18 January 2019

6 Books in Translation to Read in January

Several years ago (and probably more years ago than I realize), I started not just reading books in translation but seeking them out. I don’t know how or why I developed my interest, but if I had to guess, I’d blame Scandinavian crime fiction for turning my attention away from the English-speaking world. I love the perspective and the themes of translated fiction and nonfiction, and by stepping outside my own cultural sphere, I’m broadening my horizons. Here are six books in translation that are my January reading list.

  • 6 Books in Translation to Read in JanuaryThe End of Loneliness by Benedict Wells; translated from the German by Charlotte Collins (Penguin Books; January 29). Set Europe, this prize-winning novel follows the fate of three siblings who are suddenly orphaned and sent away to boarding school, where they drift apart. The youngest, Jules, finds friendship in a shy girl, but they too lose touch after school. When a family crises reunites the siblings, Jules reaches out to his childhood friend. In a world of loss and grief, is it possible to find hope?
  • Last Night in Nuuk by Niviaq Korneliussen; translated by Anna Halager (Grove Press; January 15). (Note: I’m not sure if this was originally written in Greenlandic or Danish.) Set in the capital city of Nuuk, this is the story of five young people trying to find both themselves and their place as they head off into adulthood. Contemporary themes include too much partying, sexual identity, facing responsibilities, and political activism.
  • Mala Vida by Marc Fernandez; translated from the French by Molly Grogan (Arcade; January 15). Set in contemporary Madrid, this novel explores a country in transition, including economic woes and a populist movement (sound familiar? ugh). Against this atmosphere, a radio crime reporter begins to investigate a series of seemingly unrelated murders only to uncover a major scandal from the Franco years, involving what was essentially the kidnapping of babies for the rich and powerful.
  • 6 Books in Translation to Read in JanuaryThe Plotters by Un-su Kim; translated from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell (Doubleday, January 29). I’ve already written about this futuristic or alternative-world crime novel about a young man who was raised in Seoul’s underworld to be an assassin. In this universe, killers belong to guilds (or families) and are trained to do their jobs, without asking questions. After bungling a hit, our protagonist decides to step out on his own—but at what cost?
  • Wanderer by Sarah Léon; translated from the French by John Cullen (Other Press; January 8). Set in the French mountains, this is the story of a composer and music teacher who has long worked in isolation, until one winter day a former male student—now a famous pianist—appears on his doorstep. Against a background of music and a snow-covered landscape, this is the story of the pair’s complicated relationship, and whether time and maturity will allow them a second chance.
  • What Hell Is Not by Alessandro D’Avenia; translated from the Italian by Jeremy Parzen (Oneworld; January 24). Set in 1990s Palermo, home of the mafia, this novel is based on a true story. When an upper-class teen is asked by his teacher and priest to work at a youth club for underprivileged youth, he gets a firsthand view of the city’s poverty. When the priest is murdered, the teen must decide whether to continue to help the boys at the club or return to his safe and comfortable life.


rhapsodyinbooks 1/18/19, 6:45 AM  

I also like books in translation - just considering the challenge, especially of idiomatic expressions, adds to the experience. Thanks for the round up!

sherry fundin 1/18/19, 10:30 AM  

I know this can be difficult and I do make allowances for some of the problems translating can cause. But, a good book is a good book.
sherry @ fundinmental

thecuecard 1/18/19, 5:52 PM  

The Plotters interests me. Quite a synopsis on that one. It sounds like a Korean Fight Club story ! I'll see if my library is getting it.

Emma at Words And Peace / France Book Tours 1/18/19, 7:14 PM  

The Plotters is definitely different. I t starts with a lot of humor, but then gets darker and darker. But definitely an author I want to revisit. I would highly recommend another novel in translation (will be released next week). Translated from the French, great writer!: https://wordsandpeace.com/2019/01/16/book-review-hear-our-defeats/

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz 1/19/19, 9:44 AM  

There is something mysterious and surprising about books that have been translated from another language, almost as if we have been given entry to a world that is subtly different from our own.

I love books in translation, too.

Thank you for sharing these books.

Vasilly 1/20/19, 12:53 PM  

Thanks for posting this. I've realized I don't read enough books in translation. I need to change that and your list is a great place to start.

Vicki 1/20/19, 4:37 PM  

I've read a few books in translation but should read more. They are usually very good.

Iliana 1/20/19, 5:47 PM  

Mala Vida seems to be getting a lot of reviews and I'm especially interested in that one. I enjoy books in translation and last year I didn't read as many as I would have liked so hopefully this year I'll do better. It's just a wonderful way to learn more about other countries/customs, etc.

Daryl 1/23/19, 9:47 AM  

The Plotters sounds good ...

Lindsey 1/23/19, 2:06 PM  

The Plotters is on my list too! How do you find books in translation?

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