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Books in Translation: Upcoming Translated Books

By Kate Williams, Toby Smollett and Niina Bailey

Reading books in translation is often a retrospective exercise where you discover older authors from other countries, whose literary canons you had never previously interacted with. It is, however, also something that looks to the future. The world of translated literature is vast, and so there are always exciting new translations on the horizon. Here, we provide three that we are looking forward to in particular. Enjoy.

I Am Alive by Kettly Mars - translated by Nathan H. Dize and published by UVA Press on 8 September

I Am Alive tells the story of a rich Haitian family in the aftermath of the 12 January 2010 earthquake. The story does not actually follow the immediate aftermath of the earthquake but rather events later that year when a family member returns home after more than forty years. Alexandre has been in a mental institution because of schizophrenia but has to return home because the institution is shutting down due to the earthquake. His sister Marylène has also just returned home after having spent time in Brussels as a painter. She begins to explore her sexuality with the model she employs for painting. This is what the family is grappling with alongside the impact of the earthquake. The story is told through first-person accounts from the alternating perspectives of the siblings (Alexandre, Marylène, Grégoire and Gabrielle) and their mother, Éliane.

The novel promises complex themes of mental illness, sexuality and family. Based on this excerpt posted by Words Without Borders last September, it also promises beautiful, lyrical writing along with familial tension. Mixed in with the devastation of the earthquake, which Mars herself is a survivor of, this novel sounds like a powerful and captivating read and I am eagerly awaiting its publication.

I Am Alive was originally published in French in 2015 as Je suis vivant. The critical reception has been formidable and it was awarded the Prix Ivoire in 2015, a French-language literary prize. The novel will be published on 8 September.

The Blunder by Mutt-Lon - translated by Amy B. Reid and published by Amazon Crossing on 12 July

The Blunder was originally written in French by Cameroonian author Mutt-Lon. It is based on a real event that took place in Cameroon in 1929 when the country was under French colonial occupation. At the time, a disease known as “the sleeping sickness” was rampant in the country, and the French government sent over doctors to try and control the spread of the illness. While treating the local people, it was discovered that one of the doctors had been administering the incorrect dosage of drugs, causing around 700 patients to become blind.

The novel is a reimagining of this case of severe medical malpractice from the perspective of a woman sent to Cameroon to restore the local people’s trust in the French government and Western medicine. During her time there, her biases and prejudices are challenged for the first time, and the book aims to challenge the readers' biases and prejudices too. Many important conversations on the long-lasting effects of colonialism and the problems caused by white saviourism were raised back in 2020 during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. Given the importance of continuing to have these difficult conversations, I look forward to reading this book about a real event that I had never heard of, and which will force the reader to confront the realities of colonialism.

Strega by Johanne Lykke Holm - translated by Saskia Vogel and published by Lolli Editions on 1 November

A remote hotel tucked away in the Alps. A young woman, nineteen-years-old, leaving home for the first time.

Eight friends. Then seven.

These are the key plot points for the upcoming English translation of Johanne Lykke Holm’s novel Strega, which follows Rafa, a girl-becoming-woman. She finds herself in a harsh, cold environment, surrounded by harsh, cold managers wearing harsh, cold uniforms. The warmth and softness come from eight other young women, united by their situation and isolation. Joy turns to sadness when one of the girls disappears, and the other girls then learn more and more about the roles they are expected to fill. Not only as maids, but as women.

The positioning of these nine young women as maids allows Johanne Lykke Holm to explore the expectations placed upon girls during their metamorphosis into adult women, the violence they will witness and the shackles that others will look to force upon them. It also, however, acts as a testimony to the continued strength and intelligence of women in the face of such horror, with a nod to the debt owed to maids past (and present).

We need no reminder of male violence, femicide and the legacy of patriarchal society, but it is always valuable to engage with these when someone brings something new and powerful to the table – I hope Strega will be just that.


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