Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.
A few weeks back, I shared the titles that I wish to feature for our #ReadIntl2020 theme. I just realized that I have yet to do a quick round-up of my top ten international books read halfway through the year.
I am keeping track of my progress through this page which reveals that I have read and featured 50 titles coming from 26 countries, across 14 languages thus far, including the ones I am sharing here today. This does not include the titles I read but have not shared here for some reason. Do check out my Goodreads account to see all the books I have read and currently reading this year.
I have reviewed possibly half of the ten titles, while sharing five titles here for the first time along with my very brief impressions about the novels.
List Of Top Ten International (Translated) Titles I Have Read For Our #ReadIntl2020 Theme – Ranked with 10 as my most favourite
(1) Irretrievable by Theodor Fontane (translated from German by Douglas Parmee and an Afterword by Phillip Lopate) (Amazon | Book Depository)
I have reviewed this NYRB book which I read specifically for my #NYRBBookClub over at Litsy here. Do not get me wrong, it is not that I disliked the novel. In fact, I was intrigued by it – the time period, the depiction of royalty – but it never really held my attention. There was just a distance to the storytelling that I could not bridge as a reader.
(02) I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (translated from Icelandic by Philip Roughton) (Amazon | Book Depository) (Literary Award: Glass Key Award Nominee, 2012; Original Title: Ég man þig)
I love horror stories – they appeal to the darkness in me. This Icelandic story started out very creepy and quite strong – with two different narratives juxtaposed with each other – converging together in the end. It is indeed a ghost story that initially began as somewhat credible and suspenseful. Yet as the story progressed, the creep factor diminished and I found myself unable to suspend disbelief, with the pieces force-fitted into certain places without really working so well. The multiple infidelities with its trite rationalizations also did not particularly sit well with me – creating cardboard characters with very little complexity, which is a pity since there was so much promise in the beginning. Despite this, I must say that I still enjoyed reading it, especially at night, before going to bed. It kept me riveted, as I tried to unravel exactly where the story is going.
(03) The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski (translated from Polish by Danusia Stok) (Amazon | Book Depository)
I reviewed this fantasy novel here a few months back. I have been meaning to read the rest of the books in the series, but all my other virtual book clubs have been demanding me to read other titles first. More than the pacing and the worldbuilding aspect of the novel, I especially liked its voice: very distinct, self-deprecating, witty.
(04) The Invisibility Cloak by Ge Fei (translated from the Chinese by Canaan Morse) (Amazon | Book Depository)
So I read this book because of our #NYRBBookClub which, as you can see, has been encouraging me to go on literary journeys, clearly. This is a fairly thin novel, which can be read over one weekend. Set in contemporary Beijing, it tells the story of a fairly ordinary man whose life is made richer by his refined, highly-discerning audiophile’s tastes – for which he is recognized and sought-for in his small circle of fellow audiophiles. There is also adultery, a search for a second wife not for romance but for pragmatic reasons, unexpected and questionable deaths, sleazy characters made more menacing for the strategic lack of information and the subtle way that Ge Fei writes. An enjoyable read.
(05) Baba Dunja’s Last Love by Alina Bronsky (translated from German by Tim Mohr) (Amazon | Book Depository)
Baba Dunja has decided in her retirement age, to go back to her hometown in Ukraine, notwithstanding the fact that it is considered a dead zone – more like a ghost town, really – with all the radiation. She is not what one would consider a cantankerous old woman, because she is fairly sensible, gentle, but also firm and no-nonsense.
Oftentimes, narratives about old women highlight their age and supposed wisdom; but in this story, Baba Dunja is simply a woman who happens to be old and it is clear that she is highly regarded by the community – mainly because she is decisive and has a grounded sense of what she wants done and how to do it. Her age is merely a matter of fact, rather than serving as a trope that limits the character.
Baba Dunja is complex, full-bodied, and definitely portrayed as more than just any old woman, while also owning the fact that she is an old woman – with her recollections of a not-so-ideal but also not-too-bad marriage, memories of her sexy feet, and her subtle yearning to get to know her granddaughter who lives in Germany and who happens to be a stranger to her. How she ended up in prison, I shall leave for you to discover. Baba Dunja has a fascinating voice, and I look forward to reading more of Alina Bronsky’s novels.
(06) Incidental Inventions by Elena Ferrante (translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein) and with illustrations by Andrea Ucini (Amazon | Book Depository)
I chanced upon this book by accident while going through the Europa Editions catalogue on Book Depository. Naturally, I had to purchase it immediately – because I will read anything that Elena Ferrante writes, including her year-long collection of short essays written for The Guardian. I reviewed this book a few weeks ago here, and I am now reminded that I will need to get to her Frantumaglia soonest.
(07) No Friend But The Mountains by Behrouz Boochani (translated from Farsi by Omid Tofighian) (Amazon | Book Depository)
I read this book early this year and refrained from featuring it – mainly because I am saving my review for the last quarter of the year (October – December) when we announce our Voices from the Fringe: Human Rights and Social Justice reading theme. Just in case you were wondering, this was taken while my family and I drove up Jebel Hafit, one of the gorgeous mountains here in Al Ain. Do watch out for my forthcoming review.
(08) Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa (translated from Japanese by Stephen Snyder) (Amazon | Book Depository)
I received this book early this year as part of our #HorrorPostalBookClub at Litsy. A book club friend from Germany sent me this book which was originally picked out by another book club member from New Mexico. I am supposed to send this over to the next person (based in Seattle) in our rotation – but I am waiting for the final two books to arrive before I do that, especially with things being as they are – with the difficulties in posting books, and so forth.
Among all the books we have read for this postal book club with members coming from Canada, US, Spain, Germany, and myself from the United Arab Emirates – this must be one of my favourites. I feel that each short story is like a mentor text in writing. There is horror, yes, but more like the horror of everyday life and all its missteps, wrong turns that have turned into irrevocable life choices, and the strange / eerie interconnections through an entangled web of decisions we make that we never even see coming. Each story is like a satisfying morsel from an afternoon at the bakery or a chance encounter at the Museum of Torture – every single one distinct, unforgettable, and intelligently crafted. This is a beautiful book.
(09) The Book Of Disquiet: The Complete Edition by Fernando Pessoa (translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and edited by Jeronimo Pizarro) (Amazon | Book Depository)
This must be one of the trippiest books I have ever read – also one of the more challenging. I really endeavoured to finish it, despite my mind being blown – sometimes, not in very good ways, as I was reading it. See my full review of Pessoa’s psychedelic writing here.
(10) Iza’s Ballad by Magda Szabo (translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes (Amazon | Book Depository)
Among all the international titles that I have read this year, I would have to say that this one remains my favourite. We still have a few months left in 2020, so there might be a few changes by the end of the year. I feel that my appreciation of the novel has grown even more with our #NYRBBookClub discussion a few months ago. See here for my full review along with the discussion questions we came up with.