Translated fiction we loved in 2018

Our staff share some of their favourite translated fiction from the past year.

‘I loved Clarice Lispector’s Complete stories. Lispector is a well known Brazilian writer, who did most of her work from the early 40s through to the mid 70s. She has such a complex, unusual imagination, and her stories are complete little worlds you fall into. Highly recommended.’

Britt Munro

‘Qiu Miaojin’s modernist tour de force about the lives of young queer artists in early 90s Taipei, Notes of a Crocodile, provides an amazing glimpse of a country-in-transition as well as explores the role of art in describing trauma. It’s sadly also a very topical read in light of Taiwan’s ongoing debate over marriage equality. Similarly, the wonderful multi-vocal Crimson tells a story of queers living in the cold climate of Nuuk, capital of Greenland, and it is one I never expected to get the chance to hear.

Both books, in their first English translations, expand our queer world just a little bit more.’

Marie Matteson

‘If someone told me I would really get into a story about a seriously ill man (Satoru) driving his beloved cat (Nana) around to old friends, trying to find it a new home, I wouldn’t have believed them. But Hiro Arikawa’s The Travelling Cat Chronicles, published late last year, was a pleasure to dive into. The structure is simple and the prose is clear, but the end result is full of layers to ruminate on. Each new visit delivers a complete and fascinating characterisation, in a different corner of Japan, and deepens what the reader knows about Satoru and Nana’s complex history.’

Leanne Hall

'I really loved Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. Like much of the Japanese fiction that I’ve read, the translation offers up prose that is simple and spare, while opening a window onto a complex emotional, social and political world. The intersections of commerce and personhood, ideology and resistance, are richly explored here, with the setting of the shop operating as both well-drawn observation and perfect metaphor for the experience of life in our times. This feminist take on the roles we assume – or find ourselves playing – is precise, and also heartbreaking.’

Alison Huber

Apple and Knife is the first book from Sydney-based Indonesian writer Intan Paramaditha to be published in English and it’s a slyly funny, genre-bending work of feminist horror. If genre-bending is very much your thing, I also recommend Olga Tokarczuk’s new novel, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. This noir thriller is intellectually invigorating, exploring politics, animal rights, horoscopes, William Blake, illness, and more. Think very cold, very weird and with just a dash of cosy Miss Marple thrown in.

And while I haven’t read it yet, I’m hearing great things about this year’s winner of the National Book Award for Translated Literature: The Emissary by the endlessly inventive Yoko Tawada.‘

Bronte Coates

'After twice seeing Ed Moreno’s stage performances, it was a delight to hold his book in my hands. Through the Night draws from his play script, as well as conversations between Moreno and Caio Fernando Abreu, the Brazilian writer who first used the word AIDS in fiction. It also includes first-ever English translations of some of Abreu’s work, including the devastating short story 'Beautiful’. A searing, wonderful work of passion, fear, and love.‘

Fiona Hardy

'Karl Ove Knausgaard released four titles in English translation this year and here I’ll mention two.

Inadvertent is the author’s contribution to the Windham-Campbell Why I Write series. With unending brilliance, Knausgaard examines his 'reasons’ for writing in the way you would inspect clothes left out overnight, asking how legitimate it is to sum up anyone’s desire to create in a single line. He manages to write with stupefying clarity on the nature of writing, why he writes and whether answering the question at all reveals anything that the finished product, the artist’s work, can reveal independent of him. I loved it.

This year also saw the much-anticipated finale to the his My Struggle cycle: The End. Was it worth the wait? I have to say I’m smitten all over again. This one deals with the fallout from the first book of the series, A Death in the Family, and leaves the author wrestling with the question of why he writes and how strong that conviction is when placed under the scrutiny of living, breathing people. The result is very much the same as Knaugaard’s earlier works: he presents himself without frills but every wart and bad habit on his sleeve.

If you haven’t read anything by Knausgaard yet, I encourage you to make it your new year’s resolution. His writing defies definition. Please, please read it.

Two other translated works stood out this year. Javier Marías’ latest work, Berta Isla, is a literary spy tale that explores the human condition – read my full review here. And Ma Jian’s China Dream is an extraordinary depiction of a nation caught between the tides of progress and history, of a people’s struggle beneath the state – read my full review here. I heartily recommend both.‘

Paul Goodman

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