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Books & Authors, Diverse Voices

15 Must-Read Translated Books From the Past 5 Years

There’s a whole world - literally - of books written in languages other than English. Every year, some of them make the leap into the English-speaking world. Here are 15 must-read translations from the past five years.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold : A Novel by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
If you could go back, who would you want to meet? In a small back alley of Tokyo, there is a café that has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. Local legend says that this shop offers something else besides coffee--the chance to travel back in time. Over the course of one summer, four customers visit the café in the hopes of making that journey. But time travel isn't so simple, and there are rules that must be followed. Most important, the trip can last only as long as it takes for the coffee to get cold.

Celestial Bodies : A Novel by Harithi Jukhah
In the village of al-Awafi in Oman, we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla, who chooses to refuse all offers and await a reunion with the man she loves, who has emigrated to Canada. These three women and their families, their losses and loves, unspool ... against a backdrop of a rapidly changing Oman, a country evolving from a traditional, slave-owning society into its complex present.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
Keiko Furukura had always been considered a strange child, and her parents always worried how she would get on in the real world, so when she takes on a job in a convenience store while at university, they are delighted for her. For her part, in the convenience store she finds a predictable world mandated by the store manual, which dictates how the workers should act and what they should say, and she copies her coworkers' style of dress and speech patterns so that she can play the part of a normal person. However, eighteen years later, at age 36, she is still in the same job, has never had a boyfriend, and has only few friends.

Disquiet by Zülfü Livaneli
From the internationally bestselling author of Serenade for Nadia, a powerful story of love and faith amidst the atrocities committed by ISIS against the Yazidi people. Disquiet transports the reader to the contemporary Middle East through the stories of Meleknaz, a Yazidi Syrian refugee, and Hussein, a young man from the Turkish city of Mardin near the Syrian border. Passionate about helping others, Hussein begins visiting a refugee camp to tend to the thousands of poor and sick streaming into Turkey, fleeing ISIS.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
In a remote Polish village, Janina devotes the dark winter days to studying astrology, translating the poetry of William Blake, and taking care of the summer homes of wealthy Warsaw residents. Her reputation as a crank and a recluse is amplified by her not-so-secret preference for the company of animals over humans. Then a neighbor, Big Foot, turns up dead. Soon other bodies are discovered, in increasingly strange circumstances. As suspicions mount, Janina inserts herself into the investigation, certain that she knows whodunit.

Four Minutes by Nataliya Deleva
Giving voice to people living on the periphery in post-communist Bulgaria, Four Minutes centers around Leah, an orphan who suffered daily horrors growing up, and now struggles to integrate into society as a gay woman. She confronts her trauma by trying to volunteer at the orphanage, and to adopt a young girl--a choice that is frustrated over and over by bureaucracy and the pervasive stigma against gay women. In addition to Leah's narrative, the novel contains nine other standalone character studies of other frequently ignored voices. These sections are each meant to be read in approximately four minutes, a nod to a social experiment that put forth the hypothesis that it only takes four minutes of looking someone in the eye and listening to them in order to accept and empathize with them.

Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante
Giovanna's pretty face is changing, turning ugly, at least so her father thinks. Giovanna, he says, looks more like her Aunt Vittoria every day. But can it be true? Is she really changing? Is she turning into her Aunt Vittoria, a woman she hardly knows but whom her mother and father clearly despise? Surely there is a mirror somewhere in which she can see herself as she truly is. Giovanna is searching for her reflection in two kindred cities that fear and detest one another: Naples of the heights, which assumes a mask of refinement, and Naples of the depths, a place of excess and vulgarity. She moves from one to the other in search of the truth, but neither city seems to offer answers or escape.

Mouthful of Birds : Stories by Samanta Schweblin
Schweblin's stories move on the boundary between the real and the fantastic. This selection, chosen by the author, is an indispensable piece of contemporary Argentine literature. Schweblin's stories have the feel of a sleepless night, where every shadow and bump in the dark take on huge implications; they leave your pulse racing and the line between the real and the strange blurring.

Second Sister by Ho-Kei Chan
A schoolgirl--Siu-Man--has committed suicide, leaping from her twenty-second floor window to the pavement below. Siu-Man is an orphan and the librarian older sister who's been raising her refuses to believe there was no foul play--nothing seemed amiss. She contacts a man known only as N.--a hacker, and an expert in cybersecurity and manipulating human behavior. But can Nga-Yee interest him sufficiently to take her case, and can she afford it if he says yes?

Summer Light, and Then Comes the Night : A Novel by 1963- Jón Kalman Stefánsson
Sometimes, in small places, life becomes bigger. Sometimes a distance from the world's tumult opens our hearts and our dreams. In a village of four hundred souls, the infinite light of an Icelandic summer makes its inhabitants want to explore, and the eternal night of winter lights up the magic of the stars. The village becomes a microcosm of the age-old conflict between human desire and destiny, between the limits of reality and the wings of the imagination. With humor, poetry, and a tenderness for human weaknesses, Stefánsson explores the question of why we live at all.

The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala
The story of an enormous cathedral constructed in a marginal, majority-black neighborhood in Cienfuegos, Cuba, told by a chorus of narrators whose sometimes conflicting, overlapping accounts knit together to form a portrait of the neighborhood and the family of outsiders whose arrival in Cienfuegos sparks a series of dramatic events.

The Discomfort of Evening : A Novel by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld
I asked God if he please couldn't take my brother Matthies instead of my rabbit. 'Amen.' Ten-year-old Jas has a unique way of experiencing her universe: the feeling of udder ointment on her skin as protection against harsh winters; the texture of green warts, like capers, on migrating toads; the sound of 'blush words' that aren't in the Bible. But when a tragic accident ruptures the family, her curiosity warps into a vortex of increasingly disturbing fantasies - unlocking a darkness that threatens to derail them all.

The Golden Cage by Camilla Läckberg
Faye has loved Jack since they were students at business school. Jack, the perpetual golden boy, grew up wealthy, unlike Faye, who has worked hard to bury a dark past. When Faye discovers that he's having an affair, the polished façade of their life cracks wide open. Faye is alone, emotionally shattered, and financially devastated -- but hell hath no fury like a woman with a violent past bent on vengeance. Jack is about to get exactly what he deserves -- and so much more.

The House by the River : A Novel by Lena Manta
Theodora knows she can't keep her five beautiful daughters at home forever--they're too curious, too free spirited, too like their late father. And so, before each girl leaves the small house on the riverside at the foot of Mount Olympus, Theodora makes sure they know they are always welcome to return. Having survived World War II, the Nazi occupation of Greece, and her husband's death, Theodora now endures the twenty-year-long silence of her daughters' absence. Have they grown so far apart that they've forgotten their childhood home, or will their broken hearts finally lead them back again?

The Perfect Nanny : A Novel by Leïla Slimani
When Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer, decides to return to work after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect nanny for their two young children. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite, devoted woman who sings to the children, cleans the family's chic apartment in Paris's upscale tenth arrondissement, stays late without complaint, and hosts enviable kiddie parties. But as the couple and the nanny become more dependent on one another, jealousy, resentment, and suspicions mount, shattering the idyllic tableau.

 

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