A spotlight on translated fiction this month
This month we’re reading novels translated from Dutch, Spanish, Korean and Hungarian.
What I’d Rather Not Think About by Jente Posthuma (translated from Dutch by Sarah Timmer Harvey)
What if one half of a pair of twins no longer wants to live? What if the other can’t live without them?
This question lies at the heart of Jente Posthuma’s deceptively simple What I’d Rather Not Think About. The narrator is a twin whose brother has recently taken his own life. She looks back on their childhood, and tells of their adult lives: how her brother tried to find happiness, but lost himself in various men and the Bhagwan movement, though never completely. In brief, precise vignettes, full of gentle melancholy and surprising humour, Posthuma tells the story of a depressive brother, viewed from the perspective of the sister who both loves and resents her twin, struggles to understand him, and misses him terribly.
Tomas Nevinson by Javier Marias (translated from Spanish by Javier Marías & Margaret Jull Costa)
Tomás Nevinson has left the secret service and returned to his old job working in the British Embassy in Madrid. Assumed dead by his wife Berta, Tomás attempts to resume his old life and heal from his psychological wounds. But when he is contacted by his old boss, Bertram Tupra, Nevinson reluctantly becomes involved in a plan to locate and eliminate a woman believed to have helped orchestrate the 1987 Hipercor bombing. Detonated by the ETA, a Basque separatist group, the bomb killed 21 people and injured 45. Nevinson is assigned to a north-western Spanish city to find the woman.
Full of mesmerising intrigue, Tomás Nevinson offers a deep reflection into the moral dilemma of whether the extrajudicial killing of a presumed criminal can be justified.
A Mountain to the North, A Lake to The South, Paths to the West, A River to the East by Laszlo Krasznahorkai (translated from Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet)
The grandson of Prince Genji lives outside of space and time and wanders the grounds of an old monastery in Kyoto. The monastery, too, is timeless, with barely a trace of any human presence. The wanderer is searching for a garden that has long captivated him.
This novel by International Booker Prize winner Laszlo Krasznahorkai - perhaps his most serene and poetic work - describes a search for the unobtainable and the riches to be discovered along the way.
This is Not Miami by Fernanda Melchor (translated from Spanish by Sophie Hughes)
Set in and around the city of Veracruz in Mexico, This Is Not Miami delivers twelve devastating stories that spiral from real events. These cronicás—a genre unique to Latin American writing, blending reportage and fiction—probe the motivations of murderers and misfits, compelling us to understand or even empathise with them.
As in her hugely acclaimed novels Hurricane Season and Paradais, Fernanda Melchor’s masterful stories show how the violent and shocking events that make the headlines are only the surface ruptures of a society on the brink of chaos.
I Went to See My Father by Kyung-Sook Shin (translated from Korean by Anton Hur)
Publishing 13 April.
Soon after losing her own daughter in a tragic accident, Hon returns to her childhood home in the Korean countryside after many years away. Her father, a cattle farmer, is elderly and requires her care. He is withdrawn, kind but awkward around his own daughter.
As time passes however, Hon realises that her father is far more complex than she ever realised. The discovery of a chest of letters and conversations with his family and friends help Hon piece together the tumultuous story of his life. She learns of her father's experiences during the Korean War and the violence of the 19th April Revolution; of a love affair and involvement in a religious sect; of his sacrifice and heroism and of the phantoms that haunt him. As she unravels secret after secret, Hon grows closer to her father, realising that his lifelong kindness belies a past wrought in both private and national trauma. I Went to See My Father opens a window onto humankind, family, loss and war. It asks us to look at the ones we love, uncover the secrets they keep, and finally see who they really are.
Greek Lessons by Han Kang (translated from Korean by Deborah Smith & Emily Yae Won)
Publishing 18 April.
In a classroom in Seoul, a young woman watches her Greek language teacher at the blackboard. She tries to speak but has lost her voice. Her teacher finds himself drawn to the silent woman, for day by day he is losing his sight. Soon they discover a deeper pain binds them together. For her, in the space of just a few months, she has lost both her mother and the custody battle for her nine-year-old son. For him, it's the pain of growing up between Korea and Germany, being torn between two cultures and languages. Slowly the two discover a profound sense of unity - their voices intersecting with startling beauty, as they move from darkness to light, from silence to expression.
Greek Lessons is a tender love letter to human intimacy and connection, a novel to awaken the senses, vividly conjuring the essence of what it means to be alive.