Best World Literature of 2023

The best world literature books of 2023 examine colonialism, limn loss, juxtapose past and present, and scrutinize human relationships.


Berest, Anne. The Postcard. Europa. tr. from French by Tina Kover. ISBN 9781609458386.

In this shattered-heart reimagining of her own history, Berest builds on her family’s receipt of a mysterious missive bearing four names to reconstruct the history of her forebears, many lost in the Holocaust. What results will deepen readers’ understanding of that horrific event while clarifying the role of memory, loss, and the past.

Dalembert, Louis-Philippe. Milwaukee Blues. Schaffner. tr. from French by Marjolijn de Jager. ISBN 9781639640096.

Echoing the murders of Eric Garner and George Floyd, this heartfelt, fluidly told work portrays one young Black man and his fatal encounter with the police. Distinctively, the story of gentle, charismatic Emmett, who has a talent for football, is unfolded through perceptive accounts from the people around him.

Diop, David. Beyond the Door of No Return. Farrar. tr. from French by Sam Taylor. ISBN 9780374606770.

In poignantly precise language, Diop chronicles celebrated 1700s botanist Michel Adanson’s search for the mysterious Maram, a noblewoman from the African kingdom of Waalo who was sold into enslavement but managed to escape. His fraught journey limns the atrocities of colonialism while plumbing the depths of human passion.

Dorfman, Ariel. The Suicide Museum. Other Pr. ISBN 9781635423891.

The question of whether Chilean president Salvador Allende was murdered or died by suicide during the 1973 military coup dominates this autofiction by Dorfman, an Allende associate who, as depicted here, was asked by Dutch billionaire Joseph Hortha to find the answer. Dorfman wends his way through significant history with a thriller-like intensity.

Erpenbeck, Jenny. Kairos. New Directions. tr. from German by Michael Hofmann. ISBN 9780811229340.

Ice-pick precise and gorgeously written, Erpenbeck’s latest work portrays the chaotic love affair between sunflower-bright 19-year-old Katharina and Hans, a married writer 34 years her senior who’s brilliant and controlling. What makes their affair so distinctive is its unfolding primarily in late-1980s East Berlin, drawing to a close with the end of the German Democratic Republic itself.

Kang, Han. Greek Lessons. Hogarth: Crown. tr. from Korean by Deborah Smith & Emily Yae Won. ISBN 9780593595275.

In Seoul, a teacher of Greek torn between two cultures and losing his eyesight is bound by sorrow to a student who has always struggled to speak and is now utterly silent, having lost both her mother and custody of her young son. A tale both luminous and wrenching about (mis)communication and (mis)alignment in a challenging world.

Lebedev, Sergei. A Present Past: Titan and Other Chronicles. New Vessel. tr. from Russian by Antonina W. Bouis. ISBN 9781954404182.

Lebedev’s vibrant, steely fiction has always shown how the weight of Russia’s past shapes its present, and this story collection also exhibits a fantastical edge. When a mysteriously sealed barn is opened, it exudes a creeping sense of German occupation during World War II, while a cardholder once owned by a nobleman hunted by the NKVD brings its current owner a burning vision of the nobleman’s end.

Schiff, Agur. Professor Schiff’s Guilt. New Vessel. tr. from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen. ISBN 9781954404168.

An Israeli professor learns that a merchant ship belonging to an ancestor has been discovered off the coast of an imaginary West African nation and travels there, naively hoping to reclaim his property and write a book. He’s swiftly arrested for seeking to benefit from the trade in enslaved people as Schiff hones important questions about postcolonial responsibility with razor-sharp intensity.

Shin, Kyung-Sook. I Went To See My Father. Astra House. tr. from Korean by Anton Hur. ISBN 9781662601378.

Paralleling her Man Asian Literary Prize–winning Please Look After Mom, Shin’s powerfully rendered narrative focuses on a father with six grown children whose daughter comes to visit after a two-year period of mourning following the loss of her own daughter. A cache of letters she discovers helps her better understand the man she thought she knew.

Ulitskaya, Ludmila. The Body of the Soul: Stories. Yale Univ. tr. from Russian by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky. ISBN 9780300270938.

Ulitskaya’s latest collection is peopled by riveting characters facing pressing, often life-and-death questions with equanimity. Self-assured coroner Kogan confronts a dead body with an anomaly, which later leads him down a spiritual path. Even as she lies dying, Zarifa rules over her wife. And Alisa wants to end life on her own terms, but her plans shift unexpectedly.

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