2020 | Best fiction in translation
Updated: Dec 9, 2020
From bestselling French crime novelist Olivier Norek dressing a portrait of the suburbs of Paris to a powerful memoir by the talented Annie Ernaux dealing with shame and desire, 2020 has proven to be a year ripe in novels reminding us of the fragility and complexity of human life. In our top, more about the Charlie Hebdo attacks, sexual awakening and loneliness can also be found.
The Living Days, Ananda Devi, translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman | Les Fugitives
A chance encounter on Portobello Road incites an unsettling, magnetic attraction between Mary an elderly spinster, and Cub a boy from Brixton. As they get to know each other, struggles to deal with loneliness, desperation and class conflict become more obvious and will eventually collide into an astonishing end. While the burgeoning love story might feel slightly unsettling at start, Mauritan author and poet Ananda Devi eventually dresses a singular portrait of the multi-ethnic London metropolis.
Disturbance, Philippe Lançon, translated by Steven Rendall | Europa Editions
Paris, January 7, 2015. Two terrorists claiming allegiance to ISIS attack the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo. Philippe Lançon contributor to the satirical newspaper is seriously wounded in the attack. This intense life experience upends his relationship to the world: reading and writing, love and friendship all become difficult. As he attempts to reconstruct his life, Lançon rereads Marcel Proust, Thomas Mann and other authors in search of guidance. Disturbance is a powerful story about resilience which soon enough will become an everlasting classic.
A Girl’s Story, Annie Ernaux, translated by Tanya Leslie | Fitzcarraldo Editions
Annie Ernaux revisits the summer of 1958, her first away from home, when she worked as a holiday camp instructor in Normandy and recounts her first sexual experience. Fifty years later she is ready to reconsider the memories of that young girl. Initially too ashamed to acknowledge what had happened, the revered French author now unapologetically explores female desire while retracing the origins of her identity as a woman and an artist. Another remarkable piece in Ernaux's unique autobiographical puzzle.
The Lost and the Damned, Olivier Norek, translated by Nick Caistor | Hachette UK
The Lost and the Damned is the first part of a trilogy by crime writer and former police-lieutenant Olivier Norek. Published in French as 'Code 93', the intrigue takes places in Seine-Saint-Denis also known as the '93'. Captain Victor Coste goes out to solve crimes in a dangerous estate, breeding grounds for drug traffics and radical Islam. Norek stays away from the cliches surrounding both the neighbourhood and the stereotypical divorced, tired alcoholic. Most of facts are true and if you are a fan of the TV series Spiral, you will like this novel too.
All men want to know, Nina Bouraoui, translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins | Penguin Books
By alternating between passages of her childhood in a sun-soaked Algeria and of her life in 1980s Paris, Bouraoui develops themes of exile, shame and homosexuality. She dresses a warm portrait of a complex mother-daughter relationship. We follow her while she makes her way to The Kat a legendary gay nightclub, where she watches women from the sidelines, afraid of her own desires. In her solitude, she starts to write - and finds herself writing about her mother. All Men Want to Know became a national hit from the moment it was published and it is now finally available in English.