New Recommended Titles In Translation
By Oisin Harris, Giulia Maggiori and Kate Williams
In the wake of David Diop’s At Night All Blood Is Black winning the International Booker Prize 2021 and August’s yearly celebrations of Women In Translation Month, we explore a trio of new releases in translation for you to savour! Without further ado:
Elena Knows by Claudia Pineiro, translated from Spanish by Frances Riddle
Charco Press, June 2021
Lately, elderly sleuths and whodunnits involving senescent detectives seem to have surged in popularity – just look at Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club or, in translation, Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. So it’s perhaps not so surprising that Argentinian crime-thriller legend Claudia Pineiro’s latest novel features a protagonist who suffers from Parkinson’s disease. Aged sixty-three, Elena is aware of her disease and is convinced that her daughter did not hang herself in a church belfry like the police say she did. Absolutely adamant of this fact, Elena traipses all over the city and battles with her own sufferings as a Parkinson’s patient as she seeks out any and all clues as to what really caused her daughter’s death. But, this novel is so much more than the ostentatious crime novel it first seems. It is also a story which interrogates women’s agency and what they can do with their bodies. Elena struggles to unearth truths surrounding her daughter’s demise and is castigated and cajoled by medical practitioners at every turn. This story also has a political edge which is perhaps reflected in Pineiro’s mounting political activism in Argentina, focussed particularly on abortion rights – itself a very urgent and rallying cause in a very religious and conservative country. What works really well in this novel is that Elena is a flawed and unlikeable character (picture Kate Winslet in Mare of East Town but crossed with a Latina Miss Marple and you’re halfway there). This novel engages with the ravages of age, with mother-daughter relationships and especially with how laws affect citizens and who gets to enact justice and when.
An I-Novel by Minae Mizumura, translated from Japanese by Juliet Winters Carpenter
Columbia University Press, April 2021
A prolific writer since the 1990s, Minae Mizumura returns to the British bookstores with a new novel: An I-Novel. The novel, originally published in 1995, represented a novelty in the literary landscape of the time, as it incorporated English phrases printed horizontally within the Japanese text. It also posed a challenge for translators, who are faced with a text written in two languages and who must find a way to make the text originally written in English stand out from their own translation. This challenge was accepted by Juliet Winters Carpenter (trusted translator of Minae Mizumura and other famous Japanese authors) and the novel is now available to the English-speaking audience. But what is the book about? The story takes place on a day in 1980 and follows the internal dramas experienced by Minae when, after living much of her life in the United States, she decides to turn her back on the American culture and return to Japan to become a writer in her native language. The story is written both in the form of a monologue and a conversation between Minae and her sister, with whom she talks on the phone for part of the narration.
Heatwave by Victor Jestin, translated from French by Sam Taylor
Simon & Schuster, July 2021
For many of us, going on holiday abroad may be off the cards yet again this summer. Fortunately, there is another way that we can travel and experience different languages and cultures – reading books in translation! One such example is Victor Jestin’s début novel, Heatwave. As the title suggests, heat permeates this novel, and along with its vivid descriptions and immersive storytelling, this is a book that will transport the reader from a rainy British summer to the sunny Mediterranean where the story takes place. Originally written in French and published in English last month by Simon & Schuster, Heatwave is the perfect translation for your 2021 staycation. However, it may also leave you feeling appreciative of your home comforts. It is a dark, psychological and uncomfortable story, evident from the opening lines: “Oscar is dead because I watched him die and did nothing.” Heat soon becomes oppressive, as we follow the story of seventeen-year-old Leonard, who decides to take a walk alone one evening and comes across fellow teenager Oscar hanging by the ropes of a swing, on the brink of death. In that moment, Leonard makes a fateful decision: he decides to do nothing, say nothing and leave both his secret and Oscar’s body behind. Both existentialist and noir in its themes, Heatwave is a quintessential French novel that is impossible to put down. Heatwave is also the winner of the 2019 Prix de la vocation and Prix Femina des Lycéens.