As readers, we are spoiled by all the wonderful books written in English. But there is a vast world of international literature out there. The oft-quoted statistic is only 3 percent of all books published annually in English are translated works — an astounding number when you think of all the different cultures and languages not represented. Consider this a chance to take an international jaunt from your armchair. We’ve pulled together some of our favorite Books in Translation from the past few years. Tray tables up! We’re off to South America, the Middle East, and Russia.
At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón (Peru)
Peruvian writer Daniel Alarcón’s At Night We Walk in Circles is a slow-burning, unnerving novel. In an unnamed South American country, Henry was a celebrated, radical playwright who had been imprisoned for his work. After prison and divorce, he attempts to reclaim the glory days of his theater group, Diciembre, with a new tour through the countryside. Nelson, a young and heartbroken actor, joins Diciembre, and is willing to give up everything to work with his idol. Little does he know how much he will end up giving as the tour unearths personal and political demons.
You Should Read It If…you like surreal novels with political allegory and dramatic third acts.
Culture Binge Mashup: Blindness by José Saramago meets The Motorcycle Diaries meets Waiting for Guffman
The People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu (Israel)
In Shani Boianjiu’s powerful debut novel, Yael, Ashivag, and Lea are childhood friends from a small, dusty border town in Israel. They each enter compulsory military service and journey down drastically different paths. Each woman deals with sex, relationships and their own limited futures with a war zone as backdrop. The women gossip, bicker, and love all while preparing constantly for a disaster that may never come. While the book has a lightness and humor, Boianjiu doesn’t shy away from the complicated political situation of the country, and exposes the complexity of growing up in modern Israel.
You Should Read It If…you like warts-and-all female coming-of-age novels.
Culture Binge Mash-up: Girls meets The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien meets Jarhead.
The Ice Trilogy by Vladimir Sorokin (Russia)
Vladimir Sorokin is widely held as one of the best contemporary Russian writers. The Ice Trilogy is an eerie epic combining science-fiction, New Ageism, Soviet propaganda, and pulpy mayhem. A group of scientists trek into Siberia in 1908 to uncover a mysterious object that fell from the sky, a giant block of ice. Our narrator has a spiritual awakening from the ice and embarks on a spirit quest around the country to find his kindred, The Children of the Light, awakening them and bringing around the destruction of the world. But in the end do they find redemption or illusion? There is no way around it — this is a really, really strange book. You might not like it but it will haunt you after reading.
You Should Read It If…you like postmodern parody, speculative fiction, Russian intensity, and ice.
Culture Binge Mash-up: Dune meets Doomsday Cults meets 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
What else do you think should be on our list?