With bookstores closed, shipping delays, and everyone’s attention turned to the news, the first few months of the pandemic were a hard time to have a new book out. And it was especially heartbreaking because the spring 2020 season for new books in translation was stacked with incredible books. Indie presses like Open Letter, Two Lines, and New Directions released some of their best books of the year (if not the last few years) this past spring. Things are far from normal, but with more bookstores open and asking for your support, I’ve rounded up my favorites 2020 new books in translation you may have missed and added notes for others you should seek out too!
2020 New Books In Translation
The Love Story of the Century by Märta Tikkanen, Translated by Stina Katchadourian
On its publication in 1978, The Love Story of the Century was declared an immediate classic of Scandinavian literature. Its author, Finnish-Swedish journalist and writer Märta Tikkanen was already considered a central figure in the Scandinavian women’s movement, but this book cemented it. Told in verse, The Love Story of the Century is a powerful and intimate portrayal of a woman’s complex relationship with her alcoholic husband. Each word, each phrase has so much weight, so much consideration and nuance to it. The translation beautifully captures all of the tenderness and rage in this smart, spare book. A modern feminist classic. (March 3, Deep Vellum)
And don’t miss Girls Lost by Jessica Schiefauer, translated by Saskia Vogel.
That We May Live: Speculative Chinese Fiction by Dorothy Tse, Enoch Tam, Zhu Hui & others, Translated by Jeremy Tiang & others
Two Line Press’s new Calico series presents vanguard works of translated literature in strikingly designed (and eminently collectible) editions. “Each Calico is a vibrant snapshot that explores one aspect of our present moment, offering the voices of previously inaccessible, highly innovative writers from around the world today.” The books in the series are curated around a particular theme, region, or language—That We May Live is the first book in the new series and focuses on Chinese speculative fiction. And what a start it is! Full of mushroom houses, flourishing beasts, and other spectacular creations both fantastic and disturbingly real, these delightfully strange and clever tales deftly explore sexuality, urbanization, and other contemporary social issues. (March 10, Two Lines Press)
Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor, Translated by Sophie Hughes
The witch is dead. She lived her life “trading in curses and cures” like her mother before her in their small Mexican village, until she turns up dead—murdered. The events of Hurricane Season swirls around this one violent act but on closer examination this impressive and brutal novel examines violence in many forms—misogyny, homophobia, poverty, corruption, and others. It’s admittedly a hard read, but the novel’s propulsive passages and moments of surprising beauty help to bear the heaviness of the subject matter and it’s no surprise that it’s taken the literary world by force. (March 31, New Directions)
And don’t miss Minor Detail by Adania Shibli, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette.
Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami, Translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd
Published in Japan in 2008, Mieko Kawakami’s novella Breasts and Eggs won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize and the praise of authors like Yoko Ogawa and Haruki Murakami. This newly expanded novel is Kawakami’s first to be published in English and has already been hailed as a “feminist masterwork.” Breasts and Eggs is an intimate and striking novel of women’s bodies and agency in modern Japan, following three women—sisters Natsu and Makiko and Makiko’s daughter Midoriko—as they reflect on and determine their futures. (April 7, Europa Editions)
And don’t miss The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar, translated by Anonymous.
The Book of Anna by Carmen Boullosa, Translated by Samantha Schnee
From the great Carmen Boullosa—poet, novelist, playwright, essayist, and artist—and translator Samantha Schnee, founding editor of Words Without Borders, comes The Book of Anna, a strikingly original and feminist sequel to Anna Karenina. Set in Saint Petersburg, 1905, The Book of Anna follows Anna Karenina’s grown children on the brink of revolution. Boullosa cleverly mixes history and fiction to subvert Tolstoy’s novel and give Anna not only a voice but a sexual awakening. I recommend reading along with the Two Month Review podcast, but if nothing else watch the brilliant finale episode featuring Carmen Boullosa! (April 14, Coffee House Press)
And don’t miss Ornamental by Juan Cárdenas, translated by Lizzie Davis.
The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana by Maryse Condé, Translated by Richard Philcox
Maryse Condé, winner of the 2018 Alternative Nobel prize in literature and acclaimed author of Segu, I Tituba, and Windward Heights, returns with her most modern novel to date. Written in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, this impressive and provocative novel addresses racism, corruption, globalization, and inequality. The story follows twins Ivan and Ivana from their childhood in Guadeloupe to Mali and eventually Paris as young adults, tracing the path Ivana takes to join the police academy and the experiences that lead to Ivan’s radicalization. A storyteller like no other, Condé takes what may appear to be a simple device and turns it on its head, resulting in a spirited and searing satire that spares no one. (May 5, World Editions)
And don’t miss The Helios Disaster by Linda Boström Knausgård, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles.
Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin, Translated by Megan McDowell
Samanta Schweblin, author of Fever Dream and Mouthful of Birds, returns with her most unsettling novel yet—a strange and compelling meditation on technology and connection that hits too close for comfort. In Schweblin’s imagined world, small, motorized stuffed animals known as kentukis—think of a Furby equipped with a camera—bridge the lives of strangers: the keeper who is in possession of the kentuki and the dweller who operates it. Told in short vignettes that alternate between keepers and dwellers all over the world, Schweblin illustrates the beauty of connection but also the heightened opportunity for horror. (May 5, Riverhead Books)
Four by Four by Sara Mesa, Translated by Katie Whittemore
In the vein of Donna Tart, Fleur Jaeggy, and Shirley Jackson, Four by Four is a sharply written and atmospheric novel of power, privilege, and violence. Set entirely at the elite boarding school Wybrany College, the novel follows student and teacher alike as they try to unravel the mystery of what exactly is happening behind the school’s carefully constructed facade—with readers right on their heels, flipping desperately through its pages. Four by Four is a masterclass in restraint and tension for both writers and translators and I predict that bringing Sara Mesa and Katie Whittemore’s work to English-speaking audiences will prove to be one of the capstones in Open Letter’s exceptional list. (May 5, Open Letter Books)
Untold Night and Day by Bae Suah, Translated by Deborah Smith
Bae Suah is one of the hottest, most experimental voices coming out of South Korea right now and I drop everything when a new book from her arrives in English translation—in this case by International Booker Prize–winning translator Deborah Smith. Told in a night and a day, this latest novel, like many of her others, subverts time, narrative, and memory. And yet this surreal and dreamlike novel (a true fever dream with an all-encompassing and sticky summer heat) feels different to me, more urgent and concentrated—a distilled novel of Suah’s genius. (May 5, Overlook Press)
Looking for even more great new books in translation? Check out 7 of the Best Summer 2020 Books by Women in Translation and the books chosen for the Translated Literature category as part of the 2020 National Book Awards Longlists.