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It’s hard to keep up with all the great books in the U.S., let alone all the great books in the world. But I started my reading year with a lovely, quiet, translated novel, Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles, and it reminded me how much richer my reading life can be when I allow myself to explore beyond the borders of the country I live in, or even the English-speaking world. I asked my fellow Book Rioters to share their favourite reads from outside the USA from the year—but first, here are a couple of mine.
Now Let’s Dance by Karine Lambert, translated by Anthea Bell
This is a love story between two older adults, both navigating the world after recently being widowed. There’s not as much fiction about people at that stage of their lives as there ought to be, and so it was refreshing to find something that rang so emotionally authentic. It was published in the UK and is available worldwide via Book Depository.
Piglettes, by Clémentine Beauvais, translated by the author
It’s not often that a French YA novel gets translated into English and sold to both the UK and the American markets, so I was curious to try this one. I haven’t finished it yet, but on the basis of the first 75% or so I am ready to call it as one of my favourites of the year. It’s quirky and different and, like a lot of French literature, doesn’t follow the Anglo-American “rules” of what a YA novel should do. Its heroines were voted the ugliest three girls in their school, and the three of them form an unlikely friendship and cycle across a patch of France, selling sausages. It’s random. It’s a bit bonkers. It’s delightful.
Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman, translated by Elizabeth Mannon
Rutger Bregman makes a case for progressivism and utopic outlook by reframing the idea of utopia as an intangible point that is measured by the tangible changes we make to better our societies. A college friend works for Little and Brown, and in her review of this book she asks, “why not aim high?” This is exactly what Bregman puts forward. Let’s get rid of the Muslim Ban, and while we’re at it, let’s institute universal basic income and open borders. If we’re going to make social change, let’s go big and make the world we want.
So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum
Rosenblum is an acclaimed Canadian short story writer and this, her debut novel, is an intimate, thoughtfully drawn look at what happens to a small community when student, reader, wife, and waitress Catherine Reindeer goes missing. As those left behind, including her husband, try to cope with her absence, Catherine herself uses the work and life story of a local poet as a lifeline during her darkest moments. Rosenblum writes with so much empathy for each of her characters that you’ll find it impossible to tear yourself away. (Full disclosure: Rosenblum is a friend of mine, so that is how I discovered the book—but I truly loved and recommend it!)
A Place Called No Homeland by Kai Cheng Thom
I read a ton of Canadian books so it’s hard to choose one non-American book from this year, but this poetry debut by Kai Cheng Thom is just absolutely phenomenal. They are poems with strong roots in oral traditions and spoken word; poems that you can really hear them in your mind and heart as if Kai Cheng Thom were right in front of you. They’re tough and tender meditations on family, race, being trans, femininity, trauma, relationships, community, sex, books, and love. She writes: “All I want is to turn my lungs into a glass instrument and let them sing glory to my sisters”
A SOCIEDADE DOS SONHADORES INVOLUNTÁRIOS by José Eduardo Agualusa
Agualusa is my favourite author; born in Angola, he brings to his tales the fantasy we so often find in African literature, and he tends to come up with ways to intertwine the stories of the many characters which show up in his books.
In this particular book, a man shows up in the dreams of people he has never met, an artist paints her own vivid dreams, and a scientist translates the dreams of others with the help of a machine, bringing them to life. Once again, it is impossible to remain indifferent to the author’s wonderful writing and vivid imagination, and it is sometimes even hard to discern what is fiction and what is based on facts of his own life. Although this book has no translation to English yet, it’s well worth reading his other translated works.
Beartown by Fredrik Backman, translated by Neil SmithThe Scandal/
This is the newest book from Fredrik Backman, and I’ll be honest, I didn’t really care what it was about because I will read everything this man writes. This is a wonderful book about a small town, relationships, growing up, friendships, and hockey. The characters are complex, the world feels very real, and the writing is wonderful. There were many sentences that I read multiple times just because I loved them. This is a warm, funny, and beautiful book.
How about you? Did you come across any good reads from outside the USA in 2017?