Summer reading 2016: Fiction in translation

Angel Gurría-Quintana picks his books of the year so far

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The Happy Marriage, by Tahar Ben Jelloun, translated by André Naffis-Sahely, Melville House, RRP£18.99/$25.95

As he recovers from a stroke, a Moroccan artist reminisces about his decades-long marriage to a jealous wife, and rails against his growing sense of physical decline and dependency. But when the artist’s wife tells her side of the story, the seemingly put-upon man is revealed as a manipulative, insecure and inattentive philanderer. Happy marriage indeed.


Sudden Death, by Álvaro Enrigue, translated by Natasha Wimmer, Harvill Secker, RRP£14.99/ Riverhead, RRP$27

It takes authorial chutzpah to write about a 17th-century tennis match between the Italian painter Caravaggio and the Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo, with historical asides ranging from the decapitation of Anne Boleyn to the conquest of Mexico. This novel by one of Mexico’s most innovative authors is a triumph of narrative skill, humour and lightly worn erudition.


Waking Lions, by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, translated by Sondra Silverston, Pushkin Press, RRP£12.99

“People live entire lives with some measure or another of unease,” muses Israeli neurosurgeon Eiten Green, after a hit-and-run accident involving an Eritrean immigrant. But his secret becomes harder to keep after the victim’s widow appears at his doorstep, and when his police inspector wife is tasked with investigating the case.


A Girl in Exile, by Ismail Kadare, translated by John Hodgson, Harvill Secker, RRP£16.99

Rudian Stefa, a self-obsessed playwright, is summoned by the Party Committee after assaulting his lover. But the apparatchiks, it turns out, are investigating the death of another woman whose body was found with a copy of one of Stefa’s plays. A haunting novel by the Albanian winner of the inaugural International Man Booker Prize.


Human Acts, by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith, Portobello, RRP£12.99

The author, winner of 2016’s International Man Booker Prize for an earlier novel, The Vegetarian, examines the long shadow cast over South Korea by the 1980 Gwangju uprising, and the military government’s brutal response. “There is no way back to the world before the torture,” says one of the characters in this harrowing account of survival and shame.


Some Rain Must Fall (My Struggle, Book 5), by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated by Don Bartlett, Harvill Secker, RRP£17.99

In the penultimate volume of his epic work of autobiographical fiction, the Norwegian sensation turns his attention to his apprenticeship as an author. A sense of failure and disappointment weighs on the fledgling novelist as he enrols in a creative writing academy and embarks on a series of self-sabotaged relationships. Hypnotic and searingly honest.


Diary of a Body, by Daniel Pennac, translated by Alyson Waters, MacLehose, RRP£14.99

In this unusual novel by the author of The Dictator and the Hammock, the protagonist’s life is laid bare through diary entries that focus almost exclusively on his body: its emanations, its pains and its pleasures. Fear, grief, love and desire are all experienced as physical symptoms as the narrator grapples with the “intimate stranger” he inhabits.


Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was, by Sjón, translated by Victoria Cribb, Sceptre, RRP£14.99

Set in 1918, as the Spanish flu epidemic turns Reykjavík into a ghost town, the latest novel by this Icelandic poet and former Björk collaborator tells the story of Mani Steinn, a gay orphaned teenager trying to get by as his country wakes up to independence. Tender, elegiac and occasionally surreal.


The Lamentations of Zeno, by Ilija Trojanow, translated by Philip Boehm, Verso, RRP£12.99/$19.95

“I’m tired of being human,” declares German scientist Zeno Hintermeier, suffering an existential crisis after the Alpine glacier he has studied for his entire career melts. The grieving Zeno leaves his wife and becomes a lecturer aboard a cruise ship for Antarctic tourists. Swinging between dark comedy and despair, Trojanow’s novel offers a bleak examination of human folly on a warming planet.


Trencherman, by Eben Venter, translated by Luke Stubbs, Scribe, RRP£12.99

Venter’s dystopian tale imagines South Africa in the aftermath of a nuclear accident. The protagonist, an Afrikaner expat known as Marlouw (a nod to Joseph Conrad), returns to the family’s former homestead in the Eastern Cape to find his nephew, Koert, lording it over an Aids-ravaged population of black farm workers. A chilling feat of speculative fiction.


Sergio Y., by Alexandre Vidal Porto, translated by Alex Ladd, Europa Editions, RRP£9.99/$16

The first novel by the Brazilian diplomat-turned-writer to be translated into English is narrated by a renowned São Paulo therapist as he pieces together the story of Sergio, a teenage patient who left for New York, began a new life as a woman, and died shortly after. A poignant tale about identity and the search for happiness.


Six Four, by Hideo Yokoyama, translated by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies, Quercus, RRP£16.99

A Tokyo detective’s search for his missing daughter leads him to revisit another teenage girl’s unsolved disappearance in this best-selling novel by Japan’s answer to Stieg Larsson. Fast-paced and brimming with local detail, Yokoyama’s atmospheric police procedural sold a million copies in six days when it was originally published.

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