New translated fiction features this month in our “Other Genre” category. From Korea, to Syria, Latin America to Germany, Albania to France, this selection has diverse range of characters, setting and themes. Highly recommended is The People in the Photo by Helene Gestern, winner of more than fifteen awards in France.
Sworn virgin / Elvira Dones ; translated by Clarissa Botsford ; foreword by Ismail Kadare.
“Aspiring writer Hana Doda, newly arrived in Washington, D.C., from her native Albania, suffers sensory overload. Before coming to America, Hana returned to her mountain home, from her university in the capital city of Tirana, to take care of her Uncle Gjergj, who was dying of cancer. Gjergj presses Hana to find a husband so that she will be provided for after he’s gone. But Hana is not inclined to be tied down. Her rejection of marriage triggers a bizarre but time-honored Albanian custom: she promises, in exchange for her independence, to live a celibate life as a man, using the name “Mark.”(Adapted from Syndetics summary)
The people in the photo / Hélène Gestern ; translated from the French by Emily Boyce and Ros Schwartz.
” This remarkable debut novel begins with a photo of Parisian archivist Helene’s mother, Natasha, taken in 1971, a year before Natasha died. It includes two men Helene has never seen before. She advertises for anyone knowing the identity of either of the men in the photo, and she connects with Stephane, whose father is one of the men. The story develops that Helene was only four when her mother died, and her father and stepmother will tell her nothing about Natasha, not even how she died. Stephane’s father became seriously depressed, and his parents’ marriage became very bitter after 1971, so he has something at stake in this also. While the mystery surrounding Natasha unfolds, so does the deepening relationship between Helene and Stephane.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
The hen who dreamed she could fly : a novel / Sun-mi Hwang ; translated by Chi-Young Kim ; illustrated by Nomoco.
“This novella, translated from Korean, explores ideals of compassion, individuality, sacrifice, and motherhood all through a crew of barnyard animals. Confined to laying eggs in the chicken coop, scraggly hen Sprout has but a single dream: to hatch her own chick. When she’s culled from the coop, Sprout narrowly escapes a weasel’s clutches, thanks to Straggler, the misfit mallard duck. Soon Sprout discovers an abandoned egg in a briar patch, and contentedly settles on top of it, her dreams finally realized. Straggler brings fish to the nest and keeps the roaming weasel at bay. The fable sold more than two million copies in Korea.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
In praise of hatred / Khaled Khalifa ; translated from the Arabic by Leri Price.
“Set in Syria in the late 1970s and early 1980s when a rebellion against the current leader’s father was brutally suppressed. The unnamed narrator of this novel is a young girl growing up in a house of women in Aleppo, Syria. In school she becomes involved with a prayer group of devout women who have been influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood. As the novel progresses, the girl’s religious devotion turns into zealotry, and rejection of the middle ground, particularly as the secular regime in power cracks down on Islamists in a bloody fashion. Although it was banned in Syria, this novel was named a finalist for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Summer house with swimming pool : a novel / Herman Koch ; translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett.
“Dr. Marc Schlosser, whose practice includes a new patient, veteran TV and stage actor Ralph Meier. At a party, Marc doesn’t like the way Ralph looks at his wife, Caroline. So when Marc and his family are invited to spend part of their vacation at Ralph’s summer house (with swimming pool), Marc reluctantly accepts. There, his family mingles with Ralph’s family, as well as houseguests Stanley Forbes, a film director, and his much younger girlfriend. The air is rife with sexual tension as Ralph showers too much attention on Marc’s underage daughter, Julia, and Marc toys with having an affair with Ralph’s wife, Judith. Then tragedy strikes. One year later, through a confluence of events, Ralph is dead and Marc is implicated. Over the course of the novel, the truth about what really happened that summer is revealed.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Song of the spirits / Sarah Lark ; translated by D. W. Lovett.
“Elaine O’Keefe is the radiant grand-daughter of Gwyneira McKenzie, who made her way to New Zealand to take a wealthy sheep baron’s hand in marriage. Elaine inherited not only her grandmother’s red hair but also her feisty spirit, big heart, and love of the land. When William Martyn, a handsome young Irishman of questionable integrity, walks into her life, she succumbs rapidly to his charms, only to have her heart broken when her sensual half-Maori cousin Kura Warden arrives for a visit and draws William away. Though both young women must endure hardships and disappointments as they learn to live with the choices they make, each of them also discovers an inner resilience and eventually finds love and happiness in new, unexpected places.”(Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Diary of the fall / Michel Laub ; translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa.
“A schoolboy prank goes horribly wrong, and a thirteen-year-old boy is left injured. Years later, one of the classmates relives the episode as he tries to come to terms with his demons. Diary of the Fall is the story of three generations: a man examining the mistakes of his past, and his struggle for forgiveness; a father with Alzheimer’s, for whom recording every memory has become an obsession; and a grandfather who survived Auschwitz, filling notebook after notebook with the false memories of someone desperate to forget.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Talking to ourselves / Andrâes Neuman ; translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia.
“Lito is ten years old and is almost sure he can change the weather when he concentrates very hard. His father, Mario, anxious to create a memory that will last for his son’s lifetime, takes him on a road trip in a truck called Pedro. But Lito doesn’t know that this might be their last trip: Mario is seriously ill. Together, father and son embark on travels that take them through strange geographies, ones that seem to unite the borders of Spanish-speaking world. In the meantime, Lito’s mother Elena looks for support in books, undertaking an adventure of her own that will challenge her moral limits. The narratives of father, mother, and son each embody one of the different ways that we talk to ourselves: through thought, speech, and writing. While neither of them dares to tell the complete truth to the other two, their solitary voices nonetheless form a poignant conversation. “(Adapted from Syndetics summary)
The antiquarian / Gustavo Faverón Patriau ; translated from the Spanish by Joseph Mulligan.
“The debut novel from Patriau, a Peruvian journalist, critic, and Roberto Bolano scholar. Psycholinguist Gustavo is contacted by his old friend Daniel, whom he hasn’t heard from in years. Daniel asks Gustavo to visit him in a nearby mental institution, where he’s being held for murdering his fiancée. Daniel, a mild-mannered eccentric who loves antique books, promises to reveal why he did what he did, and thus draws Gustavo into a search through the underground and back alleys of his unnamed South American country. Along the way, Gustavo encounters a rare book dealer network that’s actually a front for traffickers in illegally obtained human organs.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Decompression : a novel / Juli Zeh ; translated from the German by John Cullen. “Jola is a beautiful and privileged soap star who wants very much to be taken seriously; her partner Theo is a middle-aged author with writers’ block. In an attempt to further her career, Jola is determined to land the lead role in a new film about underwater photographer and model Lotte Hass.To improve her chances, the couple travel to Lanzarote and hire diving instructor Sven, paying him a large sum for exclusive tuition. Sven is meticulously planning his most ambitious expedition yet, to an untouched wreck 100 metres down on the ocean floor. Diving calls for a cool head and, as a sinister love triangle develops, events rapidly get out of hand.” (Adapted from amazon.co.uk)