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WWB Team Picks: Favorite and Future Reads of 2015/2016

By Katrine Øgaard Jensen

Because it’s the season for end-of-year lists, and because 2015 has been yet another year of authors in translation hacking the system and gaining terrain in mainstream media outlets (Lispector, more Ferrante, more Knausgaard, etc.), we have decided to join in on the fun here at Words without Borders.

To spice things up, I asked our well-read—albeit slightly listicle-challenged—team to not only mention their favorite reads from 2015, but to also reveal their most-anticipated titles forthcoming in 2016. All in translation, of course.

Semi-spoiler-alert: one book is recommended twice, and it’s not Ferrante’s.

Karen Phillips
Executive Director

When things got particularly dark in recent months, I took refuge in the brightness of Andreï Makine’s Brief Loves That Live Forever (Graywolf Press), translated from the French by Geoffrey Stachan. In this loosely connected collection of stories, the narrator ruminates on several loves, his own and others’, that defy, or simply ignore, the confines of Soviet Russian society. His vivid descriptions of place and season—the “foaming blossoms” of the world’s largest apple orchard; a "luminous tracery of willow groves,” the “blue rifts of lightning” of a late-summer thunderstorm—have lingered in my mind.

I’m looking forward to reading Baho! by Roland Rugero—the first novel from Burundi to be translated into English—coming out from Phoneme Press. We featured an excerpt from the work, translated by Chris Schaefer, last July. 

Eric M. B. Becker

On the heels of her 2015 PEN Translation Prize-winning short story collection Baboon (Two Lines Press) in Denise Newman’s translation, Naja Marie Aidt published Rock, Paper, Scissors (Open Letter) in K.E. Semmel’s translation in 2015. Those who enjoy the look into the darker side of life, so present in Aidt's shorter work, will not find themselves disappointed. The novel follows brother Thomas and sister Jenny's attempt to put their past behind them following the death of their criminal father. Thomas in particular finds doing so easier said than done and enters a downward spiral. It is, as reviewer Tony Malone says in his August 2015 review, a story you'll want to read until the bitter end.

In 2016, I'll be especially looking forward to Brazilian writer Noemi Jaffe's What Are the Blind Men Dreaming?, forthcoming from Deep Vellum and translated by Julia Sanches. The narrative uses as a jumping off point a diary written by Jaffe's mother upon liberation from Auschwitz, weaved together with reflections on memory and Jewish identity from Noemi and her daughter Leda. This is a writer whose work I've read in Portuguese and I'm excited to see available to English-language readers.

Susan Harris
Editorial Director

One of my favorites this year was Kamel Daoud's Meursault Investigation (Other Press)translated by John CullenFar more than a simple riff or subversive retelling, Daoud's meditation on, and rebuttal to, Camus's L'Etranger not only names "the Arab" but gives him the life the first book elided. In doing so he interrogates not only the original story but the long and bloody history of the French colonization of Algeria.

Among the many books I'm looking forward to in 2016 is Yuri Herrera's Transmigration of Bodies (And Other Stories)translated by Lisa Dillman, the latest chapter in the great Mexican author's sorrowful chronicle of his violent country.

Nadia Kalman
WWB Campus Editor

Having loved Can Xue's short story "The Old Cicada", published in WWB and on our new educational website, WWB Campus, I'm looking forward to reading her novel The Last Lover (Yale University Press), which won the 2015 Best Translated Book Award in Annelise Finegan Wasmoen’s translation.

I'm also looking forward to Jonas Karlsson's upcoming The Invoice (Hogarth), about a video store clerk and the search for happiness (although the book appears to have translated itself into English, with no mention of a translator on Penguin Random House’s web page about the novel).

Abby Comstock-Gay
WWB Campus Associate Editor

I've thought long and hard to say something that is not Elena Ferrante's The Story of the Lost Child (Europa Editions), since it has gotten so much attention this year and there is a lot more great translated work out there, but this last part of the tetralogy was truly my most memorable literary experience this year. Within the story of Lenu, Ferrante—through the translation of Ann Goldstein—says so much about feminism, politics, friendship, self-doubt, while at the same time painting a picture of a time and a place that is both specifically local and undeniably universal. Others I really enjoyed: Naja Marie Aidt's Rock, Paper, Scissors; Cheon Myeong-kwan's Modern Family (White Pine Press, trans. Kyoung-lee Park).

I'm looking forward to reading Ahmed Saadawi's Frankenstein in Baghdad, winner of the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (expected to come out in Fall 2016, by Penguin Books in the US and Oneworld in the UK). The novel is translated by Jonathan Wright, and is a horror- and detective-style retelling of Frankenstein in the aftermath of post-2003 Baghdad. Author Hassan Blasim has said that the novel is part of the new Iraqi literature he call "nightmarish realism" that has "emerged from under the rubble of constant wars." 

Savannah Whiting
Development and Communications Associate

Magda Szabo’s 1987 masterpiece The Door (reviewed in our May 2015 issue) finally made its way to the United States this year by way of NYRB Classics. Hauntingly translated by Len Rix, it depicts the unusual friendship between a writer, also named Magda, and her prodigiously robust, stubborn, and private housekeeper, Emerence. Mysterious and yet starkly honest, the semiautobiographical narrative leads us to the limit of the women’s bond, and is colored by the betrayal and guilt that results when Magda oversteps Emerence’s boundaries in an attempt to save her life.

I’m looking forward to Georgi Tenev’s Party Headquarters, coming out from Open Letter in February 2016. (You can read a short story by Tenev in our May Bulgarian feature.)

Katrine Øgaard Jensen
Dispatches Editor

Like Abby, I’ve been trying to fight my urge to mention something obvious, but I simply cannot help myself: Clarice Lispector’s The Complete Stories (New Directions) in Katrina Dodson’s outstanding translation (reviewed in our September issue) has been my number one reading experience this year. As in, Lispector instantly became one of my favorite authors and Dodson instantly became one of my favorite translators upon reading the collection. (Listen to an episode of WWB Conversations with Complete Stories editor Benjamin Moser and Brazilian writer Edgar Telles Ribeiro, who knew Clarice as a child.) To make up for this unsurprising recommendation, my greatest overall book experience of 2015 award goes to Katie Holten’s gorgeous About Trees (Broken Dimanche Press), in which Holten translates literary greats such as Plato, Borges, Christensen, and Radiohead (yes, Radiohead) into trees with a special font she designed. The book is a combination of artwork, essays, lyrics, and poetry addressing themes such as language, nature, information, and memory. 

In 2016, I’m particularly excited about the novel One of Us Is Sleeping by Danish Josefine Klougart, forthcoming this summer from Open Letter in Martin Aitken’s arresting translation. Known for her remarkably resourceful vocabulary and poetic sentence constructions, Klougart is one of my favorite contemporary writers from Denmark. Also worth mentioning is the fact that Klougart and Aitken have signed a contract with Deep Vellum for another novel, On Darkness—although it remains unknown whether this book will come out in the winter of 2016 or 2017.


Published Dec 23, 2015   Copyright 2015 Katrine Øgaard Jensen

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