International Fiction

Staff PicksNortheast Library

International Fiction

It’s good to leave town and be anywhere but DC when the heatwave hits us in July and August. But if for whatever reason this summer you’re stuck and the prospect of vacation isn’t even looming in the horizon of your dreams, don’t fret; instead, let’s explore the world through fiction. Below are some of the best translated works of fiction from Norway, Mexico, France, and Indonesia.  

I Refuse, by Per Petterson
A huge success in Norway, Per Petterson’s new book, I Refuse, opens with a one-word sentence: “dark.”  This sets the melancholic tone of the story of two childhood friends, Jim and Tommy, now in their 50's, who encounter each other one morning on a bridge. This accidental meeting that occurs after more than three decades of distance causes disruption to both of their lives. “Thirty-five years ago, [...the] two boys were everything to each other. Without Jim, Tommy might not have made it.” (from book cover.) Back then, Tommy’s future headed for failure due to his abusive father and separation from his family, but now he has become a successful businessman driving a Mercedes. On the other hand, Jim, who grew up in an educated and seemingly functional family, has had a hard time making it. He finally becomes a librarian, but has developed a disease that keeps him from working. Over the course of the day, the lives of Tommy and Jim will be forever changed. I Refuse is the work of an internationally acclaimed novelist at his best.

The Body Where I Was Born: a Novel,  by Guadalupe Nettel
The Body Where I Was Born is the autobiographical story of girl who, from the couch of a psychoanalyst, looks back at her childhood and her painful memories of growing up in Mexico City with a birth defect on her right eye that her mother adamantly insists on fixing. Following her parents’ separation, her father ends up in jail, and while her mother moves to France to work on a doctorate, the little girl has to live with her grandmother. “With raw language and a brilliant sense of humor, both delicate and unafraid, Nettel strings together hard-won, unwieldy memories—taking us from Mexico City to Aix-en-Provence, France, then back home again—to create a portrait of the artist as a young girl.” (from Seven Stories Press.) Guadalupe Nettel is an award-­winning novelist and one of the most talked-about writers in Spanish literature from Mexico.
The Heartby Maylis De Kerangal
A bestseller in France, The Heart is the story of a teenage boy involved in a fatal car accident on his way home from a beautiful Sunday morning surfing. Declared brain-dead shortly after his arrival at the hospital, the boy’s heart still beats, and his parents must decide whether to allow his heart to be removed for a transplant and given to a woman close to death. “In gorgeous, ruminative prose Maylis De Kerangal examines the deepest feelings of everyone involved—grieving parents, hardworking doctors and nurses—as they navigate decisions of life and death.” (from book cover.) Maylis de Kerangal is France’s new literary star.

Beauty Is a Wound, by Eka Kurniawan
Eka Kurniawan is the first Indonesian writer to be nominated for a Man Booker International Prize. Beauty Is a Wound is an adventure of epic proportions, from Indonesia’s Dutch Colonial days and Japanese wartime occupation during WII, to its struggles into independence as a modern state. Kurniawan weaves a captivating tale of an extended Indonesian family “beset by incest, murder, bestiality, rape, and often fiercely vengeful undead.” (from book cover.) We follow the characters back and forth in time through marriages, deaths and everything in between that expands through a century. The book astonishes the reader from its opening line with its magic realism lure: “One afternoon on a weekend in May, Dewi Ayu [the beautiful Indo prostitute] rose from her grave after being dead for twenty-one years […] she had passed away at fifty-two, rose again after being dead for twenty-one years, and from that point forward nobody knew exactly how to calculate her age.” Beauty Is a Wound is the English-language debut of a celebrated Indonesian author.
The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli
Named one of the best books of 2015 by The New York Times, NPR, The Guardian, Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among others, The Story of My Teeth is the tale of Gustavo 'Highway' Sanchez Sanchez, the protagonist of Luiselli's wonderful novel, who proclaims to be the world’s best auctioneer and who auctions his own teeth. Though rotten teeth are not valuable objects, Mr. 'Highway' depicts the auctioneering methods used to increase their value: “I wasn’t just a lowly seller of objects but, first and foremost, a lover and collector of good stories, which is the only honest way of modifying the value of an object.” "A combination of memoir, fiction, art criticism, and autobiographical reflection, this is a remarkable story about stories [...]" (Natalie Ferris.) Valeria Luiselli’s writing style is modern and sharp, and her playfulness with narrative form makes The Story of My Teeth an entertaining and quick read.