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Spring 2021 in Translation Books Preview

Anna Claire Weber—reader, writer, and indie bookseller at Pittsburgh’s White Whale Bookstore—offers up a handful of upcoming  translated titles to add to your to-read pile

Since the beginning of the pandemic last March, reading has been just about the only thing that settles and quiets my mind. I’ve relied on books, and literature in translation in particular, to ground and rejuvenate me when I’m not addressing overlapping and immediate crises in my life, work, and community. This past year, my fellow booksellers and I at White Whale Bookstore in Pittsburgh, PA were forced to reimagine how we stock, sell, and talk about literature in the face of the collective need caused by these emergencies. But it’s the return to the books themselves that bolsters my conviction that literature is essential to our understanding of the world. That’s why I love being a bookseller. And in that role, I’m lucky enough to hear, on a daily basis, about how books have been essential for members of our community, as well.

It’s hard to know what the future will bring, as more vaccines are distributed but cases are beginning to surge again in some areas, including my own. But the future’s no more or less unpredictable than it’s ever been, and I’m grateful that books remain my constant and my lodestar no matter what. I’m thrilled to present a handful of works in translation due out this season, books I hope will both anchor and buoy you in the same way they did for me.

Permafrost by Eva Baltasar

Translated from Catalan by Julia Sanches (And Other Stories)

And Other Stories has given Permafrost a brilliant comp: Ottessa Moshfegh (My Year of Rest and Relaxation) meets Virginie Despentes (Vernon Subutex, King Kong Theory). The novel’s lesbian narrator is itching to get out of Barcelona, landing in Brussels and Scotland as she tries to figure out her place in the world (while resisting the strictures each society seeks to place upon her as a woman). This is poet Eva Baltasar’s first novel, and just one of Julia Sanches’s many brilliant translations out in the U.S. since the beginning of 2020. 

Available 4/20/21
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The Touch System by Alejandra Costamagna

Translated from Spanish by Lisa Dillman (Transit Press)

Alejandra Costamagna’s first book translated to English is in the deft hands of Lisa Dillman, translator of Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera. An aching, dazzling story of how a family’s decades of immigration and emigration, as well as its connections to one another—severed, sutured badly, severed again—are passed down from generation to generation. An exquisite collage of how an ancestor’s or elder’s memories can become your own ghosts, too, living under your own skin and behind your own eyelids. 

Available 5/4/21
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Acrobat by Nabaneeta Dev Sen

Translated from Bengali by Nandana Sen (Archipelago Books)

A new and posthumous collection of poetry from Nabaneeta Dev Sen, a mix of poems she herself translated to English and poems her daughter, Nandana Sen, has translated in her stead. Both of their voices come alive through every lively, loving, celebratory line. An ode to the things that make us human and bind us to one another. From the title poem: 

She thought she knew acrobatics rather well.
That she could juggle time with both hands,
Play with the now, right next to the then,
She would make both dance, she thought, fist to fist—
And she would glide, so smooth, along the tightrope,
She thought she could do absolutely anything at all.

Only once in your life will the rope shiver. 

Available 5/11/21
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Heaven by Mieko Kawakami

Translated from Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd (Europa Editions)

Heaven is Mieko Kawakami’s latest from Europa since the success of last year’s Breasts and Eggs, the author’s English-language debut. Bullies make the life of a fourteen-year-old student miserable every single day, and sometimes several times a day. There isn’t much that excites him until a classmate, and fellow victim of bullying (though from a different clique), leaves a few notes in his desk asking to be friends. An epistolary friendship blooms, and together they learn the roots of both happiness and misery in themselves, one another, and even their bullies. But series of confrontations (with their bullies and with one another) threaten these tenuous connections. From the first pages, Heaven is a real heartbreaker from an author praised by Haruki Murakami, even as she’s vocally leading a feminist charge against the old (male) guard of contemporary Japanese literature that includes Murakami himself.

Available 5/25/21
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Slipping by Mohamed Kheir

Translated from Arabic by Robin Moger (Two Lines Press)

Slipping comes to us from a celebrated and award-winning writer, Mohamed Kheir, making his English-language debut in collaboration with translator Robin Moger. We follow journalist Seif, who is struggling professionally and personally as past trauma revisits him over and over, and his guide, a mysterious former exile, across Egypt post-Arab Spring. The stories they’re tracking are strange, possibly magical, and at the end, suddenly interconnected. A luminous dreamscape of contemporary Egyptian tales and traumas both individual and generational, Slipping inhabits the gaps and interstitial spaces too often glossed over, these areas where everything begins to elide and overlap: journeys and stories, actions and reactions, even faces and names, births and deaths. It’s a book that challenges linearity in an effort to honor the cyclical nature of both history and relationships, a book that lingers within the daily moments of magic—joyful, sorrowful, furious, and everything in between—that give the human experience its luster.

Available 6/8/21
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Anne-Marie the Beauty by Yasmina Reza

Translated from French by Alison Strayer (Seven Stories Press)

Yasmina Reza and Alison Strayer are a powerhouse author-translator team—both internationally acclaimed, both award-winners and nominees. This story, a long monologue between the speaker Anne-Marie and her interlocutor, clocks in at well under 100 pages and proves to an American audience that a book doesn’t need to be a tome to have depth and emotional resonance. Our narrator wittily, and wistfully, describes her past as an actor, her present as a lonely old woman, and the brief friendship with a more successful actress that continues to color her perception of the world. As bright and mirthful as it is sharp with pangs of longing.

Available 5/4/21
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Catcalling by Lee Soho

Translated from Korean by Soje (Open Letter Books)

Catcalling is poet Lee Soho’s searing debut in both South Korea and now, the U.S. Systematically, with an electric precision, Lee’s speaker Kyungjin describes then dismantles the violence and abuse that she and others around her experience, as well as the societal forces that enable and even encourage it. Soje’s translation brings Lee’s poetry to a glaring brightness from which it’s impossible to turn away. 

Available 4/13/21
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