The best recent translated fiction – review roundup | Fiction in translation

The best recent translated fiction – review roundup | Fiction in translation

Delivery by Margarita García Robayo

The Delivery by Margarita García Robaya, translated by Megan McDowell (Charco, £11.99)
A young Colombian woman living in Argentina is estranged from her family but still in touch with her sister, who sends regular packages. One day a huge crate arrives that occupies the whole living room: it contains her mother. “I don’t want to bother you,” she says. “Did you eat breakfast?” As our narrator adjusts to becoming a daughter again (“Aside from heavy food and popular tourist information, what else did she bring?”), she also has to work for an ad agency, writing an “appealing story about a cow who is happy … so her meat will be optimal”. And she must deal with disputes between neighbours, who “tore down walls and more walls until they created not space, but emptiness”. This multi-centred novel (family, work, home) contains everything: death, life and all the stuff in between.

The Book of Paradise by Itzik Manger

The Book of Paradise by Itzik Manger, translated by Robert Adler Peckerar (Pushkin, £10.99)
A rambunctious fantasy, first published in 1937 against the rise of antisemitism in Europe, it tells the story of a young man expelled from Paradise back to Earth, where he is born with a cry of “Good Shabbos to you, Mama!” Once arrived, Samuel regales the local rabbi with tales of his previous life (“compared to Paradise canaries, Earth birds are just chickenshit”). His account is at once irreverent and steeped in Torah culture, as he sneaks around King David’s estate, experiences the sharp end of Solomon’s wisdom, and eavesdrops on Adam and Eve. “That verfluchte snake, she talked me into it.” Manger, a Yiddish “poet of the people” who was born in what is now Ukraine, called this his happiest book, and planned (but never wrote) two sequels, The Book of the Earth and The Book of the World of Chaos. No matter: there is enough chaos here, and joy, to be going on with.

The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada

The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada, translated by David Boyd (Granta, £12.99)
The blurb for this brilliantly strange novella compares it to Kafka and Beckett, but Magnus Mills meets Hitchcock would be more accurate. Three Japanese people talk about their employment in The Factory, a place where “everyone has at least one family member”. The jobs are purposeless: one worker is on the “shredder squad”; another tasked with roofing the entire factory in moss – and where are all those large black birds coming from? This is more than just a workplace satire, where the staff mental health guide is called Goodbye to All Your Problems and Mine. There’s a blend of the banal and the outrageous that we recognise from a certain strain of modern Japanese literature, and the delivery is exquisite, making comedy even from a local pervert known as the Forest Fairy Pantser. As the workers toil and their voices blur, it all leads to a question simultaneously outraged and amused: “What the hell is wrong with the world?”

Nothing Belongs to You by Nathacha Appanah (Author), Jeffrey Zuckerman (Translator)

Nothing Belongs to You by Nathacha Appanah, translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman (MacLehose, £12)
“For a long time,” recalls Tara, the narrator, “I was sure everyone around me, everyone I loved, was eternal.” But her husband Emmanuel died three months ago – “an event that left us with nothing” – and her stepson Eli is concerned about her state of mind, as destructive thoughts crash over her like the waves that feature throughout the book. Then we learn about her past: Tara is not her real name, but Vijaya; she was born a privileged girl in a “devastated country”, and her dissident parents were killed. The descriptions of her happy childhood, including her joy in dancing, are all the more powerful for the knowledge of what is to come. This is a novel of exceptional emotional force, where the reader can only nod when Vijaya cries: “This heart, this damned heart, should have known that it did no good to open itself up.”

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