Summer Travel: In Translation, Eight Top Books That Will Take You Far

A smart and affecting study for most ­readers; an arresting work, told in stringently beautiful prose; for all smart sophisticated readers; for readers interested in family, memory, 20th-­century history, and strong literature; a real ­discovery for those who love world literature; piercingly pitch-perfect; highly recommended

redstarAguinis, Marcos. Against the Inquisition. AmazonCrossing. Jul. 2018. tr. from Spanish by Carolina De Robertis. 636p. ISBN 9781503949263. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781503933842. LITERARY/HISTORICAL

Veteran Argentine author Aguinis, the first non-Spaniard to win the coveted Planeta Prize, writes the book of a lifetime, a big, booming, open-hearted saga on a deadly serious topic—the Spanish Inquisition in Latin America—inspired by his having learned at age seven that his grandfather and remaining family members perished in the Holocaust. Many readers will be surprised to discover how fiercely the Inquisition burned in the New World, but Francisco Maldonado da Silva certainly understood. Born in what is now Argentina in 1592, da Silva, a real-life figure graciously portrayed here, was a child when his father was arrested for secretly maintaining the family’s Jewish religion. Francisco was educated at a monastery, became a respected doctor, yet continued seeking his father and his ancient faith, eventually ending up imprisoned for 12 years before being burned at the stake. VERDICT Both strong historical chronicle and spirited defense of the right to believe, presented in straightforward language appropriate for the widest range of readers.

Appanah, Nathacha. Waiting for Tomorrow. Graywolf. Apr. 2018. 176p. tr. from French by Geoffrey Strachan. ISBN 9781555978037. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781555979935. LITERARY

Mauritian-born, French-based Appanah follows up her quietly moving debut, The Last Brother, with a deftly handled study of how life can go horribly wrong. Adam and Anita meet at a New Year’s Eve party near Paris and immediately recognize each other as outsiders; he’s an aspiring architect from the provinces who’d rather be painting while she’s an immigrant from Mauritius who aspires to write. They marry and return optimistically to his home on the Atlantic Coast but eventually succumb to life’s daily grind, with Anita also frustrated by her continuing outsider status as a woman of color as she pursues a journalist’s career rather than her own work. Hiring Adèle to tend their daughter revitalizes their dreams and their marriage, but their complicated interactions with Adèle, an undocumented Mauritian with a heartbreaking past, lead to tragedy for all involved. VERDICT A smart and affecting study for most ­readers.

Bracher, Beatriz. I Didn’t Talk. New Directions. Jul. 2018. 160p. tr. from Portuguese by Adam Morris. ISBN 9780811227360. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9780811227377. LITERARY

A major award-winning author in Brazil appearing in English for the first time, Bracher grew up under the military dictatorship and here depicts how invidiously it bent people’s lives. Gustavo, a professor about to retire to the countryside, was arrested in 1970 with brother-in-law Armando; both were horribly tortured, but only Gustavo was released. Everyone assumes that he talked, thus condemning Armando to death, but while Gustavo maintains his innocence, he is burdened with guilt and the sorrow of having lost both a close friend and his own wife, who died in Paris during his imprisonment. Interestingly, Bracher doesn’t focus on the prison experience, instead showing Gustavo working through his overall memories. As he contemplates his professional papers and an autobiographical manuscript by brother José that feels subtly inaccurate, Bracher effectively reveals how Gustavo both dodged and absorbed painful suspicions about his past. VERDICT An arresting work, told in stringently beautiful prose; for all smart sophisticated readers.

redstarDesarthe, Agnès. Hunting Party. Unnamed. Jul. 2018. 176p. tr. from French by Christiana Hills. ISBN 9781944700713. $16.99. LITERARY

In this latest from Desarthe (Chez Moi), gentle Tristan, who was raised by a single, drug-­addicted mother estranged from her posh family, has never quite fit in. Now he’s moved to the French countryside with his wife, Emma, who encourages him to ingratiate himself with the neighbors by joining a hunting party. Disgusted by the hunt and full of dread—he knows he’s there to pass some kind of test—Tristan inadvertently shoots a rabbit and hides it in his game bag, silently willing it to live. In a few pristine, entirely believable passages, he and the rabbit mentally exchange conversations, the rabbit a steady companion as Tristan rescues a fellow hunter who’s fallen down a mineshaft, survives a sudden storm, learns shocking truths about his community, and finally passes the real test: he lets go of the past and proves himself to himself. VERDICT Piercingly pitch-perfect; highly recommended.

Driessen, Martin Michael. Rivers. Amazon Crossing. Jun. 2108. 194p. tr. from Dutch by Jonathan Reeder. ISBN 9781503901278. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781503956261. LITERARY

Elegant and measured, the three tales collected here are also admirably tough-minded; Dutch author Driessen is an opera and theater director, and he offers a sure sense of unfolding drama. In “Fleuve Sauvage: All Comes to Naught,” a vainglorious actor on the verge of cirrhosis of the liver paddles down a river to ponder whether he can quit alcohol. But camping by the riverside leads to an encounter with a cow and its teenage herder that ends in gut-punch tragedy. “Voyage to the Moon: Life Is a Dream” features the parallel lives of Konrad, a logger like his forebears, and Julius, son of the local logging magnate and Konrad’s friend and eventual boss. Over the decades, Konrad finally achieves his dream of sailing his log raft all the way to the North Sea. In “Pierre and Adèle: He Shall Be Purified by Fire, Water, Air, and Earth,” the Huguenot ­Corbés and Catholic Chrétiens share a valley but are divided by long-standing hatred and a narrow creek. Throughout, humans have concerns outsized to themselves only, and the waters flow on unperturbed. VERDICT A real ­discovery for those who love world literature.

Gulliksen, Geir. The Story of a Marriage. Hogarth: Crown. Jul. 2018. 160p. tr. from Norwegian by Deborah Dawkin. ISBN 9781524759674. $23; ebk. ISBN 9781524759698. LITERARY

In this U.S. debut from the Nordic Prize–nominated Gulliksen, Jon painfully resurrects the past, trying to grasp what he lost when his wife left him for another man; he concedes that they’re no longer the people they were as a married couple. Jon was already married when he met decisive powerhouse Timmy, a young doctor to whom he took his sick daughter; he abandoned his first wife just as he’s now been abandoned and has been working as a freelance journalist (and family caretaker) while Timmy pursues a high-level job in social services. Jon (and, by extension, Gulliksen) is less interested in the why of the marital breakup than the how, detailing the couple’s intimacy and descent into betrayal in increasingly drilled-down scenes that can feel like the real-time collapse of a relationship. ­VERDICT Not for the plot-hungry, this deeply interior meditation will reward serious-minded readers.

Halfon, Eduardo. Mourning. Bellevue Literary. May 2018. 160p. tr. from Spanish by Lisa Dillman & Daniel Hahn. ISBN 9781942658443. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781942658450. LITERARY

As in The Polish Boxer and its sequel, Monastery, Halfon makes fiction of memoir, as his protagonist (named Eduardo Halfon) continues tracing his roots. Investigating the mystery of his uncle Salomón’s drowning as a child, which proves not to be what it seems (resonating differently, yet still resonating, with life’s ongoing tragedy), Halfon uncovers hidden tension within his father’s Lebanese-Jewish family, immigrants to Guatemala and America. Meanwhile, he travels to Italy for an unsettling conference at a reconstructed concentration camp and to Poland, where he visits the home of his maternal grandfather, a Holocaust survivor. Why pick apart the past? He’s not sure, but the journey is half the point, clarifying in fluid, accessible language that however slippery, memory is essential to who we are. VERDICT For readers interested in family, memory, 20th-­century history, and strong literature.

redstarZhadan, Serhiy. Mesopotamia. Yale Univ. (Margellos World Republic of Letters). May 2018. 328p. tr. from Ukrainian by Reilly Costigan-Humes & others. ISBN 9780300223354. pap. $16. LITERARY

Twice winner of BBC Ukraine’s Book of the Year Award, Zhadan also collected the Angelus Central European Literature Award for this novel, and rightly so. It’s an indelible portrait of the traditionally Russian-speaking city of Kharkiv in Eastern Ukraine and could be read from a sociopolitical perspective to understand the edgy feel and hustle of post-Soviet life. But the real reason to read this series of interconnected portraits, augmented by a section of related poems, is the excellent characterization and equally excellent, fine-tuned language. From Marat, hailed for his manly virtues though stories at his funeral come out differently, to hapless Mark, whose efforts to help shifty Kolia end in a beating, these complex characters will be recognizable but subtly different from your neighbors. VERDICT Great work for worldly readers.

Barbara Hoffert is Editor, Prepub Alert, LJ

 

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