Want to explore something new in literature? Try these brilliant translated books from recent months plus a few you may have missed.
Reading foreign language literature is an eye-opening experience. It takes you out of the comfort zone of a familiar canon and offers a fresh perspective on the world and its history. It lets you enter a mind with a viewpoint often thoroughly different from yours. But most importantly, it is insanely refreshing.
Our personal favorite is definitely Sofía Segovia’s brilliant novel The Murmur of Bees. Magically written, it transports you to a world of child-like wonder and booms with rich descriptions of nature. But, above all, it mesmerizes like no other book can.
One of our selected books – Masaji Ishikawa’s River in Darkness – was published by Amazon Crossing, the leading publisher of award-winning and bestselling translated books in the US. Make sure to check out the full list for some more world literature page-turners.
This list features some of our favorite picks from all around the world – Brazil, Japan, North Korea, Israel; there’s a brilliant fantasy series, a thought-provoking Man Booker finalist, an enchanting magical realist read, a gripping autobiography, and many more.
Read on to find out which titles made the list.
10 best world literature books translated into English
1. The Silver Music Box
Mina Baites, translated by Alison Layland
Before setting off to serve in the German military in the First World War, Johann Blumenthal gifts his son with a beautiful silver music box, crafted in his family’s jewelry shop. For Paul, with love.
But while his father may not make it back, the music box will stay with the family for many generations to come during the family’s struggle to survive the atrocities of World War II.
This sweeping tale shows the slow, horrid birth of Holocaust. With its exquisite writing, blunt honesty, and gripping plot, it is guaranteed to educate, absorb, and make you reflect.
Category: War Fiction
Length: 265 pages
2. The Murmur of Bees
Sofía Segovia, translated by Simon Bruni
When Nana Reja found an abandoned infant covered in a buzzing cloak of bees and decided to bring him home, the life of her family was forever changed. Simonopio, marred by a disfigured face and accompanied everywhere by a gently humming swarm of bees, is no ordinary child. Kissed by the devil, some villagers say.
But his new family welcomed him as their own and soon, even the most superstitious of the townspeople began to accept him as well.
As he grew up, yet another wonder began to unfold – when he closes his eyes, Simonopio can see what no one else sees: prophetic visions of what is yet to come, images both beautiful and dangerous.
Mysterious and beguiling, The Murmur of Bees is a gourmet delight for magical realism lovers and one in a lifetime enchanting read.
Category: Historical Caribbean & Latin American Fiction, Small Town & Rural Fiction
Length: 471 pages
3. A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea
Japan / N. Korea
Masaji Ishikawa, translated by Risa Kobayashi and Martin Brown
Half-Korean, half Japanese. Not fully one, not fully another.
Masaji Ishikawa has felt like a man without a country for a long time now. So when his family decides to move to North Korea, lured by the promises of ample job offers, brilliant education and a higher status in the society, thirteen-year-old Masaji hopes it will serve as a new beginning.
But where there was supposed to be paradise, there are wastelands. High status turned out to be the lowest social caste, and the family is now alienated and looked down upon. For the next thirty-six years spent living under a totalitarian regime.
This powerful, eye-opening memoir sounds like fiction taken straight out of a George Orwell novel.
Category: Biographies of Social Activists
Length: 174 pages
4. The Elven
Bernhard Hennen and James A. Sullivan, translated by Edwin Miles
Mandred, a human and Jarl of a village called Firnstayn, cares deeply about his people. So after a mysterious manboar starts to kill their animals one by one, he sets out to hunt him down. But soon he finds out the threat is much, much bigger – and that the manboar is, in fact, a demon, who not only puts his people in peril but threatens to destroy other kinds too.
Desperate, he pleads the elven queen Emerelle for help. Together with two strongest warriors in Albenmark: Farodin, the fiercest fighter, and Nuramon, the greatest healer, they set out on an epic quest to save their worlds, woven with loyalty, honor, betrayal, forgiveness, and passion.
This brilliant fantasy novel is already revered in Germany, and now it starts to take the rest of the world by storm too. While at times familiar to those who enjoy J. R. R. Tolkien or George R. R. Martin, it is also refreshingly unique – making it an absolute must-read for fantasy lovers.
Category: Dragons & Mythical Creatures Fantasy
Length: 765 pages
5. The Price of Paradise
Susana López Rubio, translated by Achy Obejas
It’s 1947. Carrying only a bag of clothes and a hopeful smile on his face, Patricio decides to drop his current unsatisfactory life in Spain and set out to Havana, a paradise on earth. Luckily, his good looks and magnetic personality manage to get him a job, and his new exciting life begins.
With its extravagance and luxury, Havana will enthrall everyone. There are Hollywood VIPs. There are influential politicians and millionaires. But there are also some people whose paths you’d rather not cross, including the dangerous mobster César Valdés.
So, naturally, Patricio falls in love with the criminal’s wife.
Category: 20th Century Historical Romance
Length: 374 pages
6. The Flying Mountain
Christopher Ransmayr, translated by Simon Pare
Two Irish brothers, Liam and Pádraic, decide to set out on a trip of their lifetime to the Trans-Himalaya mountains of eastern Tibet, planning to discover a yet unclimbed peak Phur-Ri. It is a story of two men who, even though having nothing in common, love each other. Who fight, who grow, who learn to accept. But only one of the brothers will return home.
What makes The Flying Mountain so unique is the fact that it consists entirely of blank verse – ‘flying lines’, what the author likes to call it. Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018, this read is pure magic.
Length: 392 pages
7. A Horse Walks Into a Bar
David Grossman, translated by Jessica Cohen
Renowned Israeli author David Grossman is known for many things – such as the grave tone and a unique profound weight to his works. But bubbliness is not one of them.
This is why his most recent work, A Horse Walks into a Bar, shocks with the title being a long played-out joke. But don’t be fooled – this is definitely not a light-hearted read.
A two-hour stand-up comedy show in Israel takes an unexpected turn when the comic faces a personal crisis while performing and a much more profound story begins to take shape. Juggling between hilarity and hysteria, the performer makes some chilling revelations about his dark past, altering the lives of many of those in attendance.
Category: Dark Humor
Length: 208 pages
8. Never Stop Walking: A Memoir of Finding Home Across the World
Sweden / Brazil
Christina Rickardsson, translated by Tara F. Chace
Christiana Mara Coelho’s childhood memories are much different than those of an ordinary person. Growing up in a cave in the outskirts of a small town in Brazil in the 1980s, she recalls shaking with fear at the sound of the blood-chilling growling of a jaguar outside.
Her entire world turns upside down when, after a life in an orphanage, she moves to Sweden to start from the beginning with a new family, and becomes Christina Rickardsson.
In this eye-opening memoir, she explores both the life she was born into and the one she was given.
Category: Ethnic & National Biographies
Length: 249 pages
9. Convenience Store Woman
Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori
Keiko has never felt like she belonged. She has always felt like a misfit – to her family, to her peers, to her city. So when she takes a job at a newly opened convenience store and finally begins to feel like she fits in, she finds purpose and peace in her life.
At last, she slowly starts to grasp the rules of social interaction, playing the part of a “normal” person better and better every day, and she becomes attached to the store.
So attached that eighteen years pass by, and she finds herself as a thirty-six-year-old single lady stuck at working at a convenience store. Pressured by her parents, she is forced to take desperate action.
Convenience Store Woman is a quick, compelling read that charms with its quirky but endearing main character and unusual storyline. Loved in Japan, it won its most prestigious literary award – Akutagawa Prize – and is slowly beginning to enchant non-Japanese readers as well.
Category: City Life Fiction
Length: 176 pages
10. The Elephant Keeper’s Daughter
Julia Drosten, translated by Deborah Rachel Langton
Sri Lanka, 1803. When a daughter is born to a royal elephant keeper, the line of succession is threatened. So, for twelve years, Phera’s parents raise her as a boy, teach how to take care of the elephants and follow the footsteps as a son.
But everything changes when the British invade.
This brutally honest and thought-provoking story will not let you put it down.
Category: Historical Asian Fiction
Length: 295 pages
Hungry for more? Here are other lists and round-ups to explore:
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