In featuring translated novels in this month’s selection of new ‘Other Genres’ we highlight the best from international writers from many countries. There are novels translated from the French, Italian, Dutch, Estonian, Chinese, Spanish and Swedish. Highly recommended is the third novel in the Neapolitan novels by the elusive writer Elena Ferrante, titled Those who leave and those who stay.
Men / Marie Darrieussecq ; translated from the French by Penny Hueston.
“It’s love at first sight for French actress Solange when she lays eyes on enigmatic Cameroonian actor Kouhouesso at a party in the Hollywood Hills. Solange takes him to bed but wants more than a tryst, much more. But Kouhouesso remains elusive, focusing his energies on his passion project: directing a new version of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Solange angles for the role of the Intended, Kurtz’s fiancée, who appears in only one scene. Kouhouesso considers several better-known actresses before finally settling on Solange. And so lovesick Solange follows Kouhouesso to his native Cameroon, hoping the film shoot will allow her to peel back his protective layers and truly bring them closer.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Those who leave and those who stay / Elena Ferrante ; translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein.
“Beginning in the late 1960s and early ’70s, the fiery Lila stays in Naples, having escaped an abusive marriage, and lives platonically with a man from the neighborhood, along with her young, possibly illegitimate son. The feisty Elena leaves town, graduates from a university in Pisa, publishes a successful book, marries an upper-class professor, and moves to Florence, where she gives birth to two daughters. Against the backdrop of student revolution and right-wing reaction, the two women’s tumultuous friendship seesaws up and down as each tries to outdo the other.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Penalty area / Alain Gillot ; translated from the French by Howard Curtis.
“Growing up, Vincent Barteau dreamed of being a professional soccer player. But that dream was crushed by a career-ending injury. Now Vincent keeps alive his connection to the sport by coaching a youth team in Sedan, France. One day, his circumscribed existence is shattered by the arrival of his estranged sister, Madeleine, a single mother who asks him to care for her 13-year-old son, Leonard. Vincent has had no experience caring for a teenager. But it turns out that the boy has a real talent as a soccer goalie and makes Vincent’s team suddenly viable. Thanks to the boy, Vincent begins to come out of his shell. Then, Madeleine reappears and says that she wants Leonard back.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
The secret diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 years old / Hendrik Groen ; translated by Hester Velmans.
“Hendrik Groen may be old, but he is far from dead and isn’t planning to be buried any time soon. Granted, his daily strolls are getting shorter because his legs are no longer willing and he had to visit his doctor more than he’d like. Technically speaking he is elderly. But surely there is more to life at his age than weak tea and potted geraniums? Hendrik sets out to write an exposé: a year in the life of his care home in Amsterdam, revealing all its ups and downs, not least his new endeavour the anarchic Old-But-Not Dead Club. And when Eefje moves in, the woman Hendrik has always longed for, he polishes his shoes (and his teeth), grooms what’s left of his hair and attempts to make something of the life he has left, with hilarious, tender and devastating consequences.” (Adapted from Book cover)
The man who spoke Snakish / Andrus Kivirähk ; translated by Christopher Moseley.
“Unfortunately people and tribes degenerate. They lose their teeth, forget their language, until finally they are bending meekly on the fields and cutting straw with a scythe. Leemut, a young boy growing up in the forest, is content living with his hunter-gatherer family. But when incomprehensible outsiders arrive aboard ships and settle nearby, with an intriguing new religion, the forest begins to empty, people are move to the village, breaking their backs tilling fields to make bread. Leemut and the last forest-dwelling humans refuse to adapt: with bare-bottomed primates and their love of ancient traditions, they live in shacks, keep wolves, and speak to snakes.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
The explosion chronicles / Yan Lianke ; translated from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas.
“With the Yi River on one side and the Balou Mountains on the other, the village of Explosion was founded more than a millennium ago by refugees fleeing a seismic volcanic eruption. But in the post-Mao era the name takes on a new significance as the community grows explosively from a small village to a vast metropolis. Behind this rapid expansion are members of the community’s three major families, including the four Kong brothers. Linked together by a complex web of loyalty, betrayal, desire, and ambition, these figures are the driving force behind their hometown’s transformation into an urban superpower.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
33 revolutions / Canek Sánchez Guevara ; translated from the Spanish by Howard Curtis.
“The hero of this mordant portrayal of life in contemporary Cuba is a black Cuban whose parents were enthusiastic supporters of the Castro Revolution. His father, however, having fallen foul of the regime, is accused of embezzlement and dies of a stroke. Following her husband’s death, his mother flees the country and settles in Madrid. Our hero separates from his wife and now spends much of his time in the company of his Russian neighbor, from whom he discovers the pleasures of reading. The books he reads gradually open his eyes to the incongruity between party slogans and the gray oppressive reality that surrounds him This is a candid and moving story about the disappointments of a generation that believed in the ideals of the Castro Revolution.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Divorce is in the air / Gonzalo Torné ; translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
“There’s a lot about Joan-Marc that his estranged second wife doesn’t know, but which he now sets out to tell her. He begins with the failure of his first marriage to an American woman named Helen; describing a vacation they took in a last-ditch attempt to salvage their once-passionate romance. The recollection of this ill-fated trip triggers in him a series of flashbacks through which he narrates his life story, hopscotching between Barcelona and Madrid. Starting from pivotal moments in his childhood, his earliest sexual encounters, his father’s suicide, his mother’s emotional decline, he moves through the years to the origin of his relationship with Helen and the circumstances surrounding its deterioration.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Reputations / Juan Gabriel Vásquez ; translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean.
“Javier Mallarino, renowned political cartoonist, has reached the apex of his career. He’s feted at a ceremony with speeches and a commemorative stamp while his estranged wife (whom he loves) watches from the audience. But a film tribute shown during the program triggers something in the memory of another woman in the audience, unraveling several lives as the past is revisited. Mallarino is forced to reexamine, through the eyes of this woman, the very basis of his reputation, an accusation of sexual misconduct he implied in a caricature that destroyed the career of a politician and eventually led to his death.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
The brother / Joakim Zander ; translated from the Swedish by Elizabeth Clark Wessel.
“Growing up poor, Yasmine vowed she would always protect her little brother from harm. She broke her promise on the day she left home, abandoning Fadi to his life in the Stockholm slums. Now, five years later, Yasmine still carries the guilt of leaving him behind. She hears a rumor that he is dead, killed by a US drone in Syria. What happened to turn her sweet-natured brother into one of the CIA’s most wanted men? The answer will shock her.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)