By Corinna Kloth
A Compilation of Newly Released Translated Literature.
1. Self Portrait in Green by Marie Ndiaye
Translated from French by Jordan Stump
Who are the green women? They are powerful (one is a disciplinarian teacher). They are mysterious (one haunts a house like a ghost). They are seductive (one marries her best friend’s father). And they are unbearably personal (one is the author’s own mother).
They are all aspects of their creator: Marie NDiaye, an author celebrated worldwide as one of France’s leading writers. Here, in her own skewed take on the memoir, NDiaye combs through all the menacing, beguiling, and revelatory memories submerged beneath the consciousness of a singular literary talent. Mysterious, honest, and unabashedly innovative, NDiaye’s self-portrait forces us all to ask questions—about what we repress, how we discover those things, and how those obsessions become us.
This 10th anniversary hardcover edition of Marie NDiaye’s genre-defying classic restores photographs that appeared in the original French edition alongside Jordan Stump’s dazzling translation, revealing in English, at last, the complete vision of NDiaye’s influential masterpiece.
Marie NDiaye was born in 1967 in Pithiviers, France. She is the author of around twenty novels, plays, collections of stories, and nonfiction books, which have been translated into numerous languages. She’s received the Prix Femina and the Prix Goncourt, France’s highest literary honor, and her plays are in the repertoire of the Comédie-Française.
2. The Ice Harp by Norman LockTranslated by multiple authors.
What does it mean to be Caribbean in the 21st century? Is it imprinted in the landscape, the language, or is it perhaps, in the words of Mireille Jean-Gilles (tr. Eric Fishman), “a place that lives in me, and that I unfurl, like a nomad his tent, in each place where I live”? In Elektrik, eight female writers from Haiti, Martinique, and Guadeloupe explore the beauty, pain, and complexity wrapped up in their identity. An undercurrent of silence pervades each story, each poem: a group of women walking silently along the shore, forgotten by the world; a waitress who doesn’t dare stand up to her abusive boss; a teenager discovering her sexuality in the shadow of her more outgoing twin sister; and a poet who summons a chorus of sirens, only to warn them: “Keep your voices’ beauty from waylaying sailors.” In glittering translations from French, Elektrik is a celebration of writing at its very best, of language as defiance.
The Calico Series, published biannually by Two Lines Press, captures vanguard works of translated literature in stylish, collectible editions. Each Calico is a vibrant snapshot that explores one aspect of our present moment, offering the voices of previously inaccessible, highly innovative writers from around the world today.
3. So Many People, Mariana by Maria Judite De Carvalho
Translated from Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa.
Maria Judite de Carvalho (1921-1998) is now recognized as a major Portuguese writer of the twentieth century. In the short story she found the perfect vessel for her frank depictions of tragic, ordinary lives, and So Many People, Mariana collects her first four books of short fiction in English for the first time, telling of women and men in moments of existential conflict: with their families; with themselves; with the prospect of a better future—or any future at all. These stories, originally published between 1959 and 1967, when the Salazar dictatorship and the rigid edicts of the Catholic church reigned, are acerbic, artful, and funny. Translated by the renowned Margaret Jull Costa, Carvalho leads readers into the sensuous dark of life under patriarchal capitalism, proffering tragic visions of class-conscious malaise “as precisely and without sentiment as an autopsy” (New York Review of Books).
Maria Judite De Carvalho
Thuy Da Lam was born in Qui Nhơn, grew up in Philadelphia, and now lives in Honolulu, where she works on her next book and teaches at Kapi’olani Community College. She holds a BA in creative writing from Hamilton College and PhD in English from UH Mānoa.
4. Last Night by Sven Popović
Translated by Vinko Zgaga.
Candid and unfettered, Sven Popovich’s Last Night is a playfully existential meditation on youth and the search for the self.
Acclaimed in his native Czechia, Popovich’s unique blend of intimacy and contemplation has garnered him a following in the alternative literary scene of Prague—and beyond. With an intellectualism that never takes itself too seriously, an unaffected fluidity of form, and a keen eye for the smallest, strangest moments that color our lives, his stories weave an offbeat tapestry of urban life.
Sven Popović was born on September 19, 1989 in Zagreb, now located in Croatia, but back then in Yugoslavia. His short stories were published in the anthology of young Croatian writers („Bez vrata, bez kucanja“, Sandorf 2012), in a collection of short stories „Record Stories“(Aquarius Records, 2011) and various magazines and webzines like Quorum, Zarez and Arteist.
5. The Antagonist by Jean-Pierre Attal
Translated by K.E. Gormley.
A covert war has begun in which two adversaries of the current regime, Lauménès and Gonamména, have pitted themselves against double agent Karl Résa; woman of mystery Athena Sansadarc; Inspector Loriot and his second-in-command, Hector; and Pierre, the secretary of a revolutionary party out to avenge the murder of Salomon, a childhood friend cut down in his prime by the enemy.
This screenplay-novel resembles a classical tragedy less in its division into five acts than in its hidden, internal structure. Be warned, however, that the unities of time and space are not respected, and even the principle of identity, according to which one cannot be simultaneously self and other, is often violated. In this world, every word spoken seems to echo words spoken long ago, each new event brings an eerie sense of déjà vu, and a shape-shifting opponent always seems to be one step ahead.
A surreal, fast-paced thriller on the surface, a brilliant recombination of literary classics underneath, The Antagonist was one of the first (and best) hybrids of its kind, still unrivaled for its freshness and invention.
Jean-Pierre Attal (1931-2014) was an Algerian-French poet, novelist, linguist, and translator—notably of John Donne and Ezra Pound. A professor of English for many years and a scholar of far-ranging interests, he wrote books on subjects as varied as haiku, English grammar, painting, and the authorship of Shakespeare’s works. His groundbreaking 1967 novel The Antagonist bridged the French “new novel” and postmodernism.
6. Marshland by Otohiko Kaga
Translated by Albert Novick.
Otohiko Kaga’s Marshland is an epic novel on a Tolstoyan scale, running from the pre-World War II period to the turbulence of 1960s Japan. At forty-nine, Atsuo Yukimori is a humble auto mechanic living an almost penitentially quiet life in Tokyo, where his coworkers know something of his military record but nothing of his postwar past as a petty criminal. Out of curiosity he accompanies his nephew to a demonstration at a nearby university, and is gradually drawn into a friendship, then a romance, with Wakako Ikéhata, the brilliant but mentally unstable daughter of a university professor. As some of the student radical groups turn to violence and terrorism, Atsuo and Wakako find themselves framed for the lethal bombing of a Tokyo train.
During their long imprisonment the novel becomes a Kafkaesque procedural, revealing the corrupt intricacies of the police and judicial system of Japan. At the end of their hard pilgrimage to exoneration, Atsuo and Wakako are finally able to return to his original hometown, Nemuro, on the eastern-most peninsula of Hokkaido island. Here is the marshland of the title, a remote and virtually unspoiled region of Japan where Kaga sets a large number of extraordinarily beautiful pastoral scenes.
Otohiko Kaga (1929-), is a psychiatrist specializing in prison psychosis and criminology. After graduating from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Tokyo, he worked in Japanese hospitals and prisons before taking up further studies in France. His writing debut came in 1967 with the long novel Furandoru no fuyu (Winter in Flanders).
7. Love Training by Andrés Neuman
Translated by Robin Myers.
LOVE TRAINING, which gathers poems from several of Andrés Neuman’s books into a single unified collection, is divided into three sections. The first, the titular “Love Training,” focuses on family (and its history), loss, relationships, love, and a sense of anchoring in the world. The second, “Fictions of Sight,” are associated with questions of perception, perspective, and creativity. And the third, “I Don’t Know Why” – which is the first phrase of every poem in the section – is a whimsical set of interconnected poems that ask unanswered questions; it serves as a kind of coda to the book. While Andrés Neuman is a celebrated and widely translated novelist, he is also a lucid, sensitive, incisive – and quite prolific – poet. LOVE TRAINING is the first English translation of his poetry.
Andrés Neuman (1977) was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he spent his childhood. The son of Argentine émigré musicians, he lives in Granada, Spain. He has a degree in Spanish Philology from the University of Granada, where he taught Latin American literature. He was selected as one of Granta’s Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists and was included on the Bogotá-39 list.
8. Taming the Divine Heron by Sergio Pitol
Translated by G.B. Henson
From the famous Mexican author, Sergio Pitol, comes his 1988 classic translated by George Henson. Taming the Divine Heron, tells the semi-autobiographical story of a novelist working on his newest masterpiece. The protagonist struggles to tell the perfect story–his own, imagined protagonists mere imitations of the likes of Lord Jim and Alyosha Karamavoz. To help eradicate writer’s block, Pitol uses his vessel to praise his own favorite authors. Pitol applauds Bakhtin’s world building, Gogol’s “carnivalesque [literary] breath”, and Dante’s dizzying intensity. The character finds a muse in Marietta Karapetiz who he aptly dubs Dante C. de la Estrella, and the two debate the literary greats.
As the pair attempt to pull from the techniques of the world’s best writers, Pitol creates a love letter to literature from around the globe while simultaneously telling his own magical story. To quote Pitol’s protagonist, “the quality of the story, its effects, its brilliance, its intensity, ma[k]e the most absurd circumstances plausible”. Taming of The Divine Heron, second in a trilogy including already-published The Love Parade (Deep Vellum, 2022), houses history, hyperrealism, myth, folklore, and memoir; to read Pitol is to appreciate the power of language.
Sergio Pitol Demeneghi (1933-2018) was one of Mexico’s most influential and well-respected writers, born in the city of Puebla. He studied law and philosophy in Mexico City, and spent many years as a cultural attaché in Mexican embassies and consulates across the globe, including Poland, Hungary, Italy, and China. He is renowned for his intellectual career in both the field of literary creation and translation, with numerous novels, stories, criticisms, and translations to his name.
9. Forgetting by Frederika Amalia Finkelstein
Translated by Isabel Cout and Christopher Elson.
Forgetting is a brief but searing sojourn inside the mind of Alma as she navigates the complexity of the past and future within her identity.
On her nighttime wanderings through a Paris saturdated with cultural and historical meaning, she begins the slow work of grieving for her grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, and begins to unravel the ways that his experience continues to reverbrate across generations. The journey, both inward and outward, simple and infinitely varied, brings Alma to reconsider her whole life and the circumstances that led to her very birth.
In Forgetting, Finkelstein sheds new light on the oldest dilemmas, asking: “What to do wth the brief time that is given to us?”
Frederika Amalia Finkelstein is a French writer and author of two novels: Forgetting and Surviving. Upon its 2014 release in France, Forgetting was met with great critical success and has since been translated into multiple languages.
10. Recital of the Dark Verses by Luis Felipe Fabre
Translated by Heather Cleary.
Recital of the Dark Verses is a road novel, a coming-of-age tale, and a raunchy slapstick comedy that tells—in careening, charismatic prose—the (true) story of the theft of the body of Saint John of the Cross.
In August 1592, a bailiff and his two assistants arrive at the monastery of Úbeda, with the secret task of transferring the body of Saint John of the Cross, the great Carmelite poet and mystic who had died the previous year, to his final abode. When they exhume him, they find a body uncorrupted and as fresh as when he died.
Recital of the Dark Verses follows the three hapless thieves as they sneak the corpse of Saint John of the Cross from Úbeda to Segovia, trying not to lose too many pieces of the body to his frenzied disciples along the way. It is the (true) story of a heist, a road novel, a coming-of-age tale, and a raunchy slapstick comedy told in careening, charismatic prose. It is also a witty and wise commentary on the verse of one of Spain’s most important poets woven from the lines for which he is best known——a revival of words written more than four centuries ago, and a centering and celebration of their intrinsic queerness.
Luis Felipe Fabre (Mexico City) is a poet and critic. He has published a volume of essays, Leyendo agujeros, the poetry collections Cabaret Provenza, La sodomía en la Nueva España, Poemas de terror y de misterio, and the book Escribir con caca. He is the editor of two anthologies of contemporary Mexican Divino Tesoro and La Edad de Oro, and Arte & Basura, an anthology of Mario Santiago Papasquiaro’s poetry.
11. Commission of Tears by Antonio Lobo Antunes
Translated by Elizabeth Lowe
António Lobo Antunes’s twenty-fifth novel, Commission of Tears (2011, Comissão das Lágrimas) is set during the Angolan Civil War (1975-2002). This is the story of Cristina, admitted in to a psychiatric clinic in Lisbon. In her torrent of memories, dialogues and traumatic episodes, Cristina remembers her early childhood in Africa, at the time when everything inside her head was intertwined with her father’s voice, who was a former Black priest and became one of the torturers of the “Commission of Tears.” Cristina’s white mother, a cabaret dancer imported from Lisbon to entertain Portuguese farmers in Angola, marries the Black ex-priest because she finds herself pregnant with Cristina by her the man who exploits her, the cabaret manager. The long, twisting narrative weaves together the three voices of daughter, father, and mother as they recall the terrors of their life in Angola, and their own suffering. Their personal tragedies, scarred by racism and abuse, mirror those of the country that is being torn asunder around them.
Antonio Lobo Antunes was born in Lisbon, Portugal in 1942. He began writing as a child, but at his father’s wishes, went to medical school instead of pursuing a career in writing. After completing his studies, Antunes was sent to Angola with the Portuguese Army. It was in a military hospital in Angola that Antunes first became interested in many of the subjects of his novels. Antunes lives in Lisbon, where he continues to write and practice psychiatry.
12. The Devil of the Provinces by Juan Cárdenas
Translated by Lizzie Davis.
AFTER A SERIES OF FAILURES, A BIOLOGIST RETURNS TO HIS HOMETOWN TO LIVE WITH HIS GRIEVING MOTHER. BUT IN THIS GRIPPING CRIME NOVEL THAT UPENDS THE GENRE’S CONVENTIONS, STRANGE EVENTS UNRAVEL WHAT HE THOUGHT HE KNEW OF HIS PAST, HIS PRESENT, AND HIMSELF.
When a biologist returns to Colombia after fifteen years abroad, he quickly becomes entangled in the trappings of his past and his increasingly bizarre present: the unsolved murder of his brother, a boarding school where girls give birth to strange creatures, a chance encounter with his irrevocably changed first love. A brush with a well-connected acquaintance leads to a biotechnology job offer, and he’s gradually drawn into a web of conspiracy. Ultimately, he may be destined to remain in the city he’d hoped never to see again—in The Devil of the Provinces, nothing is as it seems.
Juan Cárdenas (1978) is a Colombian art critic, curator, translator, and author of seven works of fiction, most recently the story collection Volver a comer del árbol de la ciencia and the novel Elástico de sombra. He has translated the works of such writers as William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, Gordon Lish, David Ohle, J. M. Machado de Assis, and Eça de Queirós. In 2014, his novel Los estratos received the Otras Voces Otros Ámbitos Prize. In 2017, he was named one of the thirty-nine best Latin American writers under the age of thirty-nine by the Hay Festival in Bogotá. Cárdenas currently coordinates the masters program in creative writing at the Caro y Cuervo Institute in Bogotá, where he works as a professor and researcher.
13. Nefando by Mónica Ojeda
Translated by Sarah Booker.
Six young artists share an apartment in Barcelona: Kiki Ortega, a researcher writing a pornographic novel; Iván Herrera, a writer whose prose reveals a deeply conflicted relationship with his body; three siblings, Irene, Emilio, and Cecilia, who quietly search for ways to transcend their abuse as children; and El Cuco Martínez, a video-game designer whose creations push beneath the substrate of the digital world. All of them are connected in different ways to Nefando, a controversial cult video game whose purpose remains a mystery. In the parallel reality of the game, players found relief from the pain of past trauma and present shame, but also a frighteningly elastic sense of self and ethics. Is Nefando a game for horror enthusiasts, a challenge to players’ morals, or a poetic exercise? What happens in a virtual world that admits every taboo?
Unsparing, addictive, and perverse, Nefando takes us to the darkest corners of the web, revealing the inevitable entanglement of digital and physical worlds, and of technology and horror.
Mónica Ojeda (Ecuador, 1988) is the author of the novels La desfiguración Silva (Premio Alba Narrativa, 2014), Nefando (Candaya, 2016), and Mandíbula (Candaya, 2018), as well as the poetry collections El ciclo de las piedras (Rastro de la Iguana, 2015) and Historia de la leche (Candaya, 2020). Her stories have been published in the anthology Emergencias: Doce cuentos iberoamericanos (Candaya, 2014) and the collections Caninos (Editorial Turbina, 2017) and Las voladoras (Páginas de Espuma, 2020).
Article originally Published in the Sep / Oct / Nov 2023 Issue: Global Reads.