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WWB’s Holiday Reading List

By The Editors

Still looking for the perfect gift for your international literature-loving friends and family? Let WWB's editors, reviewers, and contributors help!

Susan Harris
The Antiquarianby Gustavo Faverón Patriau (Grove Press, Black Cat)
Translated from the Spanish by Joseph Mulligan.

It's impossible to choose from the many wonderful books by our contributors—watch this space for a yearend list—so I'll recommend one by an author and translator we haven't published: The Antiquarian by Gustavo Faverón Patriau, translated from the Spanish by Joseph Mulligan. An inexplicable murder, a logorrheic mental patient, and a macabre black market are wrapped in layers of mystery and revealed in multiple interlocking narratives. It's an elegant meditation on storytelling (and a real page-turner). 

Samantha Schnee
Anton Mallick Wants to Be Happy, by Nicolás Casariego (Hispabooks)
Translated from the Spanish by Thomas Bunstead.

The poignant misadventures of a young Spaniard of Hungarian heritage who reads voraciously as an antidote for his depression. Having impregnated a desperate young woman one drug-fueled night, he is on a quest to find the woman who is carrying his child, while trying to make peace with his unorthodox family and upbringing. By turns both heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud funny.

Maaza Mengiste
The Corpse Exhibition and other Stories of Iraq, by Hassan Blasim (Penguin Books)
Translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright.

Someone forgot to tell Blasim that war is humorless. I've never read anything as darkly funny and as subversive as this book. Cuttingly insightful, obscene, and just wacked-out crazy, it offers a view of the Iraq war(s) that is from the inside. You'll be laughing at the same time as you start to realize the horror of what has happened to a generation of Iraqis. 

Yardenne Greenspan
The Woman Who Borrowed Memories, by Tove Jansson (NYRB Classics)
Translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal and Silvester Mazzarella.

The Woman Who Borrowed Memories is a collection of stories that is simultaneously funny and melancholic, and awakens a longing for cold, northern lands.

Nadia Kalman
The Property, by Rutu Modan (Drawn and Quarterly)
Translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen.

Of the translated books I read this year, my favorite was The Property, a graphic novel by Israeli author/artist Rutu Modan, about a young woman and her grandmother traveling to Warsaw. The young woman thinks they are going to reclaim a family apartment—but the grandmother may have other motives.

Megha Majumdar
Karate Chop, by Dorthe Nors (Graywolf Press)
Translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken.

Translated from Danish by Martin Aitken, the incredibly short stories in this book attend to the weirdness of ordinary life. A memorable story, for example, concerns a giant tomato. In the compression of these stories, we find ourselves admitted to tiny, dense spaces in which human life is concentrated to its painful and humorous essence.

Emma Garman
Under the Tripoli Sky, by Kamal Ben Hameda (Peirene Press)
Translated from the French by Adriana Hunter.

This gem of a novel is an evocation of multicultural Tripoli in the nineteen sixties—the era just before Gaddafi seized control of Libya—seen through the keen, yearning eyes of a young boy. With playfully sensual and poetic prose, dexterously translated from the French by Adriana Hunter, Kamal Ben Hameda gives us an enchanting coming of age story that’s also a sharp denunciation of societally-imposed gender roles.

Bud Parr
Neopolitan Novels, by Elena Ferrante (Europa Editions)
Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein.

Elena Ferrante layers story upon story to create a montage-like effect with her writing. The result is a film in your head of the lives of two women and their Italian village that's at once provincial and exotic for its sense of a lost time.

Mythili Rao
Gottland: Mostly True Stories from Half of Czechoslovakia, by Mariusz Szczygieł (Melville House)
Translated from the Czech by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.

Truth is stranger than fiction. Reporter Mariusz Szczygieł deftly proves this in this series of short tales chronicling the fallout from the Czech Republic's complicated political history. From the rise of the Bata empire to the quiet rebellion of Kafka’s niece, Szczygiel depicts a country whose citizens display uncommon resourcefulness and resilience in the face of the absurd. 

Karen Phillips
Faces in the Crowd, by Valeria Luiselli (Coffee House Press)
Translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney.

Think of the zoetrope created by the passing of two subway cars in the night. This is the atmosphere of Valeria Luiselli’s English-language debut in which three existences—a young mother in Mexico, her younger self as a translator in New York, and the Mexican poet and diplomat Gilberto Owen—get lost in one another. As the strands of her tightly woven narrative begin to disintegrate, time, too, seems to collapse. This was one of the most original new voices in translation I read this year.

Ru Freeman
Nothing More to Lose, by Najwan Darwish (NYRB/Poets)
Translated from the Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid.

There were many excellent translated literary works in 2014 - far more I didn't get to than I did. Perhaps closest to heart of such books read this year is Najwan Darwish's incredible book of poems, Nothing More to Lose. These are the first poems to appear in English of this powerful younger Palestinian poet–whose work is known all over the Arab world, and beyond. May it finally be known and loved here.


Rohan Kamicheril
Krabat and the Sorcerer's Mill, by Otfried Preussler (NYRB Classics)
Translated from the German by Anthea Bell.

Otfried Preussler's children's classic, Krabat and the Sorcerer's Mill, is strangely fitting holiday reading. Equally perfect for the ghoulish-minded teen reader obsessed with the grim and diabolical and for adult readers who will enjoy the weird and haunting symbolism of the book and its spare, precise prose made incandescent in Anthea Bell's translation. 

Rachel Morgenstern-Clarren
The Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig, by Stefan Zweig (Pushkin Press)
Translated from the German by Anthea Bell.

Thanks to award-winning translator Anthea Bell, Stefan Zweig’s long, gracefully constructed German sentences, and atmospheric style, resonate beautifully in English. It is easy to see how the cinematic details and reserved emotion of Zweig's writing—where, over and over again, “…the past comes up with quiet, inaudible steps to intervene”—inspired Wes Anderson’s lush movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel. The beautifully bound collection brings together twenty-two of the Austrian writer's most enchanting short stories.

Published Dec 11, 2014   Copyright 2014 The Editors

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