2018 Reading Challenge: A Book in Translation

In this contemporary novel, three passionate and artistic boys—a poet, a pianist, and a photographer—meet in 1950s Moscow as schoolmates. As they grow, they come to embody the experiences that have filled Russian novels for centuries: love, exile, censorship, secrets, spies, and identity. Impressively, <em>Kirkus</em> calls this "Worthy of shelving alongside <em>Doctor Zhivago</em>."
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This is the first installment of Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, which revolves around the friendship between Elena and Lila. This book begins when the girls are in first grade and carries them through adolescence. I picked this up from my local bookstore's blind date with a book shelf: the bookseller had described it as "a masterpiece you probably haven’t read yet. (Three and a half years later, booksellers can no longer say that with confidence!) Originally written in Italian and beautifully translated by Ann Goldstein. (Hot tip: I LOVED this series on audio.)
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This quirky little book is unlike anything I've ever read. Keiko was an uncommon child with worried parents until she takes on a job in a convenience store. They relax that she's found a pleasant and predictable routine while at university. But eighteen years later, she is still working her low-level job, and doesn't understand why society expects more from her than that. In fact, she doesn't seem to understand society's expectations—or how to conform to them—at all. Hot tip: critics are comparing Keiko to French heroine Amélie, although the two live different lives in different worlds.
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This book has gotten tons of buzz this year; I've heard it called a "guilty pleasure" more than once. Myriam and her husband find Louise, the perfect, mannerly, devoted nanny who cleans, sings to the kids, and is the envy of all. But as the couple become more and more dependent on her, jealousy and suspicion fester. Originally written in French and translated by Sam Taylor.
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This is the story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who dreams of treasure and sets off on a journey to find it, meeting all kinds of interesting characters along the way. This little book has been on the bestseller lists for years and has over a million ratings on Goodreads.
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Readers with great taste have been telling me to read Lackberg for <em>years</em>, because of my love of Tana French. (She's also frequently compared to Stieg Larsson.) The story in this novel, Lackberg's U.S. debut, centers around Erica, a writer who returns to her hometown to bury her parents and begin work on her next book. But when Erica's best friend dies in an apparent suicide, she slowly realizes that this no longer the same town she grew up in, and its secrets are now dark, and deep.
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Enthusiastic readers have finally convinced me to add this tome to my TBR. Called the greatest novel ever written, a philosophical study, a historic epic of the Napoleonic Wars, chock full of characters, and often compared to Homer. Originally written in Russian, and translated numerous times—from Dunnigan to Garnett to Maude to Edmonds. Scholar and author Andrew D. Kaufman recommends the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation.
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A wonderful and moving memoir. Following a catastrophic stroke, Jean-Dominique Bauby spent several weeks in a coma, then wakened to a new reality. The 44-year-old sharp, high-living editor of French Elle was now a victim of "locked-in syndrome": he was mentally alert but unable to move or speak. Through sheer determination and a dose of the miraculous, Bauby learns a new way to communicate: by blinking to "speak," selecting one letter at a time, as someone read aloud a new alphabet rearranged in order of the letters' frequency of use. The diving bell of the title is the sheer weight of his useless body, but the butterfly is the human spirit that flies free.
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This atmospheric novel is built around a literary mystery: who is Julián Carax, and why is someone systematically burning his books? After I got oriented I couldn't turn the pages fast enough: I loved the post-war Barcelona setting, the rich cast of characters, and the surprising twists and turns the story took. The plot description reminds me of personal favorites The Thirteenth Tale and The Distant Hours. From Entertainment Weekly: "Wonderous... masterful... The Shadow of the Wind is ultimately a love letter to literature, intended for readers as passionate about storytelling as its young hero." This is a lifetime favorite of several readers I know with great taste.
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Fashion, romance, and ... espionage. If you loved Casablanca, try this novel set during the Spanish civil war. Sira Quiroga works her way from dressmaker's assistant to a premier couturier, putting her in contact with the wealthy and powerful. When the British government asks her to spy for them as World War II gears up, she agrees, stitching secret messages into the hems of dresses. Translated from the Spanish, and the dialogue is a little bumpy in places, but the story is worth it. Is it perfect? No way. But engrossing? Definitely.
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Setting: Tokyo, 1984. A young woman begins to notice troubling discrepancies in the world around her, which makes her think she's living in a parallel reality, which she names 1Q84, the "Q" standing for "question." The two storylines converge over the course of the year, exploring fantasy, self-discovery, religion, love, and loneliness. The translation itself has been highly praised. On my TBR because a friend who loves it calls it "the longest book you'll never, not once, lose interest in."
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“Happy families are all alike;” begins this classic novel, “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” If you’ve never read Anna Karenina, a great time to find out why William Faulkner called this novel “the best ever written.” Whether or not you agree, you’ll be glad you read it.
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This was a hard read because of the content but so, so good. Backman's latest novel is set in a backwater Swedish town whose glory days are gone—except when it comes to hockey. In Beartown, hockey is everything, and the players on the boys' A-team have god-like status. But this isn't just a hockey story. One night after a huge win, the teens throw a raucous party to celebrate—and what happens there splinters the community. Part coming-of-age story, part community-in-crisis, completely fabulous. (And I don't care a bit about hockey, so that's saying something.) Heads up, readers: triggers abound. If you've read and enjoyed Backman in the past, you'll recognize his skillful prose, but not the tone: this novel bears none of the whimsy of his previous work.
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When a pilot crash-lands his plane in the Sahara, he meets a charming young prince who’s fallen to earth from his tiny home planet, Asteroid B-612. This timeless tale is whimsical and wise, with just the right amount of absurdity. The watercolor illustrations spring to life in this gorgeous pop-up edition.
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I've been meaning to read this Man Booker Prize winner since Jennifer Weiner said, "I find myself thinking about it weeks after I finished." Critics describe it as "Kafka-esque", and reader friends with great taste have said this strange (and sometimes disturbing) story delivers a unique and absorbing reading experience. Originally written in Korean and translated by Deborah Smith.
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If you want to tidy up once and for all, this is the best kick in the pants you can get for ten bucks. This book is more than a little woo-woo, but her extreme approach to decluttering WORKS. Kondo is a Japanese personal tidying expert (she doesn’t like to call herself an “organizer”). She originally wrote her decluttering manifesto to help the Japanese clients languishing on her waiting list. Not all translations are good translations, but this one has been praised for preserving the quirkiness of her voice. (It's quirky, all right.) I love this book (more thoughts on that here).
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This slim book is just what the title says it is—seven brief lessons on physics—about Einstein's theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, elementary particles, black holes, probability, time, and humans. Rovelli's writing is elegant and poetic, and attainable for the non-scientist. If you're a hardcover lover (or gifter), the book itself is beautiful. On my TBR because a wide variety of readers with great taste have raved about it. Originally written in Italian and translated by Simon Carnell and Erica Segre.
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This French novel has been languishing on my TBR list for a few years. It was first published in its home country in 2005 and in the United States in 2008 (as a gorgeous Europa edition). The critics love it: notably, it was longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award for Fiction in 2009. My readerly friends are split: some love it, some hate it, some say it's over their heads. I intend to read it for myself. (I've been warned to not give up until Mr. Ozu shows up.)
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