“Other Genre” novels for July, this month featuring translated fiction

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.

Syndetics book coverSworn 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)

Syndetics book coverThe 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)

Syndetics book coverThe 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)

Syndetics book coverIn 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)

Syndetics book coverSummer 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)

Syndetics book coverSong 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)

Syndetics book coverDiary 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)

Syndetics book coverTalking 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)

Syndetics book coverThe 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)

Syndetics book coverDecompression : 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)

New Translated Novels, November’s Other Genre selection

Writers from ten different countries are represented in this selection of new translated novels with new novels from Peter Hoeg, Henning Mankell and Orhan Pamuk. This is an opportunity to broaden your reading outlook and experience some great foreign fiction.

Syndetics book coverThe Neruda case / Roberto Ampuero ; translated from the Spanish by Carolina De Robertis.
“At a party in 1970s Chile, Cayetano Brulé meets Pablo Neruda, the great poet and national hero, at the height of his fame. But the elderly poet is full of secrets, one is that he’s dying, and he recruits Cayetano to help him resolve another. So Cayetano takes on his first case as a private detective to solve Neruda’s last great mystery. Set against the fraught politics of pre-Pinochet Chile, Castro’s Cuba, and perilous behind-the-Wall East Berlin, The Neruda case spans countries, cultures, and political movements.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverFrom the land of the moon / Milena Agus ; translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein.
“A young, unnamed woman explores the life of her Sardinian grandmother, a romantic, bewitching, eccentric woman whose life was characterised by honour, passion and the abiding search for perfect love that spanned most of the 20th century. Ever in the background of this remarkable woman’s story is the stunning Sardinian landscape, the deep blue of the Mediterranean, the rugged mountains of the Sardinian back country, the charming villages lost in time.” (adapted from Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverAlways Coca-Cola / by Alexandra Chreiteh ; translated from the Arabic by Michelle Hartman.
“Always Coca-Cola is the story of three very different young women attending university in Beirut: Abeer, Jana, and Yasmine. The narrator, Abeer Ward (fragrant rose, in Arabic), daughter of a conservative family, admits wryly that her name is also the name of her father’s flower shop. Abeer’s bedroom window is filled by a view of a Coca-Cola sign featuring the image of her sexually adventurous friend, Jana. First-time novelist Alexandra Chreiteh asks us to see, with wonder, humor, and dismay, how inextricably confused naming and desire, identity and branding can be.”(adapted from Amazon.com)

Syndetics book coverThe colonel / Mahmoud Dowlatabadi ; translated from the German by Tom Patterdale. “A pitch black, rainy night in a small Iranian town. Inside his house the Colonel is immersed in thought, remembering his wife, great patriots of the past, all of them assassinated or executed and his children, who had joined the different factions of the 1979 revolution. There is a knock on the door. Two young policemen have come to summon the Colonel to collect the tortured body of his youngest daughter and bury her before sunrise. The Islamic Revolution, like every other revolution in history, is devouring its own children. And whose fault is that? This shocking diatribe against the failures of the Iranian left over the last fifty years does not leave one taboo unbroken.” (adapted from Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverThe elephant keepers’ children / by Peter Hoeg ; translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken. “Peter and Tilte are trying to track down two notorious criminals: their parents. They are the pastor and the organist, respectively, of the only church on the tiny island of Finø. Known for fabricating cheap miracles to strengthen their congregation’s faith, they have been in trouble before. But this time their children suspect they are up to mischief on a far greater scale. When Peter and Tilte learn that scientific and religious leaders from around the world are assembling in Copenhagen for a conference, they know their parents are up to something. Peter and Tilte’s quest to find them exposes conspiracies, terrorist plots, an angry bishop, a deranged headmaster, two love-struck police officers, a deluded aristocrat and much more along the way.” (adapted from Amazon.co.uk.)

Syndetics book coverMemoirs of a porcupine / Alain Mabanckou ; translated from the French by Helen Stevenson.
“All human beings, says an African legend, have an animal double. Some are benign, others wicked. When Kibandi, a boy living in a Congolese village, reaches the age of eleven, his father takes him out into the night, and forces him to drink a vile liquid from a jar which has been hidden for years in the earth. This is his initiation and, from this point on, he, and his double, a porcupine, become murderers, attacking neighbours, fellow villagers, and anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path. But now Kibandi is dead, and the porcupine, free of his master, is free to tell their story at last.” (adapted from Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverThe shadow girls / Henning Mankell ; translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg.
Jesper Humlin is a poet of middling acclaim who is saddled by his underwhelming book sales, an exasperated girlfriend, a demanding mother, and a rapidly fading tan. His boy-wonder stockbroker has squandered Humlin’s investments, and his editor, who says he must write a crime novel to survive, begins to pitch and promote the nonexistent book despite Humlin’s emphatic refusals. Then, when he travels to Gothenburg to give a reading, he finds himself thrust into an entirely different world, where names shift, stories overlap, and histories are both deeply secret and in profound need of retelling. Leyla from Iran, Tanya from Russia, and Tea-Bag, who is from Africa but claims to be from Kurdistan (because Kurds might receive preferential treatment as refugees) these are the shadow girls who become Humlin’s unlikely pupils in impromptu writing workshops. Though he had imagined their stories as fodder for his own book, soon their intertwining lives require him to play a much different role.” (adapted Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSilent house / Orhan Pamuk ; translated from the Turkish by Robert Finn.
“In an old mansion in Cennethisar, a former fishing village near Istanbul, an old widow Fatma awaits the annual summer visit of her grandchildren. She has lived in the village for decades, ever since her husband, an idealistic young doctor, first arrived to serve the poor fishermen. Now mostly bedridden, she is attended by her faithful servant Recep, a dwarf and the doctor’s illegitimate son. Her visiting grandchildren are Faruk, a dissipated failed historian; his sensitive leftist sister, Nilgun; and Metin, a high school student drawn to the fast life of the nouveaux riches, who dreams of going to America. But it is Recep’s nephew Hassan, a high-school dropout, lately fallen in with right-wing nationalists, who will draw the visiting family into the growing political cataclysm issuing from Turkey’s tumultuous century-long struggle for modernity.” (adapted from Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverThe misfortunates / Dimitri Verhulst ; translated from the Dutch by David Colmer. “Sobriety and moderation are alien concepts to the men in Dimmy’s family. Useless in all other respects, his three uncles have a rare talent for drinking, a flair for violence, and an unwavering commitment to the pub. And his father Pierre is no slouch either. Within hours of his son’s birth, Pierre plucks him from the maternity ward, props him on his bike, and takes him on an introductory tour of the village bars. His mother soon leaves them to it and as Dimmy grows up amid the stench of stale beer, he seems destined to follow the path of his forebears and make a low-life career in inebriation, until he begins to piece together his own plan for the future.” (adapted from Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverGoya’s glass / Monika Zgustová ; translated from the Czech by Matthew Tree.
“The Duchess of Alba, known as Goya’s muse, recalls the passions of youth on her deathbed in the royal court of eighteenth-century Madrid. A young woman defies the protocols of her arranged marriage and pursues love and the life of a published writer until her readers condemn her as a danger to society in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Nina Berberova escapes persecution during the Russian Revolution and flees to Paris, where the intelligentsia naïvely covet the promise of a Soviet Union. These three women attempt to find passion and intimacy in worlds that rarely accommodate female desire.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Fiction found in translation

A selection of translated novels received this month, gives fiction a very international perspective, covering most genres from mystery to romance, psychological thrillers to historical.

Syndetics book coverMercy / Jussi Adler-Olsen ; translated by Tina Nunnally.
”Copenhagen detective Carl Mørck has been taken off homicide to run a newly created department for unsolved crimes. His first case concerns Merete Lynggaard, who vanished five years ago. Everyone says she’s dead. Everyone says it’s a waste of time. He thinks they’re right.” (adapted from Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverMonsieur Linh and his child / Philippe Claudel ; translated from the French by Euan Cameron.
“Traumatized by memories of his war-ravaged country, and with his son and daughter-in-law dead, Monsieur Linh travels to a foreign land to bring the child in his arms to safety. The other refugees in the detention centre are unsure how to help the old man; his case-workers are compassionate, but overworked. Struggling beneath the weight of his sorrow, Monsieur Linh becomes increasingly bewildered in this unfamiliar, fast-moving town, and then he encounters Monsieur Bark. They do not speak each other’s language, but Monsieur Bark is sympathetic to the foreigner’s need to care for the child. The two men share their solitude, and find friendship in an unlikely dialogue between two very different cultures.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe breakers / Claudie Gallay ; translated from the French by Alison Anderson.
“In the Contentin peninsula on the northern coast of Brittany, lies a village that to all intents and purposes might just be at the end of the world. Amid this desolation, a stranger appears in the cafe and begins stirring up suspicion about the village’s lighthouse keeper, now retired. Meanwhile, a woman arrives from the south. The man of her life has just died and she throws herself into her work, cataloguing her surroundings in obsessive detail. The villagers seem to be guarding old secrets about events in their past. But what actually happened? Who were the victims? Who is seeking answers and why?”(adapted from Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverLove virtually / Daniel Glattauer ; translated from the German by Katharine Bielenberg and Jamie Bulloch.
“It begins by chance: Leo receives emails in error from an unknown woman called Emmi. Being polite he replies, and Emmi writes back. A few brief exchanges are all it takes to spark a mutual interest in each other, and soon Emmi and Leo are sharing their innermost secrets and longings. The erotic tension simmers, and it seems only a matter of time before they will meet in person. But they keep putting off the moment – the prospect both excites and unsettles them. And after all, Emmi is happily married. Will their feelings for each other survive the test of a real-life encounter? And if so, what then? (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverChild wonder / Roy Jacobsen ; translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett with Don Shaw.
“Finn lives with his mother in an apartment block in a working-class suburb of Oslo. It is 1961, a time when ‘men became boys and housewives women’, the year the Berlin Wall is erected and Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man to travel into space. Life is electrical, beautiful and stubbornly social-democratic. One day a mysterious half-sister appears ‘with an atom-charge in a light blue suitcase’, and she turns his life upside-down.”(adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverTrain to Budapest / Dacia Maraini ; translated from the Italian by Silvester Mazzarella.
“It is 1956, Amara, a young Italian journalist, is sent to report on the growing political divide between East and West in post-war central Europe. She also has a more personal mission: to find out what happened to Emanuele, her soul mate from before the war when both were children in Florence. Her quest now takes her on long train journeys. Amara is helped by chance travel companions, notably Hans, part Austrian and half-Jewish, who works as a surrogate father at weddings for brides orphaned in the war, and Hovath, an elderly Hungarian captured by the Russians after forced service with the German army outside Stalingrad in 1942.” (adapted from Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverI curse the river of time / Per Petterson ; translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund with Per Petterson.
“In 1989, 37-year-old Arvid Jansen’s marriage is ending and his mother is dying of cancer. Hoping to leave his marital woes behind in Oslo, Jansen follows his Danish-born mother to her home country, to the beach house where the family spent summers. During the ferry ride and the following days in Denmark, Jansen recalls his childhood bond with his mother and his decision, after two years of college, to leave school and join his fellow Communists in the factories. He struggles with his commitment to communism and with his place in his family and in the larger world.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe calligrapher’s secret / Rafik Schami ; translated from German by Anthea Bell.
“Schami’s intricately woven tale of mid-twentieth-century Damascus is brimming with love and jealousy, prejudice, politics, and intrigue. His lively cast of characters includes Hamid Farsi, a renowned Muslim calligrapher, and his wife, Nura, a talented dressmaker and daughter of a famous scholar. Nasri Albani, widely known as a philanderer, is obsessed with Nura. And there’s Salman, a poor Christian youth who becomes Hamid’s assistant, learning the calligrapher’s art from the ground up. Hamid’s talents place his work in high demand, but when he detects weaknesses in the Arabic language, and secretly seeks to make radical reforms, he comes under the purists’ scrutiny. (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe quarry / Johan Theorin ; translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy.
“As the last snow melts on the Swedish island of Öland, Per Morner is preparing for his children’s Easter visit. But his plans are disrupted when he receives a phone call from his estranged father, Jerry, begging for help.Per finds Jerry close to death in his blazing woodland studio. He’s been stabbed, and two dead bodies are later discovered in the burnt-out building.The only suspect, Jerry’s work partner, is confirmed as one of the dead. But why does Jerry insist his colleague is still alive? And why does he think he’s still a threat to his life?When Jerry dies in hospital a few days later, Per becomes determined to find out what really happened. But the closer he gets to the truth, the more danger he finds himself in.” (adapted from Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverThe lake / by Banana Yoshimoto ; translated by Michael Emmerich.
“Chihiro, an artist, and Nakajima, a graduate student in genetics, finally meet after watching and waving to each other from their respective apartment windows across a Tokyo street. They’re both unconventional and seemingly untethered souls; they’ve both lost their beloved mothers. They meander into a sweet, simple life together, although past secrets involving a mysterious brother and sister who live by an ethereal lake threaten to create an emotional divide.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)