15 March 2019

6 Books in Translation to Read in March

It's the ides of March, and the only thing I have to beware is letting time get away from me and missing some of this month's books in translation. As you well know, I make an effort to read authors who are outside the English-speaking world. It's a great way to gain a different perspective and to learn about life around the globe.

Here are six books in translation on my March reading list. They cover a range of genres, and I hope at least one catches your eye.

review of All Happy Families: A Memoir by Hervé Le TellierAll Happy Families: A Memoir by Hervé Le Tellier, translated from the French by Adriana Hunter (Other Press, March 26). In this moving memoir, Le Tellier recalls his childhood, spent mostly with his grandparents or troubled mother, and the years in which he seemed unable to feel normal human emotions, such as grief and love. Although he wasn't abused, his relationships with the people who were meant to protect him were often beyond dysfunctional. His mother in fact suffered from a disconnection to reality and often lied to him. Other people he was close to died early, including a girlfriend, which is another form of abandonment. In this memoir, Le Tellier comes to terms with these difficult relationships as he views them through the lens of maturity and success as a writer. A testament to the fact that children can indeed survive messed-up families.

review of Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna by Mario GiordanoAuntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna by Mario Giordano, translated from the German by John Brownjohn (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 5). I don't know how I missed the first book in this series, but I'm happy to jump on the Auntie Poldi bandwagon with the second book. When Isolde Oberreiter, better known as Poldi, left Germany to spend her retirement in Sicily, she had no idea that there'd be more to life than walks on the beach, copious glasses of wine, occasional sex, and new friends. Poldi can't help but get involved when it's a matter of dead body or two. In this outing, the unstoppable Poldi is determined to figure out who poisoned her neighbor's dog. After a little pillow talk with her current lover (a police inspector), she's onto bigger things--like linking the murder of a man to the demise of the dog. An adult cozy mystery brimming with the flavors and colors of Sicily.

review of Homeland: A Novel by Fernando Aramburu,Homeland: A Novel by Fernando Aramburu, translated from the Spanish by Alfred Macadam (Pantheon, March 5). This timely novel is set in Basque country, and although a murder is at its center, this is not crime fiction. Instead, it's an examination of how ordinary people can get caught up in the wider political events of their country and how it isn't always easy to figure out who is hero and who is villain. When a businessman is killed by separatists, the repercussions are felt by more than just the grieving family. Friendships and everyday life in the town are forever changed. Who is brave enough or sure enough to take a stand on the future of Basque? Is it easier just to leave your home and start over? Set after the ETA separatists declare an end to their fight for independence, this story looks at the violent past and uneasy present. The novel has won multiple international honors.

review of The Little Girl on the Ice Floe by Adélaïde BonThe Little Girl on the Ice Floe by Adélaïde Bon, translated from the French by Tina Kover (Europa, March 19). This is a tough memoir about surviving a childhood rape. When she was just nine years old, Bon was raped by a stranger, and though she was unable to provide many details, her parents reported it to the authorities. As a way to cope, Bon compartmentalized her life--seemingly stable and friendly on the outside, while dealing with guilt, shame, fear, and more on the inside. Despite years of therapy and various self-soothing activities (such as eating and drinking too much), there were parts of her that remained numb and details of her attack that she could not remember. Two decades later, the Paris police inform her that they've caught a serial sexual offender, who is charged with dozens of assaults on minors. Only nineteen now-grown women confront the man in court, Bon among them. The aftermath of the trial brings some unexpected reactions. Can there ever be true healing after rape? Especially in a society that still blames the victim.

review of The Secret Wisdom of Nature by Peter WohllebenThe Secret Wisdom of Nature by Peter Wohlleben, translated from the German by Jane Billinghurst (Greystone Books, March 5). I loved Wohlleben's The Hidden Life of Trees (though I can't believe I never wrote about it on my blog), and in his latest, the German forester returns to tell us (as the subtitle says) about "Trees, Animals, and the Extraordinary Balance of All Living Things" through "Stories from Science and Observation." Wohlleben has spent most of his life in the woods, both professionally and privately, observing nature up close and in a way few of us have an opportunity to do. Here he takes a big-picture view of the environment, from the largest forest fires to the smallest insects and discusses in everyday language and using a personable style how the ecosystem works. There are many sides to every problem in a system as complex as Earth's natural world, and Wohlleben takes some surprising stands on conservation and preservation. If you haven't yet read any of his work, you should.

review of Waiting for Bojangles by Olivier BourdeautWaiting for Bojangles by Olivier Bourdeaut, translated from the French by Regan Kramer (Simon & Schuster, March 19). This debut novel, which has already won much critical acclaim, tells the story of an unnamed boy and his unconventional parents who live in happy chaos in Paris. Told mostly from the boy's point of view, with sections from his father's diary, the book follows the mother's journey from quirky to the can-no-longer-deny-it mentally unstable. After the pesky business of taxes and the outside world invade their space, the family removes to a vacation home in Spain, where son and husband hope to protect the ailing woman, showering her with love. Mental illness, however, cannot always be cured with the peace of the countryside, fancy cocktails, and dancing to the record player. The ministrations of well-intentioned family are often not the answer. This coming-of-age story is told partly in verse.


Susie | Novel Visits 3/15/19, 8:30 AM  

You always shine a light on books I've missed. Both the French memoirs, All Happy Families and The Little Girl on the Ice Floe sound great. The later might be tough to read, but unfortunately a harsh reality for many women. I'll need to look more closely at both books. Thank you!

Mae Travels 3/15/19, 9:11 AM  

What a great list! I completely agree with you that many books from other countries should be on all of our reading lists. Reading books written by French authors, particularly, is a great idea because so many American and British authors love to write novels (and yes, cozy mysteries) set in France, or at least in some version of France that they invent.

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

bermudaonion 3/15/19, 11:05 AM  

These all appeal to me but Waiting for Bojangles really stands out since it's partly written in verse.

rhapsodyinbooks 3/15/19, 11:52 AM  

I so admire translators for all the work they do to get the sense of the work into another language. What a hard task! And what a gift for us who don't speak the language of the countries of origin!

Les in Oregon 3/15/19, 12:55 PM  

I've had Waiting for Bojangles on my list since I first heard about it and I need to see if I can get a copy at my library. Thanks for the great list!

sherry fundin 3/15/19, 4:42 PM  

thanks for sharing some new to me authors
sherry @ fundinmental

Daryl 3/17/19, 11:11 AM  

new authors are always welcome

Unknown 3/21/19, 2:08 AM  

Hi, Thanks so much for mentioning "Waiting for Bojangles". As the English translator, I would just like to point out that it is probably more accurate to say that part of it is in "rhyming prose" rather than in verse per se. Not that I want to be a nit-picker, but I don't want anyone to be disappointed^

Beth F 3/21/19, 5:34 AM  

Hi Regan, Thanks for clearing that up!

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