Recent Reads: Our Recommended Books in Translation
By Niina Bailey, Lucy Clark, Alice Reynolds and Rob Tomlinson
For this week's issue, we wanted to recommend some translated literature that we've read and enjoyed recently. We hope you find something new to read for this summer!
Cousins by Aurora Venturini, translated by Kit Maude. Published by Faber and Faber, 2023.
Venturini’s Cousins is set in La Plata, Argentina, and tells the story of four women from an impoverished, dysfunctional family. The novel is brimming with humour but also darkness as the family is forced to suffer a series of ordeals such as illegal abortions and sexual abuse. The exploration of themes including family, female sexuality, vengeance and social mobility, told through the voice of Yuna, offers a sharp, matter of fact and intimate telling of events, making Cousins such a unique read.
Venturini’s novel Cousins was first published in 2007 and, in 2023, has at long last been translated into English. Originally published in Spanish titled Las primas, this novel is one of many written by Venturini and is widely regarded as her masterpiece as it brought her recognition as a radical voice in Spanish literature. It is notable that this book was translated after her death (Venturini passed away in 2015), as she had such an interesting life and large body of work which we are now finally getting the chance to discover and enjoy from an incredible voice in Spanish language literature.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, translated by Geoffrey Trousselot. Published by Picador, 2019.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold is set in a small café in Tokyo called Funiculi Funicula. This is no ordinary café: the visitors can travel back in time. However, there are strict rules that must be followed. The visitors have to sit in a particular seat, they cannot leave the café, so the person they want to see must have visited the café, they cannot change the past and most importantly, they have to return to the present before their coffee gets cold, as the title refers to. The book is divided into four parts, each following a visitor to the café who wants to travel back in time. Along with learning about the reasons they want to travel back in time, you learn about the people who run the café. The book asks the age-old question of who you would meet if you could go back in time.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold was originally adapted from a play by Kawaguchi into the novel and it then became a bestseller. It is followed by the sequels Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Café and Before Your Memory Fades, which each follow four new people who want to travel back in time. The fourth book, Before We Say Goodbye, is being released in English in September 2023. The fifth book in the series was released in Japanese this year.
Paradais by Fernanda Melchor, translated by Sophie Hughes. Published by Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2022.
The violence and inequality seething in Mexican society are masterfully distilled into this slight, 120-page novella written by Fernanda Melchor in 2021 and translated by Sophie Hughes in 2022.
Paradais depicts a few weeks in the lives of two teenage boys who meet in a gated community, Paradise (rendered as “Paradais” in the novel – echoing the Mexican pronunciation). Employed to tend the gardens of the estate is the narrator Polo, a working-class high school dropout who is forced to work by his mother and feels a deep resentment towards the inhabitants of Paradise, who mistreat him. He spends his evenings drinking himself into a stupor with the wealthy Franco, cruelly nicknamed “fatboy” by Polo. Franco embodies a contemporary and unsettling brand of misogyny that shares characteristics with incel ideology. He compulsively consumes pornography on his computer for hours every day and fantasises obsessively about his neighbour, the wealthy wife of a television presenter.
Melchor’s writing, in an excellent translation by Hughes, is pitiless and breathless, refusing to look away from the (self-) destructive tendencies of the teenagers. With her unflinching gaze and caustic language, she exposes the manifold violences of misogyny, grinding poverty and extreme inequality as the novel builds towards a shocking climax.
Fernanda Melchor’s 2013 novel, This is not Miami, has recently been published by Fitzcarraldo, also in an English translation by Sophie Hughes.