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Short Stories in Translation

By Niina Bailey and Alice Reynolds

Short stories often get overlooked in literature in favour of novels, but there is a breadth of them out there to enjoy. To try and overcome this, this week we wanted to highlight some of our favourite translated short stories, novellas and short story collections. If you are looking for something quick to read, then this is for you. We hope you enjoy!

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman. Translated by Alice Menzies. Published by Atria Books in 2016.

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer might be short, but it packs a punch. It follows a grandfather and his relationship with his son and grandson. He has dementia and he is losing his memory. He desperately tries to hold onto the memories of his late wife and fears the day he will forget her and everything else. The story covers how the grandfather deals with slowly losing his memories, but also what it is like for his son and grandson to lose someone they love bit by bit. They need to learn how to say goodbye while the grandfather is still there.

In just less than a hundred pages, Backman crafts complex relationships and characters that you cannot help but feel for. He vividly describes what it is like to slowly lose someone over time and having to come to terms with them not being the same as before and how that affects your relationship, as well as what it is like to lose yourself. The subject matter is something that a lot of people can relate to and, whether you have personally experienced something like it or not, this is a moving story and it is guaranteed to make you emotional. I would have tissues close by, just in case.

The Teeth of the Comb & Other Stories by Osama Alomar. Translated by C. J. Collins and Osama Alomar. Published by New Directions in April 2017.

This is a collection of very short stories by a brilliantly gifted Syrian refugee. Their length, sometimes only one sentence long, doesn’t take away from their impact as they speak loudly to philosophical and political issues.

Osama Alomar is one of the most well-respected Arabic poets writing today, and a prominent practitioner of the Arabic-qisa al-qasira jiddan, the “very short story” which dates back more than a millennium in the Arab world. He comes from Damascus where he is regarded highly as a prize-winning writer, author of four books and many journal publications. Now living in exile in Pittsburgh, his first full-length collection of stories is brimming with political allegories, hot street scenes and protests, long-winded jokes and forsaken government officials. In his stories, animals, inanimate objects and physical or spiritual parts of the body speak. The tales are told by wonderfully personified snakes and swamps, wolves, trucks and rainbows which plot, desire and fail in their realities. Good battles evil, and reality is questioned anew.

Somewhat autobiographical, the nameless narrator emigrates, fleeing from a place of oppression which allows him to make a plea for liberation and to progress but remain hopeful. Like the teeth of a comb, he shines light on the unevenness of society and the story’s translation to English readers serves as a fresh, deep way to understand this part of the world.

Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin. Translated by Megan McDowell. Published by Riverhead Books in 2019.

This is a powerful work by an important international author, whose stories leave you unsettled and less complete than before you started to read. The author of Booker Prize International Prize finalist work, Fever Dream, and chosen by Granta as one of the twenty-two best writers in Spanish under the age of thirty-five, Schweblin has made a significant mark on the international publishing and translation world. Her books have been translated into thirty-five languages.

Strange, unnerving and never expected, the tales filling Mouthful of Birds are not to be missed. In the opening 'Headlights,' the stories of an abandoned bride, a murderous husband and a man stranded in a railway station all pan out in unexpected, uncanny and ominous ways. She cleverly taps into the readers’ nightmares. Recurring, disconcerting dreams, unnatural parent-child relationships and brutal yet artistic killings consume readers’ imaginations to all-encompassing effects.


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