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Valentine’s Day Translations

By Megha Alam, Jane Bentham, Lucy Clark and Rob Tomlinson


Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate all forms of love, primarily romantic, but as this selection of translated novels shows, love is often complex, and everyone has their own journeys with it. These stories explore love in varying forms from intimacy to heartbreak, from first love to forbidden love. 


Fair Play, by Tove Jansson, translated from Swedish by Thomas Teal


Fair Play is a novella written by Finnish author Tove Jansson, who is also the celebrated creator of the Moomin children’s books. The story follows Mari and Jonna, two multi-talented artists in a long-term relationship who live in separate flats in their apartment building. While giving each other space to thrive in their creative passions, the two older women also come together and support each other with their art. With her lyrical and understated prose, Jansson highlights the deep, unwavering affection within a relationship defined by both intimacy and distance. This short yet powerful book explores not only romantic love that lasts through the ages, but also the love for art and creativity. 


The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima, translated from Japanese by Meredith Weatherby


This coming-of-age story, published in 1954, follows Shinji, a young fisherman on a small Japanese island. He falls in love with the daughter of the wealthiest man on the island, and the couple are prevented from seeing each other, with Shinji risking his life for his passion. The innocence and drama of first love is unravelled alongside Mishima’s use of lush imagery to capture the nature of the isolated island and the ordinary, simple lives of its residents. This is an evocative and intimate Japanese classic. 


The Hunger of Women by Marosia Castaldi, translated from Italian by Jamie Richards


Rosa, a middle-aged widow living in Naples whose daughter has long since left home, finds herself in solitude and loneliness. Seeking a change to reinvigorate her life, she moves to rural Lombardy and opens a restaurant. There, she forges new relationships, exploring the multifaceted experience of relationships between women, ranging from friendship and caregiving to physical love. In the countryside, Rosa renews herself. With an engaging and unconventional literary style which blends recipes and observations, Castaldi explores love in all its forms. The Hunger of Women is the perfect read for the Valentine’s Day period.


My Tender Matador, by Pedro Lemebel translated from Spanish by Katherine Silver


Set in 1986, amidst Chile’s brutal, far-right Pinochet dictatorship, My Tender Matador tells the story of a relationship between Carlos, a young left-wing guerilla involved in an attempt to assassinate Pinochet, and the "Queen of the Corner," a middle-aged effeminate gay man living in the back streets of Santiago’s slums. Blending the romantic and the political – both governmental and individual – this novel caused a sensation upon its publication in Chile and was nominated for The Altazor Award of the National Arts.


Lie With Me by Philippe Besson, translated from French by Molly Ringwald


Lie With Me by Philippe Besson, translated from French by actress Molly Ringwald, concerns the memories of our protagonist, Philippe, a successful writer, who comes across a man who looks remarkably like his first love. The narrative unfolds as Philippe revisits his memories of his first love, a boy named Thomas with whom he had a secret affair during their final year of high school. This nostalgia-tinged novel captures the emotional intensity of a fragile and forbidden first love through its lyrical poignancy and delicate prose while exploring the heartbreaking relationship between love, memory and time.


La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono, translated from Spanish by Lawrence Schimel


Okomo, a teenager who lives with her grandmother in a traditional village in Equatorial Guinea, is on a quest to find her birth father who has been ousted from her strict Fang community. She seeks help from her gay uncle who is banished for being a ‘man-woman,’ along with three other queer girls who also become outcasts. As she becomes closer to the girls, she finds herself challenging the norms of gender and sexuality in her community. La Bastarda, banned in Equatorial Guinea, showcases the importance and power of love not only in romantic relationships but also in friendship and community. 


Chaos of the Senses by Ahlam Mosteghanemi, translated from Arabic by Nancy Roberts


This story follows a young novelist stuck in a loveless marriage against the backdrop of the Algerian civil war in the 1990s. Feeling isolated from her husband since they have no common interests, Hayat starts to write passionate stories about fictional people. When a man appears in her life, seemingly emerging from the pages of her stories, the boundaries of fiction and reality start to blur. What begins as a story soon transforms into a forbidden love affair, with Hayat helplessly following the path of her fictitious character and teasing the reader with a series of twists along this path. The backdrop of political chaos creates a sense of foreboding and fear for two powerless lovers. But where is reality and where is fantasy?


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