Our Recommended Reads for Books in Translation this Autumn
By Lucy Clark and Rob Tomlinson
Let’s dive right in with our recommended reads!
Roseanna by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, translated from Swedish by Lois Roth
To me, nothing says cosy autumnal reading quite like a detective novel and Roseanna is crime fiction of the highest standard. The novel introduces the world to detective Martin Beck, an expert in human nature and a figure that has served as the inspiration and prototype for generations of crime writers from Henning Mankell to Ian Ranking.
In Roseanna, a woman’s body is found on a beach in July in southern Sweden, and the case almost immediately goes cold, leaving Martin Beck to investigate long into the autumn and winter, in the hope of discovering her killer. The husband and wife writing partnership of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö has crafted glacially clear prose and an innovative inclusion of interview transcripts, weaving together a complex and intriguing narrative that is sure to grab your attention and fix you in your armchair. This first work is followed by a subsequent nine novels, so you’ll have enough stellar Nordic noir fiction to carry you through the year!
No One Writes to the Colonel by Gabriel García Márquez, translated from Spanish by J.S. Bernstein
Nobel Prize-winning Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez made his name by capturing the realities of his homeland in all their beauty and violence, capturing their strangeness – at least to a western readership – through his innovative use of magical realism, with which he blends the everyday with the fantastical. No One Writes to the Colonel, however, features only a singular magical event, yet it still captures the oppressive nature of life in a forgotten corner of 20th century Colombia, a country wracked by decades of war and governed through martial law.
Despite taking place in October, given Colombia’s tropical climate, it would be erroneous to characterise the novel as autumnal in the seasonal season. Rather, as the colonel advances in age, waiting indefinitely for a letter confirming his military pension which will never arrive, he is certainly in the autumn of his life. The narrative encapsulates the sensation of a nearing end and the melancholy that one feels on a November afternoon as the streetlights flicker on at 4:00 p.m.
The Forest of Wool and Steel by Natsu Miyashita, translated from Japanese by Philip Gabriel
The Forest of Wool and Steel is a great read to get you in the mood for autumn. As the nights start to draw in, this book provides the perfect comfort with its warming tale and wintry landscapes.
Short but sweet at around 200 pages long, this novel tells the story of Tomura who, at the age of nineteen, has a transportive experience when he hears a piano tuner working at his school. The sounds emitted evoke in his mind images of the forest at nightfall which is where Tomura feels most welcome and at peace. This emotional response to the sounds of the piano changes his life as he decides to become a piano tuner himself, despite never having played. The novel follows Tomura on his journey through young adulthood as he learns the art of piano tuning and despite a recurrence of self-doubt, it is a heart-warming read.
Translated from Japanese, this story's humble nature makes it so heart-warming; Tomura decides to follow his heart and pursue a life dedicated to the piano. This comforting tale is made even more perfect for the colder autumn months as the imagery of the mountains and forests that surround Tomura’s village leaves the reader with that cosy feeling of being wrapped up warm inside. In short, this is the perfect read for autumn.
The Wind That Lays Waste by Selva Almada, translated from Spanish by Chris Andrews
The autumn season means dramatic changes in the weather: darkness, creeping cold, shifting colours, grey skies, and rain. The best book to pair with all that drama is Argentinian author Selva Almada’s The Wind That Lays Waste.
In this debut novel, four souls are “thrown together on a single day in rural Argentina'' as a storm brews overhead. The four characters are brought together under rather mundane circumstances when Reverend Pearson’s car breaks down and he and his daughter Leni arrive at the out-of-the-way garage owned by Gringo Bauer. A tense atmosphere seeps in as the travelling evangelical takes an interest in the garage assistant, Tapioca, and it is clear that the Reverend and Bauer have vastly different opinions. Tension builds as the men argue and it’s as if the atmosphere between the characters themselves is a brewing storm until the heavens actually do open.
It is not only this claustrophobic, thunderous atmosphere that makes this feel like such an autumnal read but also the rural and secluded setting. The atmosphere throughout is dense and oppressive but the passion and theatrical nature of the book makes it a gripping read as the book builds to a dramatic climax.