I am trying to find an alternative to the ‘Top 10 Reads’ of the year, mainly because I find it difficult to stick to such a small number. So this year I will be listing some of my favourites by categories (although not giving them awards, like Fiction Fan does so wittily) – and I won’t even stick to numbers divisible by five. I am not counting any of the books I read in the original languages – those will form a separate category. Interesting sidenote (and perhaps not coincidental): only one of the books below was on my Kindle rather than in paper format. Perhaps those read electronically don’t stick as well to my mind?
Miklos Banffy: They Were Counted (transl. Katalin Bánffy-Jelen & Patrick Thursfield)
The last book in translation but one of the most memorable of the whole year. It took me a while to get going with it. I had a number of false starts, i.e. I’d pick it up, put it down after a few pages and then not read it for a couple of weeks, by which point I had forgotten all the complicated names. But if you give it your full attention, it is the beginning of a wonderful historical saga that gives you a real insight into a certain place and time.
Ariana Harwicz: Die, My Love (transl. Sarah Moses & Carolina Orloff)
Short and punchy, knocking you out with its breathless verve and barely concealed fury, this story of a woman feeling completely out-of-place in her life and suffering from some kind of trauma or depression will leave you reeling.
Fernando Pessoa: The Book of Disquiet (transl. Richard Zenith)
A diary or essay with so much to say about the human condition in general and the creative artist in particular that I know I will be reading it for the rest of my life.
Svetlana Alexievich: The Unwomanly Face of War (transl. Pevear & Volokhonsky)
Possibly my favourite non-fiction book of the year and one that I have been recommending to everyone, including my Russian friends. It also makes an appearance on Shiny New Books on my behalf.
Antti Tuomainen: The Man Who Died (transl. David Hackston)
My favourite translated crime fiction read of the year, it has almost slapstick situations, a lot of black comedy but also a sad inner core about a dying man losing all his illusions about the people around him.
Bohumil Hrabal: Closely Observed Trains (transl. Edith Pargeter)
Another example of broad farce interspersed with real depth and tragedy, with surreal flights of fancy.
Ricarda Huch: The Last Summer (transl. Jamie Bulloch)
I loved the naive ideology of the privileged vs. the uncompromising voices of the oppressed who are resorting to violence – an endless debate even nowadays.
Seven favourites out of the 36 books in translation that I read over the course of 2017 (a total of 130 books read so far). So less than a third in translation (although this number would go up to about 60, so nearly half, if I added the books in other languages). What is a bit shameful is that my reading is so Eurocentric, although this might have something to do with my #EU27Project, which I have been engaged in somewhat haphazardly this year. My only consolation is that I seem to have done a better job of it and been slightly more prepared than those negotiating Brexit…
However, in 2018, I hope that my translated fiction horizons will be broadened by my subscription to the Asymptote Book Club, about which many of you will have heard me chirruping, tweeting and even shouting! The very first title is still a top secret and I will keep my mouth firmly zipped up, but I will give you small clue: it is not European.
A good quartet [or a good book] is like a good conversation among friends interacting to each other’s ideas. (Stan Getz)