“Such are the perfections of fiction...Everything it teaches is useless insofar as structuring your life: you can’t prop up anything with fiction. It, in fact, teaches you just that. That in order to attempt to employ its specific wisdom is a sign of madness...There is more profit in an hour’s talk with Billy Graham than in a reading of Joyce. Graham might conceivably make you sick, so that you might move, go somewhere to get well. But Joyce just sends you out into the street, where the world goes on, solid as a bus. If you met Joyce and said 'Help me,' he’d hand you a copy of Finnegans Wake. You could both cry.” – Gilbert Sorrentino, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Best Fiction in Translation 2010

Below is a list of my favourite books in translation from 2010 (in no particular order--I refuse to do 'top ten' lists as if such rankings are aesthetically meaningful). But these books are all incredibly great and worth reading. N.B. I've decided not to include any Roberto Bolano, for two reasons: 1) he's basically his own phenomenon at the moment (deservedly, I'd argue), and 2) I haven't read all of his books that have been translated this year. 

  • Zone by Mathias Enard
This novel composed of one continuous 517-page sentence is rightly being described as a masterpiece; it combines high modernism with spy-novel conceits and--whether or not you like it (and I did)--is a book that's certain to provoke a reaction. Read the full review here.
  • Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou
This hysterically funny novel filled with stories told by unreliable narrators in the Congo is an exceptional mixture of literary erudition, bleak humour and prosaic brilliance (and it's yet another novel basically devoid of full stops). I got to meet Mabanckou at a conference in Melbourne this year, and he was also very gracious, which was exciting for me (at least). Read the full review here.
  • The Literary Conference by Cesar Aira
Aira--who uses a pseudo-Dadaist compositional technique that involves not revising--writes weird, mad, little novellas. The Literary Conference, a book about cloning Carlos Fuentes, is an otherworldly delight. Read the full review here.
  • Prose by Thomas Bernhard
This book, Bernhard's first, is a collection of stories that could ultimately be construed as his juvenilia--but Bernhard's juvenilia is still better than 99% of all other authors' mature prose. The story 'The Cap' in here was my favourite short story of 2010. Read the full review here
  • Microscripts by Robert Walser
Even if Walser weren't one of the most singular prose stylists of the 20th Century, this book would be worth its price just for its reproductions of his 'microscripts'--stories written in pencil on the back of little scraps of paper with tiny letters that are less than 1 mm tall. Read the full review here.
  •  Running Away by Jean-Philipe Toussaint
This book could be best-described as a cross between the movie Lost in Translation and a Three Stooges slapstick film. Toussaint is a writer who would appeal to fans of both Samuel Beckett and Haruki Murakami, and, for all of his jokes, his books also manage to locate a real sense of melancholy and loss. Read the full review here.
  • Best European Fiction 2010 edited by Aleksander Hemon
Technically, not every story here is in translation, but 95% are. For my money, the Dalkey Archive, who published this collection, is pretty much the best press in the world, and while not every excerpt in here may appeal to you, Best European Fiction 2010 is a treasure-trove of authors who are still undeservedly unknown in the Anglophone world. Read the full review here.

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