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International Booksellers Recommend 11 Translated Books to Read Right Now

By Words Without Borders

Over the past several weeks, we at Words Without Borders have been thinking about how to best support our community of international writers, translators, and booksellers through the COVID-19 crisis. To keep readers connected to independent bookstores, which have been hit especially hard by the lockdown, we've asked booksellers from around the world to do what they do best: recommend books. Below, each bookseller has shared a recent favorite book in translation and included a link to their website so you can easily purchase the recommended title (or a gift card, if you prefer). 

Lori Feathers of Interabang Books in Dallas, Texas

Recommendation: Javier Marias's Berta Islatranslated from Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa.

High school sweethearts Berta and Tomás marry young and start a family in Madrid, but Tomás’s mysterious work for the British foreign service often takes him away, and Berta is never sure if this time he might be gone for days or years. Marías brings us into this couple’s marriage with empathetic and exquisite writing that reveals the couple’s changing perceptions and feelings through decades of secrets, lies, and failed expectations.

Bob Kappen of Athenaeum Boekhandel in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Recommendation: Marieke Lucas Rijneveld's The Discomfort of Evening, translated from Dutch by Michele Hutchison.

This debut novel grabs you by the throat from the first sentence and drags you deep into a story about grief, loss, love, letting go, and finding yourself. Breathtaking!

On our website, the translator, Michele Hutchison, talked with us about one of the translation challenges in the book. Read the interview here.

Emma Ramadan and Tom Roberge of Riffraff in Providence, Rhode Island

Recommendation: Natalia Ginzburg's The Dry Heart, translated from Italian by Frances Frenaye.

Natalia Ginzburg’s The Dry Heart, translated by Frances Frenaye, depicts a woman whose husband is hopelessly in love with another woman. The story of her revenge is told in spare, perfect prose.

Kenny Leck of BooksActually in Singapore

Photo courtesy of Arts House Limited.

Recommendation: Unrest by Yeng Pway Ngon, translated from Chinese by Jeremy Tiang.

Considered one of the most accomplished Chinese writers in Southeast Asia and Taiwan since the 1980s, it is only in recent years that we have a chance to read Mr. Yeng’s works translated into English. To date, only about six to eight works have been translated compared to his oeuvre of over fifteen works.

Shuchi Saraswat and Pierce Alquist of Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Massachusetts

Shuchi's recommendation: it by Inger Christensen, translated from Danish by Susanna Nied.

it begins in the cosmos and ends with a manifesto. Between that beginning and end is life on earth, from the curling of toes to the naming of trees to condemnation of the structures that blind us. Anne Carson writes in her introduction of how det (it) took Denmark by storm in 1969—quoted by political protestors, politicians, graffitied all over Copenhagen, adopted as lyrics to songs. If it speaks to you it will really speak to you.

Pierce's recommendation: The Houseguest by Amparo Dávila, translated from Spanish by Audrey Harris and Matthew Gleeson.

The horrors of The Houseguest are rarely described on the page—they lurk in the margins and haunt the shadows—and it’s this thrilling psychological tension that leaves you gasping for air after each story of desire, paranoia, and isolation.

Yosef Halper of Halper's Bookstore in Tel Aviv, Israel

Recommendation: Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman, translated from Russian by Robert Chandler.

I would like to recommend the grand novel of the victorious struggle over a different, deadlier scourge, Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman, the greatest Russian novel of the twentieth century according to Le Monde.

Katharine Solheim, Mandy Medley, and Tom Flynn of Pilsen Community Books in Chicago, Illinois

Katharine's recommendation: The Society of Reluctant Dreamers by José Eduardo Agualusa, translated from Portugese by Daniel Hahn.

A nimble investigation into the liminal spaces between collective unconscious, lived experience, and political reality, The Society of Reluctant Dreamers is an epistemic jaunt through postcolonial Angola. I enjoyed every moment of this stirring and surreal book.


Mandy's recommendation: The Country Under My Skin by Gioconda Belli, translated from Spanish by Kristina Cordero.

The Country Under My Skin is a deeply passionate and informative look at 1970s Nicaragua from a bourgeois poet turned rebel. The perfect combination of the personal, the political, love, and revolution!


Tom's recommendation: A Silent Fury: The El Bordo Mine Fire by Yuri Herrera, translated from Spanish by Lisa Dillman.

Yuri Herrera's slim and devastating A Silent Fury documents the mining tragedy in Pachuca in 1920 and the government and mining company's attempts to cover up the deaths. There is no more relevant time to read about workers' fights for safety and justice in their workplace.

Matt Keliher of Subtext Books in St. Paul, Minnesota

Recommendation: They Will Drown in Their Mother's Tears by Johannes Anyuru, translated from Swedish by Saskia Vogel.

Johannes Anyuru’s They Will Drown in Their Mother’s Tears, translated by Saskia Vogel, reminds me of a previous book I loved: Omar El-Akkad’s American War. Here, Anyuru portrays the interiority of someone making the conscious decision to undertake an act of terrorism and does so with such talent and empathy and griping action. I loved it.

Published Apr 10, 2020   Copyright 2020 Words Without Borders

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