readers’ hearts.

Welcome to America by Linda Boström Knausgård, translated by Martin Aitken

“It’s a long time already since I stopped talking.” And so opens Welcome to America, Linda Boström Knausgård‘s intense and masterful portrait of family and trauma. Twelve-year-old Ellen has stopped talking following the death of her father, causing deeper cracks in an already splintered family. In striking prose, Knausgård examines the power of silence and the complicated reality of family. A singular and thought-provoking story with a child narrator you won’t soon forget. I look forward to Knausgård‘s next book!

The Promise by Silvina Ocampo, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Jessica Powell 

Legend Silvina Ocampo worked on perfecting this novel over the course of 25 years, right up until her death in 1993, and it’s out this fall in its first ever English translation. It’s being published alongside Forgotten Journey, a collection of short stories by Ocampo translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Katie Lateef-Jan. In The Promise, a woman reminisces about her life, and lets her imagination get away with her, after falling overboard into the sea—a reflection of Ocampo’s own struggles with dementia and her interest in memory and identity. It’s said to be Ocampo “at her most feminist, idiosyncratic and subversive” and I just can’t wait to get my hands on it and Forgotten Journey.

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth

One of the most hotly anticipated books of the fall, Celestial Bodies is the first novel originally written in Arabic to ever win the Man Booker International Prize and the first book by an Omani woman to be translated into English. It’s a beautiful and sweeping story of three sisters from a small Omani village. Jokha Alharthi charts the sisters’ individual but deeply interwoven paths in life, against a backdrop of rapid social and economic change in their country. Seamlessly navigating between time and perspective, Celestial Bodies is a striking feat of storytelling. Chair of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize panel of judges Bettany Hughes describes it as, “A book to win over the head and the heart in equal measure.”

A Fist or a Heart by Kristín Eiríksdóttir, translated by Larissa Kyzer 

Up until this year, very little Icelandic literature by women has come across my desk so I’m thrilled to have two fascinating novels out this year—History. A Mess. by Sigrún Pálsdottír, translated by Lytton Smith and A Fist or a Heart. Award-winning poet, playwright, and novelist Kristín Eiríksdóttir has written a clever and many layered story of isolation, art, and memory. A Fist or a Heart follows the lives of two women—connected, but we don’t know by what—Elín, a septuagenarian props-maker and Ellen, a gifted young playwright. A novel of isolation and secrets, the emotional

The Incompletes by Sergio Chejfec, translated by Heather Cleary 

From the docks of Buenos Aires to Barcelona to Moscow, The Incompletes is a “story of something that happened one night years ago, and the events of the morning and afternoon that followed.” But nothing is straightforward in this latest pairing of Sergio Chejfec and translator Heather Cleary (other titles include The Planets and The Dark) as secrets abound, information is pieced together through postcards and notes on hotel stationary, and the narrator’s imaginings run rampant. It’s a journey like no other and you’ll just want to let go and go along for the ride with this complicated but compelling story, one that Hernan Diaz, author of In The Distance calls, “an extraordinary palimpsest of a novel.”

Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming by László Krasznahorkai, translated by Ottilie Mulzet 

In an interview in the Paris Review, László Krasznahorkai says of Baron Wenkcheim’s Homecoming, “I’ve said a thousand times that I always wanted to write just one book. Now, with Baron, I can close this story. With this novel I can prove that I really wrote just one book in my life. This is the book—Satantango, Melancholy, War and War, and Baron. This is my one book.” László Krasznahorkai is beloved in many literary circles and while this announcement that Baron will be his last work is surprising and sad to many, this final novel in his four-part masterwork is already being hailed as his best! Set in contemporary times, Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming tells the story of Baron Béla Wenckheim, who returns at the end of his life to his provincial Hungarian hometown.

2019 Nonfiction in Translation 

And, as nonfiction in translation is growing, I’d be remiss to not mention some of the amazing nonfiction out this fall:

Me & Other Writing by Marguerite Duras, translated by Olivia Baes and Emma Ramadan—An impressive and wide-ranging collection of nonfiction by Marguerite Duras, who’s probably best known for her internationally bestselling novel The Lover.

The Collector of Leftover Souls: Field Notes on Brazil’s Everyday Insurrections by Eliane Brum, translated by Diane Grosklaus Whitty—Investigative journalist Eliane Brum gives voice to a wide range of Brazilian people in this important collection of essays.

The Ingenious Language: Nine Epic Reasons to Love Greek by Andrea Marcolongo, translated by Will Schutt—Andrea Marcolongo’s love of Ancient Greek is infectious in this brilliant meditation on language and life.

The Man Who Played with Fire: Stieg Larsson’s Lost Files and the Hunt for an Assassin by Jan Stocklassa, translated by Tara F. Chace—Fans of the Millennium Trilogy won’t want to miss this fascinating investigation into the unsolved assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, based on Stieg Larsson’s own rediscovered archive.

When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl’s Book by Naja Marie Aidt, translated by Denise Newman—Naja Marie Aidt chronicles the first few years after the tragic death of her 25-year-old son Carl in this poignant and heartbreakingly beautiful book.

I Will Never See the World Again: The Memoir of an Imprisoned Writer by Ahmet Altan, translated by Yasemin Congar—In this incredible memoir, written from his prison cell, Turkish novelist Ahmet Altan reflects upon his imprisonment and the solace and strength his art provides him.

This post was originally published on Book Riot.

2018 and 2019 Nobel Prize Literature Winners Announced

The 2018 and 2019 Nobel Prize Literature winners have been announced! In a rare double ceremony following the postponement of last year’s award due to a series of scandals, the Swedish Academy has awarded the 2018 prize to Polish author Olga Tokarczuk and the 2019 prize to Austrian author Peter Handke. The ceremony will be held December 10, 2019, in Stockholm.

The reception to the announcement has been mixed as the Swedish Academy has been public in its desires to move the award away from its current “Euro-centric” and “male-dominated” approach and yet has awarded the prize to two European authors. Handke has also been strongly criticized for his views and writings about the Yogoslav wars and notably his support of the late Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević, who had been charged with crimes against humanity before his death in jail awaiting trial.

Olga Tokarczuk is a Polish writer, activist, and public intellectual. She was cited by the Academy as winning the 2018 award “for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life.” Although she’s been a celebrated author and figure in Poland for some time now, her international fame has risen in recent years.

In 2018, she became the first Polish writer to win the Man Booker International Prize for her novel Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft. Her most recent novel, Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize and longlisted for the National Book Awards. Forthcoming in an English translation by Jennifer Croft is The Books of Jacob, which the Academy declared her magnum opus. Tokarczuk is the 15th woman to win the Nobel literature prize in more than a century.

Austrian novelist, playwright, and translator Peter Handke was cited by the Academy as winning the 2019 award “for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.” He is best known for his novella about his mother’s suicide, A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, translated by Ralph Manheim, his novel The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, translated by Michael Roloff, and his experimental drama Offending the Audience. His support of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević—including his eulogy at Milošević’s funeral—has led to him being described as an apologist for far-right Serbian nationalism.

Curious about the financial and sexual scandals that rocked the Swedish Academy over the last two years? Book Riot has provided substantial coverage of the ongoing crisis. I’d recommend this episode of the Annotated podcast: Annotated: The Nobel Crisis.

This post was originally published on Book Riot.

Hot Summer 2019 Reads by Women In Translation

It’s an incredible summer for books by women in translation. Exciting debuts, literary thrillers, new books from favorites like Yoko Ogawa and Olga Tokarczuk, and so much more. Check out these summer 2019 reads by women in translation!

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 I can’t wait to see her take on an Orwellian novel of state surveillance.

Blood Sisters by Yideum Kim, translated by Jiyoon Lee

Blood Sisters, the debut novel from celebrated poet Kim Yideum, tells the story of Jeong Yeoul, a college student coping with the aftermath of the violent suppression of student demonstrations in South Korea. With painfully honest and vivid prose, Yideum paints the picture of the environment Jeong Yeoul faces. It’s an all too familiar narrative, the mistreatment and devaluation of women and the constant threat of sexual violence. In the midst of this undercurrent of unrest, Jeong Yeoul is trying to figure out who she is and who she wants to be⁠—a thought provoking and powerful novel.

History. A Mess. by Sigrún Pálsdóttir, translated by Lytton Smith

The narrator of History. A Mess. believes she’s made a groundbreaking discovery, one that will forever change the art world and her own academic career. That is until she realizes—in the course of finalizing her thesis⁠—that her discovery was nothing more than two pages stuck together! She keeps the secret from her friends and family, even as the stress and anxiety cause her to lose her grip on reality. Strange and interior, History. A Mess. is a fascinating novel and another feat of translation for Lytton Smith, who captures the narrator’s fragmented and fragile psyche as well as the author’s clever critique of modern academia and sly humor.

The Dry Heart by Natalia Ginzburg, translated by Frances Frenaye

Natalia Ginzburg has been called “One of the Great Italian Writers of the 20th Century” and with publisher New Directions reissuing The Dry Heart and Happiness, As Such in June, new readers, myself included, will be introduced to this fascinating author. The Dry Heart is a feminist horror story about marriage, a psychological thriller that asks the question: why don’t more wives kill their husbands? Spare and unsentimental, Ginzburg’s prose is blistering and I can’t wait to dive into her work.

The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán, translated by Sophie Hughes

Longlisted for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize, The Remainder is one of my favorite reads of the year so far! Iquela and Felipe are two friends, living in the legacy of Chile’s dictatorship, when Paloma, an old acquaintance, comes to Santiago to repatriate and bury her mother. Ash rains down from the sky from a nearby volcanic eruption, grounding flights all over the country. When Paloma’s mother’s coffin ends up lost in transit, the three friends borrow a hearse (as you do) and journey through the mountains to get her. Intense and haunting, The Remainder is a startling reckoning with the history of violence. It’s a novel of unforgettable imagery: Felipe wandering the streets of Santiago counting the dead, the three friends drinking in the hearse, and the ash falling and mixing in with the snow in the mountains. I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time to come.

Accommodations by Wioletta Greg, translated by Jennifer Croft

When I finished Wioletta Greg’s critically acclaimed debut Swallowing Mercury, all I wanted was more—more of Wiola’s story and more of Greg’s gorgeous prose. I’ve described Greg’s writing before as this curious and heady mix of light airy charm, rich sensuality, and darkness and it’s all here again, in an evocative translation by Jennifer Croft. We accompany Wiola as she leaves her childhood village and moves to the nearby city of Czestochowa for college. The thrill of independence is short-lived for Wiola, however as her living situation falls through. She moves around, adapting, growing, and soaking up the sights, sounds, and stories around her at an interesting moment in Poland’s history.

The Wind That Lays Waste by Selva Almada, translated by Chris Andrews

In Selva Almada’s arresting debut, four souls are “thrown together on a single day in rural Argentina” as a storm brews overhead. When Reverend Pearson’s car breaks down, fate leads him and his teenage daughter Leni to the dusty, out-of-the-way garage of Gringo Bauer and his assistant Tapioca. The traveling Evangelical quickly takes an interest in Tapioca’s pure soul, setting up the increasingly tense relationship between the mechanic and the man of god. As the storm breaks and the titular winds lay waste, the lives of these characters will be forever changed. A profound examination of family and faith, set against one of the most powerful and beautifully described backdrops of a novel I’ve ever read.

The Ten Loves of Nishino by Hiromi Kawakami, translated by Allison Markin Powell

From the bestselling author of Strange Weather in Tokyo and The Nakano Thrift Shop fame comes The Ten Loves of Nishino—one of my most anticipated reads of the summer. In ten closely-linked stories, Hiromi Kawakami follows the lives of ten different women at their intersection points with the enigmatic and seductive Yukihiko Nishino. Throughout these stories we get glimpses of his life, but more importantly we get this keen insight into these women’s lives, full of agency and desires of their own. An intimate and insightful portrayal of sex, love, and modern relationships with the refreshing charm and depth of feeling of her other novels. Find your way into the other works of Hiromi Kawakami with this reading pathways post.

Empty Hearts: A Novel by Juli Zeh, translated by John Cullen

A bestseller in Germany, Empty Hearts is a powerful and prescient thriller inspired by “today’s headlines of white nationalism, xenophobia, and far-right politics.” In Zeh’s world, Brexit has happened, as has Frexit, and an international financial crisis and increasing violence have thrown the world into chaos. Britta runs a suicide prevention clinic that doubles as a criminal organization connecting suicidal patients to terrorist organizations. Dark but also clever and fascinating, Empty Hearts will astound readers.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead: A Novel by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Antonio Lloyd-Jones

After loving Olga Tokarczuk’s Man Booker International Prize Winning novel Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft, and hearing this book described as a “literary murder mystery” set in a remote Polish village, I knew that I had to get my hands on Drive your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. It did not disappoint! Reclusive Janina is a passionate astrologer and advocate for animals, happy to keep to her quiet life until her neighbor turns up dead and things take a strange turn in her community. She involves herself in the investigation and believes she’s discovered the truth. But who would listen to an eccentric older woman? A genre-defying novel, Drive Your Plow is part investigative thriller and part fairytale, with biting social critique and a wicked sense of humor.

Which of these summer 2019 reads by women in translation will you be packing away in your beach bag? Looking for even more? Check out this list of 50 Must-Read Books by Women in Translation.

This post was originally published on Book Riot.