If you’re looking to read more books from around the world, beginning with novellas in translation makes a lot of sense. For reasons I don’t fully understand, a lot of the fiction that gets translated into English is novella length. It may be that the novella is a more dominant form in other countries than it is in the U.S., or it may be that shorter books are easier to translate and therefore easier to publish. Either way, there are many wonderful novellas in translation to choose from.
Personally, I love reading novellas: they are long enough to create the feeling of immersion in a story, but not so long that I, as a slow reader, feel bogged down. They are also a great way to try out new authors and styles without a major investment of time. If you like what you find, you can search out other books by that author or in that style.
Also, if you fall in love with a particular novella in translation, you can seek out other work from that country or region. The books in the list below come from Mexico, Palestine, Japan, Argentina, Switzerland, France, Colombia, and South Korea. Reading one of these might inspire you to learn more about the literary culture and traditions of that place.
You might also find a new favorite author. I have read and loved the books in this list and have gone on to seek out other work by these writers. You might have the same experience!
The Taiga Syndrome by Cristina Rivera Garza, Translated by Suzanne Levine and Aviva Kana
This novella mixes fairytales, detective fiction, travel writing, and theories of translation in a wild, eerily strange ride of a reading experience. An ex-detective gets tapped for a mission to find a lost couple. To complete her mission, she travels into the far north with a translator. As the two of them wander further into the forest, what they discover gets stranger and stranger. This is a great book for those who like strange reads that keep you on your toes and give you plenty of food for thought.
Minor Detail by Adania Shibli, Translated by Elisabeth Jaquette
The first part of this novella is set in 1949. It tells the story of an Israeli officer who leads a group of soldiers on a mission to find and capture Palestinians in the Negev Desert. They capture and then brutalize and kill a Palestinian teenager. The second part describes a woman in Ramallah in the present day who becomes obsessed with this murder and begins to research it. The subject matter is dark and difficult, so be prepared for that. The book looks closely at violence, memory, and how the past shapes the present. Its two halves mirror each other in fascinating ways as well.
Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima, Translated by Geraldine Harcourt
This novella tells the story of a woman in Tokyo setting up life in a new apartment with her 3-year-old daughter. She and her husband have recently separated. In a series of vignettes, Tsushima charts this woman’s high and low points. She feels isolated and exhausted, but also exhilarated with her new freedom. Mother and daughter bask in their apartment’s abundant light, but also struggle with adapting to change and meeting new challenges. The book is beautiful and meditative and also a sharp portrayal of what it takes to survive as a single mother in a world that offers mostly disapproval.
The Wind That Lays Waste by Selva Almada, Translated by Chris Andrews
Two people, a preacher and his teenage daughter, find themselves stranded after their car breaks down. They are on a rural road in Argentina, and they get a ride to a mechanic who lives with a teenage boy. The Wind That Lays Waste tells about these four characters’ interactions throughout one day as the travelers wait for their car, and it also fills in their backstories. The characters spend a lot of time talking about God and religion, sharing ideas and experiences as a storm threatens on the horizon. It’s a beautiful novel that encourages thinking about matters of faith and meaning.
Sweet Days of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy, Translated by Tim Parks
This novella from 1989 takes place in a Swiss boarding school. The 14-year-old protagonist finds herself fascinated by a new student on the scene, Fréderique. Friendships and alliances shift as Fréderique settles in. The book describes daily life at the school and the twists and turns of gossip and judgments. It’s a seemingly quiet story, but darkness is never far away. The novella is an unsettling exploration of the images the students project onto the world and the reality that lurks underneath.
That Time of Year by Marie NDiaye, Translated by Jordan Stump
In this 1994 novella, Herman and his family overstay their summer vacation in the French countryside by one day. This shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is: the world they knew on August 31st is utterly transformed on September 1st. The weather turns rainy and cold and then Herman can’t find his wife and child. He heads into the village to search for them, but no one has answers and no one seems concerned. The villagers ignore him and officials can’t or won’t help. The story keeps getting more and more surreal. Fans of literary horror will particularly love this one.
The Bitch by Pilar Quintana, Translated by Lisa Dillman
This novella tells the story of Damaris, a woman in her 40s who adopts a puppy to ease her loneliness and unhappiness with her husband. She thinks of the puppy as a substitute for the children she was never able to have. As the puppy grows and becomes aware of the wider world, however, it runs away, and its relationship with Damaris is never the same. The novella beautifully captures the eerie, wild coast of Colombia, which is near both the jungle and the ocean. Damaris’s combination of longing and hope is moving. Be prepared for scenes of animal cruelty if you pick this one up.
b, Book, and Me by Kim Sagwa, Translated by Sunhee Jeong
This novella tells the story of two best friends, Rang and b, left alone by their parents and ignored by their teachers. They are teenagers living in a South Korean city who struggle with poverty, loneliness, and bullying. Together, they dream of escape. But then Rang unintentionally betrays b by writing about her dying sister, and their friendship falls apart. We follow their stories as they work their way back toward each other. The novella captures how dark life can be for teenagers and how difficult it can be for them to find their way forward.
After reading this list of novellas in translation, you might be inspired to find even more books to check out. Book Riot has you covered! You can read this list of books in translation from 2022 and this list of 2021 translations. We also have a list of 50 must-read short books in translation. You can check out our translation archives as well.