Fiction in Translation

I Refuse by Per Petterson (transl. Don Bartlett): Best read when cheerful

You don’t read Per Petterson for his cheeriness but I Refuse seemed even more sombre than usual to me. In it two men, close friends when they were young, meet briefly one morning by coincidence. Expensively dressed, Tommy has just parked his car when he spots Jim, shabby in his old reefer coat. Each recognises …

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F by Daniel Kehlmann (transl. Carol Brown Janeway): A match made in heaven

I don’t read as much fiction in translation as I should but when I see a novel translated by Carol Brown Janeway in the publishing schedules I sit up and take notice. It was through her that I first discovered Daniel Khelmann’s fiction, beginning with the very fine Measuring the World about two eighteenth-century German …

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The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault (transl. Liedewy Hawke): A very unusual love story

I’m not sure how well most people know their postie. After long years working at home answering the door to receive bulky parcels of books, I have regular cheery exchanges with mine. I don’t think he’s the type to steam open letters before popping them through the door which is what Québécois writer Denis Thériault’s Bilodo …

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Mãn by Kim Thúy (transl. Sheila Fischman): A quiet, beautifully expressed tale of food and passion

This slim, very beautiful novel is a love story, a work of aching nostalgia and a glorious celebration of language. Its gorgeous, colourful jacket suggests something pulsing and tropical but although that was partly what attracted me to it in the first place the writing is infinitely more subtle, shading into more variations of pearlescent …

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Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes (transl. Jamie Bulloch): Who do you think you are kidding Mr Hitler?

Adolf Hitler wakes up with a dreadful headache. He’s a little bemused to find himself lying in what seems to be a wasteland. He picks himself up and makes his way to a news kiosk where he’s astonished to find that it’s August 30th 2011. He’s at a loss to know what’s happened but the …

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The People in the Photo by Hélène Gestern (transl. by Emily Boyce): A beautifully constructed page turner

The People in the Photo seemed an entirely appropriate novel to read after finishing Ben Watt’s reconstruction of his parents’ story. It begins with a description of a photograph from a local Swiss newspaper: three young people – two men and a woman – are bathed in sunlight against an Alpine backdrop, wearing white and …

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Days in the History of Silence by Merethe Lindstrøm (transl. Anne Bruce): A meditation on silence, memory and loss

The jacket of Merethe Lindstrom’s beautifully written, quietly devastating novel suits it perfectly: the door of an almost empty room opens onto another room, opening onto another, all in varying shades of grey. It’s narrated by Eva and begins with an intruder, a young man who asks to use her phone when she is at …

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Butterflies in November by Auđur Ava Ólafsdóttir (transl. Brian Fitzgibbon): An Icelandic tale with a touch of Murakami

This is my fourth literary trip to Iceland this year – Hannah Kent’s impressive debut Burial Rites, Sarah Moss’s Names for the Sea and Michel Rostain’s novel/memoir The Son all took me there in one way or another and now Auđur Ava Ólafsdóttir’s quirky novel Butterflies in November. It opens with the killing of a …

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Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes by Per Petterson (transl. Don Bartlett): Growing up in 1960s Norway

Those who’ve read and enjoyed Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses may be pleased to hear that his 1987 debut has been translated into English for the first time. Petterson is a master of the less is more writing style that I so admire and Don Bartlett has proved adept at keeping to the spirit of …

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A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli (transl. Sam Taylor): Seeing the world in shades of grey

Three German soldiers – Bauer, Emmerich and an unnamed narrator – stride out into the frigid Polish winter, their minds on keeping warm and their empty stomachs. They’ve missed breakfast, determined to avoid the daily round of executions by volunteering to hunt down Jews and bring them back to the camp. Emmerich frets about his …

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Monsieur le Commandant by Romain Slocombe (transl. Jesse Browner): A wartime confession

Romain Slocombe’s epistolatory novel, Monsieur le Commandant, is the most difficult novel I’ve read in some time. It’s published by Gallic Books whose wonderful feel good The President’s Hat has been top of my list of books to press upon other readers this year. Monsieur le Commandant also deserves a wide audience but for entirely …

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