Next month, American readers will be able to suss out why Patrick Modiano (of all people) won the Nobel Prize, when Yale University Press releases Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas . In the meantime, here are ten amazing new (or fairly new, or about-to-be-published) translated works that demand to be read right now.
Limonov, Emmanuel Carrère, French (FSG)
Emmanuel Carrère is cleaning house with awards for Limonov, and he deserves it. The subtitle says it all: The Outrageous Adventures of the Radical Soviet Poet Who Became a Bum in New York, a Sensation in France, and a Political Antihero in Russia.
The Last Lover, Can Xue, Chinese (Yale)
Can Xue’s is a pseudonym that means either “the dirty snow that refuses to melt” or “the purest snow at the top of a high mountain.” Either way, this is one of the most raved-about works of translated fiction this year.
From Yale University Press:
Entwined in complicated, often tortuous relationships, these characters step into each other’s fantasies, carrying on conversations that are “forever guessing games.” Their journeys reveal the deepest realms of human desire, figured in Can Xue’s vision of snakes and wasps, crows, cats, mice, earthquakes, and landslides. In dive bars and twisted city streets, on deserts and snowcapped mountains, the author creates an extreme world where every character “is driving death away with a singular performance.
Leavetaking, Peter Weiss, German (Melville House)
Quietly one of the major releases of the year, Leavetaking by the polymathic Peter Weiss is actually one half of a larger novel called Exiles. Weiss is the most criminally undersold novelist of the 20th century. His The Aesthetics of Resistance is perhaps, as Frederic Jameson suggested, one of the greatest historical novels ever written. This novel prefigures Knausgaard’s My Struggle and the rest of our contemporary movement into autofiction by many decades. Amazing.
The Author and Me, Eric Chevillard, French (Dalkey)
Eric Chevillard is the funniest living novelist that I’m aware of. And his Demolishing Nisard, which is nothing more than the protagonist’s rant about how much he hates Jean Napoléon Désiré Nisard, is one of my favorite books. I’ve heard this is even funnier.
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Elena Ferrante, Italian (Europa)
I like to do things backwards, so I’m going to start with this, the third volume of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan trilogy, which The Independent calls “one of the great achievements of modern literature.”
Leg over Leg (Volume 3), Faris al-Shidyaq, Arabic (NYU)
This multi-volume epic is being compared to Sterne and Rabelais, which sounds, frankly, amazing. From the publisher:
Leg over Leg recounts the life, from birth to middle age, of ‘the Fariyaq,’ alter ego of Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, a pivotal figure in the intellectual and literary history of the modern Arab world. The always edifying and often hilarious adventures of the Fariyaq, as he moves from his native Lebanon to Egypt, Malta, Tunis, England and France, provide the author with grist for wide-ranging discussions of the intellectual and social issues of his time, including the ignorance and corruption of the Lebanese religious and secular establishments, freedom of conscience, women’s rights, sexual relationships between men and women, the manners and customs of Europeans and Middle Easterners, and the differences between contemporary European and Arabic literatures. Al-Shidyaq also celebrates the genius and beauty of the classical Arabic language.
Baboon, Naja Marie Aidt, Danish (Two Lines Press)
Aidt won the Nordic Council Literature Prize for Baboon, which comes to us from Two Lines Press. Called “desperate” and “frantic” and “painfully universal,” the stories promise something special. Honestly, I’d trust anything from Two Lines Press, which has quickly set itself at the vanguard of translated literature in America.
Street of Thieves, Mathias Énard, French (Open Letter)
Énard’s Zone is one of the best novels of the last decade. Written in one 517-page-long sentence, the novel defies quotation or summary, but I can tell you what everyone who’s read it will tell you: it’s the story of a French intelligence agent on his way to deliver a briefcase full of secrets to the Vatican. And by secrets I mean the horrors of the 20th century. This is Énard’s follow up, and it promises to be incredible.
Fairy Tales: Three Dramolettes, Robert Walser, German (New Directions)
The Robert Walser Renaissance has produced no shortage of masterpieces, so it’s thrilling to see it continue with Fairy Tales, which Walter Benjamin called “one of the most profound creations.”
Fairy Tales gathers together three unconventional minidramas by the Swiss writer Robert Walser that transform the Brothers Grimm into meta-theater, even meta-reflections. Here Snow White forgives the evil queen for trying to kill her, Cinderella suffers being scorned by her stepsisters and her prince, and Sleeping Beauty is not happy about being worken from her sleep by an absurd, unpretentious Walser-like hero.
Our Lady of the Nile, Scholastique Mukasonga, French (Archipelago)
The amazing Archipelago Books is hopefully getting a boost for being at the forefront of the Knausgaard boom. This novel about a Catholic boarding school for girls in Rwanda sounds like a new The Magic Mountain in the way it depicts a closed world “heading towards horror” and genocide.
Nightworks, Jachym Topol, Czech (Portobello)
Jachym Topol has made a name for himself as chronicler of post-communism. In this book, though, two brothers attempt to survive in a sort of liminal netherland on the eve of the 1968 Soviet invasion.