10 Books in Translation to Read This Fall

Book Cover Baloney

The selection of Canadian titles published in translation this fall is truly excellent and really exciting. Make sure to diversify your reading list with one of these books, and there's no need to stop at one. 

*****

Baloney, by Maxime Raymond Bock, translated by Pablo Strauss

About the book: A Tristram Shandy–esque novella about failing memory and failed writing, from one of French Canada’s most exciting new voices.

A young, floundering author meets Robert ‘Baloney’ Lacerte, an older, marginal poet who seems to own nothing beyond his unwavering certainty. Over the course of several evenings, Lacerte recounts his unrelenting quest for poetry, which has taken him from Quebec’s Boreal forests to South America to East Montreal, where he seems poised to disappear without a trace. But as the blocked writer discovers, Lacerte might just be full of it.

Why we're taking notice: Bock is an award-winning writer in Quebec, and we also like this from a review of the book in its original French by Jeremy Laniel in Spirale: "Books are dangerous. They call into question the order of things, turn the world upside down to get a better sense of it and shake the dust off the lenses we look through." 

**

Book Cover Metis Beach

Métis Beach, by Claudine Bourbonnais, translated by Jacob Homel

About the book: In America, not believing in God is anti-American, isn’t it?

At fifty years of age, Roman Carr, whose real name is Romain Carrier, is at the peak of his career. His television series In Gad We Trust, a scathing satire of the United States and its relationship with God, is a huge hit. He is carving out an enviable place for himself in Hollywood, the end of a long, tortuous journey for the man who fled his Gaspé Peninsula village in murky circumstances in 1962 at the age of seventeen.

Both a coming-of-age story and a historical epic, Métis Beach is a chronicle of the great American Sixties. It recaptures the extraordinary liberation movements and social disturbances that marked that era, but most of all it vividly conveys the irrepressible idealism that carried along a whole generation. It is a celebration of the supreme good that the United States hoped to achieve: the coming of everyone’s right to be free.

Why we're taking notice: This is the debut novel by Bourbonnais, a journalist and television presented in Quebec. The story sounds fascinating and Homel is an award-winning Canadian translator. 

**

Book Cover This Last Bullet is for You

This Last Bullet is for You, by Martine Delvaux, translated by David Homel

About the book: By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept is the title of Canadian writer Elizabeth Smart's classic hymn to love, which novelist Angela Carter once described as being "like Madame Bovary blasted by lightning." Later, Carter wrote privately to a friend, saying that she would hate any daughter of hers to have to write such a novel, adding, "By Grand Central Station I Tore Off his Balls would be more like it, I should hope."

And now along comes Montreal novelist Martine Delvaux with The Last Bullet Is for You. This stream-of-consciousness novel takes the form a love letter, but it is the last one. One last letter filled as much with the memory of love as the desire for revenge. Love is war, wrote Ovid, and this book is a battleground. Writing is both an act of passion and the means to end it once and for all. Writing is the last bullet, shooting through the love story and into what is left of the lover: a ghost, a fiction. And maybe that's what he was from the start.

Why we're taking notice: Heather O'Neill said of Delvaux's previous novel, Bitter Rose: "Delvaux's voice is mysterious and disturbing and raw. She spins ordinary life into a horror story. She finds redemption in the mundane. Her girls are ugly on the inside, and therein lies their strange, explosive beauty."

**

Book Cover A Spare Life

A Spare Life, by Lidia Dimskovska, translated by Christina E. Kramer

About the book: Zlata and Srebra are 12-year-old twins conjoined at the head. It is 1984 and they live in Skopje, which will one day be the capital of Macedonia but is currently a part of Yugoslavia.A Spare Life tells the story of their childhood, from their only friend Roze to their neighbor Bogdan, so poor that he one day must eat his pet rabbit. Treated as freaks and outcasts?even by their own family?the twins just want to be normal girls. But after an incident that almost destroys their bond as sisters, they fly to London, determined to be surgically separated. Will this be their liberation, or only more tightly ensnare them?

At once extraordinary and quotidian, A Spare Life is a chronicle of two girls who are among the first generation to come of age under democracy in Eastern Europe. Written in touching prose by an author who is also a master poet, it is a saga about families, sisterhood, immigration, and the occult influences that shape a life. Funny, poignant, dark, and sharply observed, Zlata and Srebra reveal an existence where even the simplest of actions is unlike any we’ve ever experienced.

Why we're taking notice: Macedonian writer Dimskovska's honours include the 2013 European Prize for Literature. Toronto translator Kramer makes this book a Canadian title. 

**

The Island of Books, by Dominique Fortier, translated by Rhonda Mullins

About the book: A rich portrait of the beauty of words—painted by a 15th-century illiterate scribe.

A 15th-century portrait painter, grieving the sudden death of his lover, takes refuge at the monastery at Mont Saint-Michel, an island off the coast of France. He haunts the halls until a monk assigns him the task of copying a manuscript—though he is illiterate. His work slowly heals him and continues the tradition that had, centuries earlier, grown the monastery’s library into a beautiful city of books, all under the shadow of the invention of the printing press.

Why we're taking notice: Fortier's first novel was nominated for a Governor-General's Award. Mullins received the 2015 Governor General's Award for Translation for Twenty-One Cardinals, written by Jocelyn Saucier. 

** 

Book Cover Testament

Testament, by Vickie Genreau, translated by Aimee Wall

About the book: On June 6, 2012, Vickie Gendreau was diagnosed with a brain tumour. In between treatments, between hospital stays and her "room of her own," she wrote Testament, an autofictional novel in which she imagines her death and at the same time, bequeaths to her friends and family both the fragmented story of her last year and the stories of the loved ones who keep her memory alive, in language as raw and flamboyant as she was.

In the teasing and passionate voice of a 23-year-old writer, inspired as much by literature as by Youtube and underground music, Gendreau's sense of image, her relentless self-deprecation, and the true emotion in every sentence add up to an uncompromising work that reflects the life of a young woman who lived without inhibitions, for whom literature meant everything right up until the end.

With its unexpectedly raw and open and somehow still occasionally funny perspective on illness, dying, and death, Testament (here translated by talented writer and translator Aimee Wall) will appeal to lovers of memoir, autofictional narrative, and readers who appreciate a palpable tension between fact and fiction.

Why we're taking notice: Testament was first published in French in the fall of 2012 and longlisted for the 2013 Prix littéraire France-Québec.

**

Book Cover The Party Wall

The Party Wall, by Catherine Leroux

About the book: Catherine Leroux's brilliant first novel in English shuffles between, and eventually ties together, stories about siblings joined in surprising ways. Reminiscent of the novels of Tom Robbins and David Mitchell, with well-evoked settings and rich characters, The Party Wall establishes Leroux as one of North America's most intelligent and innovative young authors.

Why we're taking notice: This title appears on the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Longlist

**

Hungary-Hollywood Express, by Eric Plamondon, translated by Dimitri Nasrallah

About the book: When Gabriel Rivages recounts the life of Olympic gold medalist and silver-screen heart-throb Johnny Weissmuller (1904-1984), he brings to life a vibrant patchwork of America's 20th century, from its athletic exploits to its literary underground, from its cinematic glory to its obscure failures. Burroughs sells pencil sharpeners, Einstein crosses paths with squirrel hunters, we play golf in Cuba, JFK becomes an airport, the world record for the 100m freestyle swim is broken, Tarzan saves Jane, a corrupt accountant runs away with the savings, the Second World War makes waves in Lake Michigan, and a living legend wraps up a storied career as a host in a Las Vegas restaurant.

Hungary-Hollywood Express is the first novel in Éric Plamondon's 1984 trilogy. The second and third volumes, Mayonnaise and Apple S, turn their lens on the poet Richard Brautigan and Apple founder Steve Jobs respectively. Esplanade Books will publish them in 2017 and 2018 translated by novelist Dimitri Nasrallah.

Why we're taking notice: Plamondon's works are described as "shining examples of a new generation of Québécois literary innovation." 

**

Book Cover the Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches, by Gaetan Soucy, translated by Sheila Fischman

About the book: Alone with their authoritarian father on an immense estate surrounded by a forest, a pair of siblings speak a language and inhabit a universe of their own making. When their father commits suicide, they are forced into contact with the villagers beyond the enclosure and their cloak of romance and superstition quickly falls away to reveal not only the startling truth about themselves, but the startling truth about the world to them.

Balancing naiveté with carnality, Soucy creates a powerfully gripping story where nothing is as it first seems. His surprising twists and fascination with guilt, cruelty, and violence make this story a resounding triumph.

Why we're taking notice: This creepy and mesmerizing award-winner has just been packaged in a  smart new edition as part of House of Anansi's A List Series. 

** 

Shenzheners, by Yiwei Xue, translated by Darryl Sterk

About the book: The first book in English by acclaimed Chinese-Canadian writer Xue Yiwei, Shenzheners is inspired by the young city of Shenzhen, a market town north of Hong Kong that became a Special Economic Zone in 1980 as an experiment in introducing capitalism to Communist China. A city in which everyone is a newcomer, Shenzhen has grown astronomically to become a major metropolitan centre. Hailed as a Chinese Dubliners, the original collection was named one of the Most Influential Chinese Books of the Year in 2013, with most of the stories appearing in Best Chinese Stories.

Why we're taking notice: See description as to the book's acclaim at its original publication. This one sounds terrific. 

September 29, 2016
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