Found in Translation

Apparently only three percent of all books published in the English-speaking world are works in translation. Some small presses have made it their mission to change that. Reading another country’s literature not only enlarges our understanding of the wide world, but it sets free cultural resources that were once fenced in by language-barriers. So in the New Year’s self-improving spirit, here’s a list to get you started.

In January, Dalkey Archive is putting out Brazilian Ignacio de Loyola Brandão’s The Goodbye Angel (trans. Clifford E. Landers) described as a “cross between a noir and a Greek Tragedy” in an exploration of Brandão’s “great subject” of the city versus its inhabitants.

Europa will publish Luis Sepulveda’s Shadow of What We Were (trans. Howard Curtis) in February. Summoned by an anarchist called “The Shadow”, three ageing revolutionaries meet in Santiago to complete one final mission. In the sudden absence of The Shadow, it is the bumbling Coco Aravena to whom the others turn.

This March, Melville House is publishing Fiasco (trans. Tom Wilkinson) by Hungarian Nobel winner Imre Kertecz. Fiasco has been described as reminiscent of the works of Kafka and Camus and is set during Hungary’s almost seamless transition from Nazi to Communist occupation.

And in April, in Dasa Drndic’s Trieste (trans. Ellen Elias-Bursac) published by Quercus, an old woman sits in north-eastern Italy surrounded by fragments which form a collage (“employing a range of astonishing conceptual devices” says the publisher’s website) telling the story of the son fathered by an S.S. officer and stolen during the Second World War.

East European fiction often cannot avoid the yoke of totalitarian regimes, but those who enjoy a melancholy tempered by humor or cheek might try Bohumil Hrabal, whose novel Harlequin’s Millions was just released in English by Archipelago this past December.