These translated books from around the world expand our understanding of cultures, history, and our list of authors to follow.
By Jessica Dukes
So many of our favorite books have come to us through translators – everything from The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank to One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. We can barely imagine our bookshelves without them. That’s why we keep our eyes open for exiting new translations wherever they’re from – we don’t want to miss out on reading the next big international bestseller. Check out some of our recent finds.
A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles
It’s not easy to look at the Sandell family’s situation and say what you would do. They’re average people facing the unthinkable – their 18-year-old daughter is accused of a horrible crime, for which there are far more questions than answers. At every turn, they have to make life-changing decisions about how far they can go to protect her before destroying themselves. Edvardsson’s gripping psychological family drama is his U.S. debut.
The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia, translated by Simon Bruni
As a baby, Simonopio is found abandoned and covered with bees under a bridge. His survival leads the people in his small Mexican town to believe that he has special powers. Indeed, when he is lovingly adopted by the Morales family, Simonopio uses his ability to control local bees – and his power to see the future – to protect those who protected him. The Murmur of Bees is Segovia’s first book to be translated into English.
Vintage 1954 by Antoine Laurain, translated by Gallic Books
French wines have a reputation for being exceptional, but Hubert Larnaudie’s ‘54 Beaujolais is a world apart … literally. After drinking it, Hubert and his dinner guests find that they have traveled back in time to 1954, to a Paris overflowing with post-war joie de vivre. Jazz is hot, new intellectuals hold court in left-bank cafés, and Hubert and his friends are drunk on adventure. They’d love to stay, but eventually they have to figure out how to get back to 2017. Laurain is known for taking readers on romantic voyages through France, and Vintage 1954, his latest to be translated, does not disappoint.
Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima, translated by Geraldine Harcourt
After a shattering divorce, a young mother searches for a safe place to settle, deals with life’s infinite annoyances, and doubts whether she can be a good parent to her two-year old daughter. Her brightly lit Tokyo apartment should be a blessing, but instead it’s a reminder of how depressed and lost she really is. Territory of Light, published in chapters over 1978-79, was translated to English in 2019 and fits right in with contemporary novels that refuse to hide the difficulties of motherhood.
The Capital by Robert Menasse, translated by Jamie Bulloch
A large cast of public servants weave their lives together as they work, fight, and love in modern-day Brussels, the symbolic capital city of the European Union. As the EU fractures under the weight of its own bureaucracy, its leading members decide to throw a 50th anniversary bash in hopes of changing hearts and minds about the entire EU experiment. Cue additional infighting and red tape … and a mysterious pig on the loose that becomes yet another symbolic figure of the EU’s problems.
Happiness, as Such by Natalia Ginzburg, translated by Minna Proctor
In addition to winning a seat in Parliament in her late 60s, Ginzburg was also a literary giant in Italy who often wrote about the lives of women in the aftermath of WWII. Happiness, as Such features three women – a mother, a girlfriend, and a sister – all desperate for contact with Michele, a man forced to escape Italy for the safety of England because of his radical politics. Told in letters between Michele and the three women, we see how they mourn him, joke about how to fix him, and eventually carry on with building new lives.
China Dream by Ma Jian, translated by Flora Drew
As with all classic satires, the target is squarely fixed on corrupt organizations. In China Dream, Ma Daode is a fat-cat politician who gets an even fatter promotion to the China Dream Bureau. His new job: Replace citizen’s nightly dreams with President Xi Jinping's vision for China. Just when Daode is set to rewire the memories of an entire nation, he inexplicably hesitates and questions his sanity. Like other books by Ma Jian, China Dream is often compared to the mind-bending, soul-twisting works of Orwell and Huxley.
The Optic Nerve by María Gainza, translated by Thomas Bunstead
The narrator of The Optic Nerve is obsessed with history, art, artists, and her own desires to interpret it all. As we follow her through galleries and museums, we’re given what feels like a master class in the history of the visual arts, punctuated by personal anecdotes and her own had-to-be-there stories about each piece. Gainza is an art critic from Argentina, and this, her fictionalized autobiography, is her first book to be translated into English.
More by Hakan Günday, translated by Zeynep Beler
Hailed as a disturbing yet important work of contemporary Middle Eastern fiction, More takes us into the unseen experiences of refugees who land on Turkey’s beaches seeking a safe haven. Gaza is a nine-year-old boy whose family has seized the moment, providing food and shelter to refugees as they come ashore, and then turning them over to human traffickers for a profit. Loyalty to family is not negotiable, and ultimately it leads Gaza down a violent path he could not have predicted. More won Best Turkish Novel in 2011 and is now an international bestseller.
Homeland by Fernando Aramburu, translated by Alfred Macadam
Like their country, two best friends are ripped apart by Spain’s Basque conflict that began in the 1950s. Bittori’s family, loyal to Spain, is brutally attacked by Basque separatists (the ETA). Miren’s family is loyal to the ETA and the fight for independence. While their lives are consumed by the years of bloody rebellion that follow, Bittory and Miren question their memories, relive old betrayals, and explore the limits of forgiveness.
Codex 1962: A Trilogy by Sjón, translated by Victoria Cribb
In three volumes collectively subtitled “A Love Story, a Crime Story, and Science Fiction,” Sjón tells the mystical travels of the Löwe family. In book one, Leo Löwe is a lost soul, a WWII Jewish fugitive who carries with him a baby made of clay – the narrator of this trilogy, Josef. Book two has Leo and Josef moving to Iceland, where life is complicated by a crime of passion and revenge. The final book takes place in present day Reykjavik, where Josef reveals his history to a geneticist, a risk considering his lineage. Together, their stories reveal life’s big-picture lessons about birth, death, and the tedious humanity that happens in between.