Recently we’ve noticed a resurgent interest in fiction translated from non-Anglophone literary cultures, and the exciting new horizons being expanded for English readers deserve an extended look. We’ve got all the books on the 2012 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize shortlist, and a selection of other favourites to boot. Some of the most intriguing titles are introduced below, and all are on the shelf at Dulwich Books.
New Finnish Grammar (IFFP Shortlist) has been a surprise success for us, Dedalus Press commendably publishing this English edition of Diego Marani’s critically-acclaimed Italian novel. A soldier comes round on the quay in Trieste during World War 2, having suffered a brain injury. He no longer knows his name or nation, and his protracted, poetic struggle to recover his identity takes him to Helsinki, where he is taught Finnish by an eccentric pastor. Tales from the Kalevala,Finland’s trove of myth, weave through complex noun declensions, as both the war and the protagonist’s quest move toward conclusion….
Dream of Ding Village (IFFP Shortlist), by Yan Lianke, is told by Xiao Qiang, a boy killed by his family’s neighbours. The novel takes a single human tragedy as emblematic of the blood-contamination scandal in China’s Henan province. ‘The trees are all bear’, it begins, ‘the crops have withered. The villagers are shrunken inside their homes, never to emerge again. Ever since the blood came. Ever since the blood ran red.’ The Guardian described Dream of Ding Village as ‘not just an elegantly crafted piece of literature but a devastating critique ofChina’s runaway development.’
Constable and Robinson/paperback/£7.99/9781780332628
Next World Novella and The Brothers. Both published, in elegant white jackets, by Peirene Press, a new independent publisher specializing in translated European fiction. Asko Sahlberg’s The Brothers takes us back to icy Finland, in 1809 – two brothers who fought on different sides in the Ruso-Swedish war return home to an atmosphere of tension, mutual suspicion and old grudges. In Matthias Politycki’s Next World Novella, translated from the German by Anthea Bell, Hinrich goes through his wife’s papers after her death, to discover a different person to the one he thought he had known.
Berlin Stories. Swiss Modernist Robert Walser has long been neglected in theUK, despite his fame in continental Europe and Susan Sontag’s best efforts to promote him over here. NYRB editions have published this rather handsome collection of stories about Berlin as it was when Walser arrived in 1905, a newly-modern city: ‘always people are walking here. Never in all the time this street has existed has life stopped circulating here. This is the very heart, the ceaselessly respiring breast of metropolitan life.’
New York Review of Books/paperback/£7.99/9781590174548
The Secret History of Costaguana. Juan Gabriel Vásquez is probably Columbia’s pre-eminent contemporary novelist, and this playful novel uses Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo, and his invented South American republic, as a way of meditating on and making up for Europe’s restrictive portrayal of the continent. Intelligent and historically informed, narrator José’s rambunctious voice, outraged at being excised from Conrad’s book, is intent on getting its own back…