By Alyse Mgrdichian
As we celebrate the beauty and diversity of stories, whether real or fictional, it can be easy to look to the past for examples. However, books are still being published, and stories are still being translated! So, here are 17 indie translations from different countries that have been (or will be) published this year. I had a lot of fun researching for this article, and hope that these books pique your interest as much as they piqued mine. Happy reading!
1. My Brother
Written by Karin Smirnoff & Translated by Anna Paterson — Published by Pushkin Press (March 4, 2021)
A publishing phenomenon from Sweden: a novel about uncovering family secrets, abuse, trauma, and resilience. Jana is returning to see her twin brother Bror, who is still living in the family farmhouse in the rural north of Sweden. The house is decrepit and crumbling, and Bror is determinedly drinking himself into an early grave. The siblings are both damaged by horrific childhood experiences, buried deep in the past, but Jana cannot keep running.
Alive with the brutality and beauty of the landscape, My Brother is a novel steeped in darkness and violence–about abuse, love, complicity, and coming to terms with the past. It’s the story of a homecoming without a home: a story of forgiveness.
2. Last Words On Earth
Written by Javier Serena & Translated by Katie Whittemore — Published by Open Letter Books (September 21, 2021)
In exile from his home country of Peru, Ricardo Funes embodies the ultimate starving artist. Fired from almost every job he’s held–usually for paying more attention to literature than work–he sets himself up in a rundown shack where he works on writing stories to enter in regional contests across Spain, and foisting his judgements about literature on anyone who will listen as one of the last remaining members of the ‘negacionismo’ poetry movement. Completely dedicated to an unwavering belief in his own art, Funes struggles in anonymity until he achieves unbridled success with The Aztec and becomes a legend . . . at least for a moment. Diagnosed with lung cancer a few years later, Funes will only be able to enjoy his newfound attention for a short time.
Written by Mohamed Kheir & Translated by Robin Moger — Published by Two Lines Press (June 8, 2021)
A struggling journalist named Seif is introduced to a former exile with an encyclopedic knowledge of Egypt’s obscure, magical places. Together, as explorer and guide, they step into the fragmented, elusive world the Arab Spring left behind. They trek to an affluent neighborhood where giant corpse flowers rain from the sky. They join an anonymous crowd in the dark, hallucinating together before a bare cave wall. They descend a set of stairs to the spot along the Nile River where, it’s been said, you can walk on water. But what begins as a fantastical excursion through a splintered nation quickly winds its way inward as Seif begins to piece together the trauma of his own past, including what happened to Alya, his lover with the remarkable ability to sing any sound: crashing waves, fluttering wings, a roaring inferno.
4. Block Box
Written by Shiori Ito & Translated by Allison Markin Powell –Published by Feminist Press (July 13, 2021)
Black Box is a riveting, sobering memoir that chronicles one woman’s struggle for justice, calling for changes to an industry—and in society at large—to ensure that future victims of sexual assault can come forward without being silenced and humiliated.
In 2015, an aspiring young journalist named Shiori Ito charged prominent reporter Noriyuki Yamaguchi with rape. After meeting up for drinks and networking, Ito remembers regaining consciousness in a hotel room while being assaulted. But when she went to the police, Ito was told that her case was a ‘black box’—untouchable and unprosecutable. Upon publication in 2017, Ito’s searing account foregrounded the #MeToo movement in Japan and became the center of an urgent cultural and legal shift around recognizing sexual assault and gender-based violence.
5. The Child
Written by Kjersti A. Skomsvold & Translated by Martin Aitken — Published by Granta Books (May 6, 2021)
A young mother speaks to her second-born child. Since the drama of childbirth, all feels calm. The world is new and full of surprises, even though dangers lurk behind every corner; a car out of control, disease ever-present in the air, the unforgiving speed of time.
She tells of the times before the child was born, when the world felt unsure and enveloped in darkness, of long nights with an older lover, of her writing career, and the precariousness of beginning a relationship and then a family with her husband, Bo. A portrait of modern motherhood, The Child is a love story about what it means to be alive and stay alive, no matter how hard the journey.
6. Foucault in Warsaw
Written by Javier Serena & Translated by Katie Whittemore — Published by Open Letter Books (September 21, 2021)
In 1958, Michel Foucault arrived in Poland to work on his thesis—a work that eventually came to be published as The History of Madness. While he was there, he became involved with a number of members of the gay community, including a certain ‘Jurek,’ who eventually led the secret police directly to Foucault’s hotel room, causing his subsequent exit from Poland. That boy’s motivations and true identity were hidden among secret police documents for decades, until Remigiusz Ryziński stumbled upon the right report and uncovered the truth about the whole situation.
Nominated for the Nike Literary Award, Foucault in Warsaw reconstructs a vibrant, engaging picture of gay life in Poland under communism—from the joys found in secret nightclubs, to the fears of not knowing who was a secret informant.
7. There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job
Written by Kikuko Tsumura & Translated by Polly Barton — Published by Bloomsbury Publishing (March 23, 2021)
A young woman walks into an employment agency and requests a job that has the following traits: it is close to her home, and it requires no reading, no writing, and ideally, very little thinking.
Her first gig—watching the hidden-camera feed of an author suspected of storing contraband goods—turns out to be inconvenient. (When can she go to the bathroom?) Her next gives way to the supernatural: announcing advertisements for shops that mysteriously disappear. As she moves from job to job—writing trivia for rice cracker packages; punching entry tickets to a purportedly haunted public park—it becomes increasingly apparent that she’s not searching for the easiest job at all, but something altogether more meaningful. And when she finally discovers an alternative to the daily grind, it comes with a price.
8. Among the Hedges
Written by Sara Mesa & Translated by Megan McDowell — Published by Open Letter Books (May 18, 2021)
Casi, who is almost fourteen years old, has been skipping school and spending her days hidden among the hedges in a local park, listening to music and reading women’s magazines. One day, Viejo, a fifty-year-old man, stumbles upon her hiding place, and the two strike up a friendship. He tells her about birds and Nina Simone, buys her soda and chips, and spends almost every day talking with her. Despite their age gap, there’s something childlike about Viejo that leads Casi to believe that he’s not like the other men she’s encountered, the ‘dangerous ones.’ But Viejo has a number of secrets in his past—all of which would be of grave concern to Casi’s parents or any other adult who witnessed one of their rendezvous. As these secrets rise to the surface, the clock is ticking, the weather is growing cold, and the school is untangling Casi’s set of lies, setting up a moment where something has to give.
9. Wild Animals Prohibited
Written by Subimal Misra & Translated by V. Ramaswamy — Published by Open Letter Books (September 7, 2021)
Subimal Misra, an audacious experimentalist and self-declared anti-writer, is the master of contemporary alternative Bengali literature and anti-establishment writing. This collection brings together twenty-five stories that record the dark history of violence and degeneration in the Bengal of the seventies and eighties. The mirror that Misra holds up to society breaks every canon of rectitude with unfailing precision. The stories also plot the continuous evolution of Misra’s writing as he searches for a form to do justice to the reality that confronts us. Deeply influenced by Godard, Misra uses montage and other cinematic techniques in his stories, which he himself calls ‘anti-stories,’ challenging our notions of reading and of literature itself.
10. Pillar of Books
Written by Moon Bo Young & Translated by Hedgie Choi — Published by Black Ocean (May 18, 2021)
This debut collection in English from Korean poet Moon Bo Young insists that you, as a reader, put down your expectations of what should be important or serious. While these poems are about god, death, love, and literature, they are also just as much about a hat with a herd of cows on it, science experiments on monkeys’ attention, the eating of cherry tomatoes, weeping carrots, and pimple popping. The surrealism and humor in these poems allow them to travel far in the span of a stanza. Reading this book is like going on a picnic with your weirdest best friend and asking them what-if questions until the sun goes down–there’s room for everything, from dark anecdotes to funny quips and surprising vulnerability. Skillfully rendered by award-winning translator Hedgie Choi, this is a book that will change the way you think about what a poem can accomplish.
11. In Case of Emergency
Written by Mahsa Mohebali & Translated by Mariam Rahmani — Published by Feminist Press (November 30, 2021)
What do you do when the world is falling apart and you’re in withdrawal? Disillusioned, wealthy, and addicted to opium, Shadi wakes up one day to apocalyptic earthquakes and a dangerously low stash. Outside, Tehran is crumbling: yuppies flee in bumper-to-bumper traffic as skaters and pretty boys rise up to claim the city as theirs. Cross-dressed to evade hijab laws, Shadi flits between her dysfunctional family and depressed friends–all in search of her next fix. Mahsa Mohebali’s groundbreaking novel about Iranian counterculture is a satirical portrait of the disaster that is contemporary life. Weaving together gritty vernacular and cinematic prose, In Case of Emergency takes a darkly humorous, scathing look at the authoritarian state, global capitalism, and the gender binary.
12. Jaguar’s Tomb
Written by Angélica Gorodischer & Translated by Amalia Gladhart — Published by Vanderbilt University Press (February 15, 2021)
Jaguars’ Tomb is a novel in three parts, written by three interconnected characters. Part one, ‘Hidden Variables,’ by María Celina Igarzábal, is narrated by Bruno Seguer. Seguer in turn is the author of the second part, ‘Recounting from Zero’ (‘Contar desde zero’), in which Evelynne Harrington, author of the third, is a central character. Harrington, finally, is the author of ‘Uncertainty’ (‘La incertidumbre’), whose protagonist is the dying Igarzábal. Each of the three parts revolves around the octagonal room that is alternately the jaguars’ tomb, the central space of the torture center, and the heart of an abandoned house that hides an adulterous affair. The novel, by Argentine author Angélica Gorodischer, is both an intriguing puzzle and a meditation on how to write about, or through, violence, injustice, and loss.
13. The Lost Soul
Written by Olga Tokarczuk, Illustrated by Joanna Concejo, & Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones — Published by Seven Stories Press (February 23, 2021)
The Lost Soul is a deeply moving reflection on our capacity to live in peace with ourselves, to remain patient and attentive to the world. It is a story that beautifully weaves together the voice of the Nobel Prize-winning Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk and the finely detailed pen-and-ink drawings of illustrator Joanna Concejo, who together create a parallel narrative universe full of secrets, evocative of another time. Here a man has forgotten what makes his heart feel full. He moves to a house away from all that is familiar to him to wait for his soul to return.
14. Rabbit Island
Written by Elvira Navarro & Translated by Christina MacSweeney — Published by Two Lines Press (February 9, 2021)
These eleven stories from one of Granta’s ‘Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists’ combine gritty surrealism with explosive interior meditations, traversing the fickle, often terrifying terrain between madness and freedom. In the title story, a so-called ‘non-inventor’ brings snow-white rabbits to an island inhabited exclusively by birds, with horrific results. In ‘Myotragus’ a privileged man’s understanding of the world is violently disrupted by the sight of a creature long thought extinct. Elsewhere in these stories that map dingy hotel rooms, shape-shifting cities, and graveyards, an unsightly ‘paw’ grows from a writer’s earlobe and a grandmother floats silently in the corner of the room.
15. In Memory of Memory
Written by Maria Stepanova & Translated by Sasha Dugdale — Published by New Directions (February 9, 2021)
An exploration of life at the margins of history from one of Russia’s most exciting contemporary writers. With the death of her aunt, the narrator is left to sift through an apartment full of faded photographs, old postcards, letters, diaries, and heaps of souvenirs: a withered repository of a century of life in Russia. Carefully reassembled with calm, steady hands, these shards tell the story of how a seemingly ordinary Jewish family somehow managed to survive the myriad of persecutions and repressions of the last century. In dialogue with writers like Roland Barthes, W. G. Sebald, Susan Sontag, and Osip Mandelstam, In Memory of Memory is imbued with rare intellectual curiosity and a wonderfully soft-spoken, poetic voice.
16. The Dangers of Smoking in Bed
Written by Mariana Enriquez & Translated by Megan McDowell — Published by Hogarth Press (January 12, 2021)
Mariana Enriquez has been critically lauded for her unconventional and sociopolitical stories of the macabre. Populated by unruly teenagers, crooked witches, homeless ghosts, and hungry women, they walk the uneasy line between urban realism and horror. The stories in her new collection are as terrifying as they are socially conscious, and press into being the unspoken—fetish, illness, the female body, the darkness of human history—with bracing urgency. A woman is sexually obsessed with the human heart; a lost, rotting baby crawls out of a backyard and into a bedroom; a pair of teenage girls can’t let go of their idol; an entire neighborhood is cursed to death when it fails to respond correctly to a moral dilemma.
17. An I-Novel
Written by Minae Mizumura & Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter
Published by Columbia University Press (March 2, 2021)
Minae Mizumura’s An I-Novel is a semi-autobiographical work that takes place over the course of a single day in the 1980s. Minae is a Japanese expatriate graduate student who has lived in the United States for two decades, but has turned her back on the English language and American culture. After a phone call from her older sister reminds her that it is the twentieth anniversary of their family’s arrival in New York, she spends the day reflecting in solitude and over the phone with her sister about their life in the United States, trying to break the news that she has decided to go back to Japan and become a writer in her mother tongue.
Published in 1995, this formally daring novel radically broke with Japanese literary tradition. It liberally incorporated English words and phrases, and the entire text was printed horizontally, to be read from left to right, rather than vertically and from right to left. In a luminous meditation on how a person becomes a writer, Mizumura transforms the ‘I-novel,’ a Japanese confessional genre that toys with fictionalization. An I-Novel tells the story of two sisters while taking up urgent questions of identity, race, and language. Above all, it considers what it means to write in the era of the hegemony of English―and what it means to be a writer of Japanese in particular. Juliet Winters Carpenter masterfully renders a novel that once appeared untranslatable into English.
Article originally Published in the October / November 2021 Issue: Read Global.