Best World Literature of 2021

Translated novels first written in Serbo-Croatian, Arabic, and Finnish highlight the best world literature of 2021.

Bastašić, Lana. Catch the Rabbit. Restless. tr. from Serbo-Croatian by Lana Bastašic´. ISBN 978163206289

In a deeply layered study of language, identity, and the costs of war, translator/writer Sara returns from Dublin to Bosnia to help childhood friend Lejla find her missing brother, which ends up with the two women on a road trip assessing their friendship as well. Penetrating and immediate; a European Union Prize winner.

Daoud, Kamel. Zabor, or The Psalms. Other. tr. from French by Emma Ramadan.ISBN 9781635420142.

In a work more lyrical and interior than Daoud’s scorching f iction debut, The Meursault Investigation, but just as ambitious, village oddball Zabor (“psalm” in Arabic) has lost his mother and been abandoned by his mocking father but believes he can delay the deaths of ailing friends and relatives through writing. An affecting portrait of an outsider who defines his own meaning.

Eika, Jonas. After the Sun. Riverhead. tr. from Danish by Sherilyn Nicolette Hellberg. ISBN 9780593329108.

A speculation-obsessed IT consultant, a Cancún beach boy subject to tourists’ untoward desires, the survivors of a shattered love triangle in London, and a man grieving in the Nevada desert—these are among the characters woven into Eika’s risk-taking look at our brave, shiny, manipulative new world. A surprisingly gripping narrative that’s nearly surreal.

Fernández, Nona. The Twilight Zone. Graywolf. tr. from Spanish by Natasha Wimmer. ISBN 9781644450475.

In 1984, a real-life member of Chile’s secret police spilled his story of torture and murder to a dissident magazine, and his confession irrevocably shapes the life of the narrator in this harrowing look at the Pinochet dictatorship. A study of truth, resistance, and the startlingly easy coexistence of the mundane and sheer brutality; winner of the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Prize.

Huisman, Violaine. The Book of Mother. Scribner. tr. from French by Leslie Camhi. ISBN 9781982108786.

When Violaine’s fabulously larger-than-life Maman returns home after being hospitalized following a breakdown stem- ming from a third divorce, she reveals her own traumatized upbringing to Violaine and her sister. Autofiction that takes a fero- cious look at the mother-daughter bond and a big award winner in France.

Mabkhout, Shukri. The Italian. Europa. tr. from Arabic by Miled Faiza & Karen McNeil. ISBN 9781609457013.

Relating the lives of two university activists who become lovers and eventually troubled spouses in 1980s Tunisia, Tunisian university professor Mabkhout reveals

how government repression and culture clash shaped an entire generation, eventually sparking the Arab Spring. Winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

Mbougar Sarr, Mohamed. Brotherhood. Europa. tr. from French by Alexia Trigo. ISBN 9781609456726.

In an unnamed African country controlledby the icily totalitarian Brotherhood, Islamic fundamentalists who execute anyone they believe flouts the Quran, a group of resisters gather weekly at a tavern to bear witness to the Brotherhood’s atrocities through a journal. Their argument: Language plays a key role in resistance to tyranny. Urgent and chilling reading from a multi-award-winning Senegalese author.

Statovci, Pajtim. Bolla. Pantheon. tr. from Finnish by David Hackston. ISBN 9781524749200.

An Albanian studying in Kosovo, Arsim learns that his wife is pregnant even as he launches an affair with a Serbian man named Milos he meets at a café. Their relationship is disrupted by war and recalled years later by Arsim, alone, broke, and broken after time in prison. A Finlandia Prize winner that blazingly addresses the tragedy of cultural divisiveness.

Wieringa, Tommy. The Death of Murat Idrissi. Scribe. tr. from Dutch by Sam Garrett. ISBN 9781950354368.

Two young women born in the Netherlands to Moroccan immigrants are visiting Rabat when a local guide persuades them to hide a boy named Murat Idrissi in the trunk of their car on their return home. What results is tragedy. Issues of identity, immigration, and responsibility are highlighted in a powerful work long-listed for the International Booker Prize.

Zeniter, Alice. The Art of Losing. Farrar. tr. from French by Frank Wynne. ISBN 9780374182304.

Tired of familial criticism that she’s forgetting a country she’s never known yet fearful of being lumped together with terrorists, French Algerian Naïma reluctantly travels to Algeria on business. Thus begins a stunning multigenerational tale offering deep historical understanding of colonialism and resistance and concise portraiture of the personal struggle for identity. From a multi-award–winning French novelist.

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