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Recent Reads: Our Recommendations for Books in Translation

By Megha Alam and Lucy Clark


Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop by Hwang Bo-reum, Translated by Shanna Tan


For all of you who love Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s novels such as Before the Coffee Gets Cold and Tales from the Café, or Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library, Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop is a must-read.


Yeongju spent her life doing everything she was seemingly supposed to do but now it has fallen apart. She went to university, married a decent man and got a respectable job yet she feels burnt out. The solution? She decides to leave her old life behind and open a bookshop.

Set in Korea’s capital Seoul, Yeongju takes the leap and her bookshop becomes a place for herself and others to seek refuge. Although she initially struggles with the huge change in her life, she eases into her new setting and begins to enjoy her role as a bookseller as she starts to read more, host author events and develop her own bookselling philosophy. The Hyunam-dong Bookshop transforms into an inviting space for lost souls and serves as a reminder that it’s never too late for a fresh start. Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop is a wonderfully life-affirming, low-stakes read for those looking to get lost in the lives of a bookshop owner, her employees and her friends.


Diary of a Void by Emi Yagi, Translated by Lucy North and David Boyd


Perfect for fans of Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata with its sharp-eyed look at contemporary work culture, Diary of a Void is a triumphant mix of comedy, tension and social commentary.

When thirty-four-year-old Ms Shibata gets a new job in Tokyo to escape sexual harassment at her previous job, she finds that as the only woman at her new workplace – a company that manufactures cardboard tubes – she is expected to do all the menial tasks. One day when she’s had enough, Ms Shibata announces that she cannot clear away her colleagues’ dirty cups because she is pregnant and the smell nauseates her. There is only one tiny problem with this, however … Ms Shibata is not pregnant.


She soon finds out that as a pregnant woman, her life completely changes as she is no longer forced to work overtime or serve coffee to anyone. Even in her free time, pregnant Ms Shibata rests, watches TV, takes long baths and even joins an aerobics class for expectant mothers. Before long though, the ruse starts to become overly complicated as she finds herself in too deep. The towel-stuffed shirts and pregnancy tracking app absorb her, and the boundary between her lie and reality begins to blur.


This award-winning Japanese debut from author Emi Yagi is a hilarious, feminist read that will keep you turning the pages just to see how far Ms Shibata will go.


Cockroaches by Scholastique Mukasonga, Translated by Jordan Stump


Cockroaches is a deeply moving account of growing up Tutsi in a post-independence Hutu-dominated Rwanda. Scholastique Mukasonga’s story is that of a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. She and her brother were fortunate to have escaped Rwanda to pursue their education in Burundi but lost thirty-seven members of their family in 1994. Mukasonga’s memoir Cockroaches, a derogatory term used by Hutus to describe Tutsis, is an ode to her family and an attempt to preserve their lives and stories.


Cockroaches starts from Mukasonga’s childhood in the fifties and chronologically recounts the constant exile and discrimination that she and other Tutsis faced within Rwanda leading up to the genocide in 1994. From being deported from her home and taken to a refugee camp where she survived many massacres, to her education at Lycée Notre-Dame de Citeaux in Kigali and a social worker school which ended abruptly after all Tutsi children were expelled from school, the memoir then follows her exile to Burundi where she studied and lived up to and during the genocide.


Having lost most of her relatives in 1994, Cockroaches is more than a memoir for Mukasonga, it is an exercise in preserving the memories of the family members that she lost during the genocide, their names, their relationships and their culture. Unable to give her family a proper burial, this is the closest she can get to it. Scholastique Mukasonga’s writing not only preserves the constant terror of everyday life as a Tutsi but also the small moments of joy she shared with her family and community.


An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten, Translated by Marlaine Delargy


For fans of cosy mysteries, Helene Tursten's An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good presents readers with a humorous and gripping collection of tales centred around the seemingly harmless eighty-eight-year-old Maud and her murderous tendencies.


Maud, an elderly lady who lives in a spacious apartment and prefers a solitary existence, occasionally finds herself facing certain challenges such as annoying neighbours or an art dealer who tries to scam her. Time and time again she deals with these problems by resorting to murder and continues to get away with it until a detective looks through Maud’s age and starts to suspect her.


With a blend of dark humour and suspense, Tursten masterfully weaves together a series of incidents that showcase Maud's cunning intellect and her ability to manipulate those around her by exploiting her age and their preconceived notions of the elderly.


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