Books wouldn’t exist without language. Words become building blocks for something more, transforming ideas into art, worlds brought to life in unforgettable characters and concepts. Fiction or non-fiction, the world as we know it would be nothing without language, which makes translated literature all the more important.
Translation is an exercise in creativity, form and writing, with translators spending countless hours poring over word choice and meaning to find just the right way to tell a story for a new audience, keeping the distinct features of the original while taking creative liberties to convey style, tone, structure and everything in between.
I am of the firm belief that translation is an ever-evolving work of art, one that should be more widely appreciated and enjoyed. Not only are works in translation a great way to view the world, but they are an excellent way to experience language and culture.
September’s new translated releases include Moonlight Rests on My Left Palm, a moving poetry collection by Yu Xiuhua (translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain), Takuji Ichikawa’s Monkey Man, a mysterious novella with spec fic elements (translated by Lisa & Daniel Lilley), and Lo Yi-Chin’s Faraway (translated by Jeremy Tiang), a distinct, pointed work of literary fiction tackling family relationships and the tumultuous relationship between China and Taiwan.
This post may contain affiliate links, from which, Space Between the Pages may earn a small commission.
Ennemonde, Jean Giono (Archipelago Books)
Translated by Bill Johnston
Ennemonde Girard: Obese. Toothless. Razor-sharp. Loving mother and murderous wife: a character like none other in literature. In telling us Ennemonde’s astounding story of undetected crimes, Jean Giono immerses us in the perverse and often lurid lifeways of the people of the High Country, where vengeance is an art form, hearts are superfluous, and only boldness and cunning such as Ennemonde’s can win the day. A gleeful, broad sardonic grin of a novel.
“Roads move cautiously around the High Country…” So begins the story of Ennemonde, but also of her sons, daughters, neighbors, lovers, and enemies, and especially of the mountains that stand guard behind their home in the Camargue. This is a place of stark and terrifying beauty, where violence strikes suddenly, whether from the hand of a neighbor or from the sky itself.
Four Minutes, Nataliya Deleva (Open Letter Books)
Translated by Izidora Angel
Giving voice to people living on the periphery in post-communist Bulgaria, Four Minutes centers around Leah, an orphan who suffered daily horrors growing up, and now struggles to integrate into society as a gay woman. She confronts her trauma by trying to volunteer at the orphanage, and to adopt a young girl–a choice that is frustrated over and over by bureaucracy and the pervasive stigma against gay women.
In addition to Leah’s narrative, the novel contains nine other standalone character studies of other frequently ignored voices. These sections are each meant to be read in approximately four minutes, a nod to a social experiment that put forth the hypothesis that it only takes four minutes of looking someone in the eye and listening to them in order to accept and empathize with them.
Milk Teeth, Helene Bukowski (Unnamed Press)
Translated by Jen Calleja
Skalde writes her thoughts on pieces of paper, making new discoveries and revelations, and finding scraps with which to understand her limited world. Her mother Edith tells her little, preferring the solitude of her room. Their house is full of silence, and secrets.
Skalde has only ever known life in the territory, a terrain of farms and forest cut off from the rest of the world. They are isolated further, as decades since Edith’s arrival in the territory she is still viewed as an outsider by their remaining neighbors. A heavy fog hangs over the territory, Skalde has never seen blue in the sky her entire childhood― but one day the fog dissipates, and is replaced by an oppressive, perpetual heat. The territory dries out, and its people become increasingly erratic, and desperate.
When Skalde finds a girl called Meisis in the forest, Skalde instantly feels she must care for her and brings her in. They form a family unit, in spite of Skalde’s increasing frustrations and anger with Edith and the urgent need to keep Meisis hidden. Meisis’s presence means there has been a serious breach in security for the territory, and soon neighbors find a way to blame Meisis’s arrival on other changes.
Moonlight Rests on My Left Palm, Yu Xiuhua (Astra House)
Translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain
Yu Xiuhua was born with cerebral palsy in Hengdian village in the Hubei Province, in central China. Unable to attend college, travel, or work the land with her parents, Yu remained home where she could help with housework. Eventually she was forced into an arranged marriage that became abusive. She divorced her husband and moved back in with her parents, taking her son with her.
In defiance of the stigma attached to her disability, her status as a divorced single mother, and as a peasant in rural China, Yu found her voice in poetry. Starting in the late 90’s, her writing became a vehicle with which to explore and share her reflections on homesickness, family and ancestry, the reality of disability in the context of a body’s urges and desires.
Then, Yu’s poem “Crossing Half of China to Fuck You” blew open the doors on the patriarchal and traditionalist world of contemporary Chinese poetry. She became an internet sensation, finding a devoted following among young readers who enthusiastically welcomed her fresh, bold, confessional voice into the literary canon.
Thematically organized, Yu’s essays and poems are in conversation with each other around subjects that include love, nostalgia, mortality, the natural world and writing itself.
Monkey Man, Takuji Ichikawa (Red Circle)
Translated by Lisa & Daniel Lilley
A world on the brink of disaster where children with new attitudes are awakening – some with strange new abilities. In Monkey Man, Takuji Ichikawa, one of Japan’s most imaginative, bestselling and unusual authors, pointedly challenges readers to consider how we can change the inevitable course of history and save the human race from itself.
Yuri, a 17-year-old girl, is starting in a new high school where she hopes to re-commence a normal student life. But when she witnesses an unusual classmate, Tengo, get struck by a car and walk away unscathed, she decides to reveal her secrets.
What makes Yuri special has, however, not gone unnoticed by The Complex, a shadowy organisation that has been hunting her and will not stop until they discover the source of her powers. She will need the help of Tengo and his gifted misfit friends to escape The Complex’s control and help realise the destiny of generation Alpha.
The Water Statues, Fleur Jaeggy (New Directions)
Translated by Gini Alhadeff
Even among Fleur Jaeggy’s singular and intricate works, The Water Statues is a shiningly peculiar book. Concerned with loneliness and wealth’s odd emotional poverty, this early novel is in part structured as a play: the dramatis personae include the various relatives, friends, and servants of a man named Beeklam, a wealthy recluse who keeps statues in his villa’s flooded basement, where memories shiver in uncertain light and the waters run off to the sea.
A Single Rose, Muriel Barbery (Europa Editions)
Translated by Alison Anderson
Rose has just turned forty when she gets a call from a lawyer asking her to come to Kyoto for the reading of her estranged father’s will. And so for the first time in her life she finds herself in Japan, where Paul, her father’s assistant, is waiting to greet her.
As Paul guides Rose along a mysterious itinerary designed by her deceased father, her bitterness and anger are soothed by the stones and the trees in the Zen gardens they move through. During their walks, Rose encounters acquaintances of her father–including a potter and poet, an old lady friend, his housekeeper and chauffeur–whose interactions help her to slowly begin to accept a part of herself that she has never before acknowledged.
As the reading of the will gets closer, Rose’s father finally, posthumously, opens his heart to his daughter, offering her a poignant understanding of his love and a way to accept all she has lost.
Stranger to the Moon, Evelio Rosero (New Directions)
Translated by Victor Meadowcroft & Anne McLean
The writer Evelio Rosero has never been one to shy away from the darker aspects of Colombia’s history and society. His magnificent Stranger to the Moon portrays a world that seems to exist outside history and geography, but taps into the dark myths and collective subconscious of his country’s harrowing inequality and violence.
A parable of pointed social criticism, with naked humans imprisoned in a house to serve the needs of “the vicious clothed-ones,” the novel describes what ensues when a single “naked-one” privately rebels, risking his own death and that of his fellow prisoners. Each subsequent section of the book adds further layers to the ritualistic and bizarre social order that its characters inhabit. Trained insects and reptiles spy on all the naked-ones, and only the most fortunate reach old age (often by taking up strategic spots near the kitchen and grabbing for the fiercely contested food).
Kaya Days, Carl de Souza (Two Lines Press)
Translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman
In 1999 the Mauritian seggae musician Joseph Réginald Topize, better known as Kaya, was arrested for smoking weed while performing at a concert. Following his mysterious death in police custody just days later, the island nation surged into riotous violence: a long-overdue demand for justice from the colonized peoples of the East African island nation.
In Kaya Days, the spirit of the island and its people is distilled into a young woman’s daylong search through the uproar for her younger brother, who has gone missing. Amidst the burning cars and buildings, opportunists and revolutionaries, Santee witnesses the furious, brilliant birth of another world.
Salina, Laurent Gaudé (Europa Editions)
Translated by Alison Anderson
When Salina dies, it falls to her youngest son to tell her story, a story of violence and suffering, vengeance and passion. Exiled three times, the first time as a new–born abandoned outside a village by a mysterious horseman, Salina was taken in and raised by a clan that only ever saw her as a stranger and an enemy to be defeated. Three times a mother, her children born from strife, Salina never knew love, and revenge became her reason to live.
To gain admittance to the cemetery, to a place of peace at last, Salina’s son must face up and tell the tale of Salina’s ordeals – her rape the most harrowing – in minute detail. He has no choice but to give voice to all that for years fed into Salina’s rage.
I Was Never the First Lady, Wendy Guerra (HarperVia)
Translated by Alicia Achy Obejas
Nadia Guerra’s mother, Albis Torres, left when Nadia was just ten years old. Growing up, the proponents of revolution promised a better future. Now that she’s an adult, Nadia finds that life in Havana hasn’t quite matched its promise; instead it has stifled her rebellious and artistic desires. Each night she DJs a radio show government censors block from broadcasting. Frustrated, Nadia finds hope and a way out when she wins a scholarship to study in Russia.
Leaving Cuba offers her the chance to find her long lost mother and her real father. But as she embarks on a journey east, Nadia soon begins to question everything she thought she knew and understood about her past.
As Nadia discovers more about her family, her fate becomes entwined with that of Celia Sanchez, an icon of the Cuban Revolution–a resistance fighter, ingenious spy, and the rumored lover of Fidel Castro. A tale of revolutionary ideals and promise, Celia’s story interweaves with Nadia’s search for meaning, and eventually reveals secrets Nadia could never have dreamed.
The Dog of Tithwal, Saadat Hasan Manto (Archipelago Books)
Translated by Khalid Hasan & Muhammad Umar Memon
Saadat Hasan Manto conjures the vitality on the streets of Bombay–its prostitutes, pimps, gangsters, artists, writers, and strays. Also, the pain and bewilderment of the Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs pitted against each other by the India-Pakistan partition. Deeply opposed to partition, Manto is best known for his dry-eyed portrayals of its violence, horrors, and absurdities. From a stray dog (with Hindu or Muslim leanings?) caught in the crossfire at the border of India and Pakistan, to friendly neighbors turned enemy soldiers pausing for tea together in a short cease fire–Manto blurs the edges of geographic, cultural, and social boundaries with an unflinching and satirical gaze, and a powerful humanism.
Last Words on Earth, Javier Serena (Open Letter Books)
Translated by Katie Whittemore
In exile from his home country of Peru, Ricardo Funes embodies the ultimate starving artist. Fired from almost every job he’s held―usually for paying more attention to literature than work―he sets himself up in a rundown shack where he works on writing stories to enter in regional contests across Spain, and foisting his judgements about literature on anyone who will listen as one of the last remaining members of the “negacionismo” poetry movement. Completely dedicated to an unwavering belief in his own art, Funes struggles in anonymity until he achieves unbridled success with The Aztec and becomes a legend… at least for a moment. Diagnosed with lung cancer a few years later, Funes will only be able to enjoy his newfound attention for a short time.
Told through the voices of Funes’s best friend, his wife, and himself, Last Words on Earth looks at the price―and haphazard nature―of fame through the lens of a Bolaño-esque writer who persevered just long enough to be transformed out of obscurity into being a literary legend right at the end of his life.
Faraway, Lo Yi-Chin (Columbia University Press)
Translated by Jeremy Tiang
In Taiwanese writer Lo Yi-Chin’s Faraway, a fictionalized version of the author finds himself stranded in mainland China attempting to bring his comatose father home. Lo’s father had fled decades ago, abandoning his first family to start a new life in Taiwan. After travel between the two countries becomes politically possible, he returns to visit the son he left behind, only to suffer a stroke. The middle-aged protagonist ventures to China, where he embarks on a protracted struggle with the byzantine hospital regulations while dealing with relatives he barely knows. Meanwhile, back in Taiwan, his wife is about to give birth to their second child. Isolated in a foreign country, Lo mulls over his life, dwelling on his difficult relationship with his father and how becoming a father himself has changed him.