Catherine Leroux watched the story unfold on the nightly news. A woman's skeleton had been found in the woods near Montreal's Royal Victoria Hospital. Even though authorities tried everything to identify the body: auditing hospital records, forensic facial reconstruction, DNA testing—she remains a mystery. They named her Madame Victoria and placed her bones in an evidence room. Leroux, fascinated by the possibilities of this woman's life, constructs several possible life stories for her in this unique collection of re-imaginings.
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.)
Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich shares stories of women's experiences in WWII "on the front lines, on the home front, and in occupied territories" in this oral history. A powerful collection of untold true stories of sacrifice, patriotism, and danger. Sensitive readers take note: these accounts include gruesome war stories and violence in detail. This would make an excellent pairing with Kate Quinn's The Alice Network or The Huntress.
This sweeping family saga is set in Chile, China, and California. When Eliza Sommers' lover disappears during the Gold Rush, she leaves Chile to search for him. But things turn as she unexpectedly stumbles upon a life and love she never expected. I had to look up if Allende originally wrote this 1998 novel in Spanish and ... yep. The translation by Margaret Sayers Peden feels seamless.
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.
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.
From the publisher: "Tsukiko, thirty-eight, works in an office and lives alone. One night, she happens to meet one of her former high school teachers, "Sensei," in a local bar. Tsukiko had only ever called him "Sensei" ("Teacher"). He is thirty years her senior, retired, and presumably a widower. Their relationship develops from a perfunctory acknowledgment of each other as they eat and drink alone at the bar, to a hesitant intimacy which tilts awkwardly and poignantly into love. As Tsukiko and Sensei grow to know and love one another, time's passing is marked by Kawakami's gentle hints at the changing seasons: from warm sake to chilled beer, from the buds on the trees to the blooming of the cherry blossoms. Strange Weather in Tokyo is a moving, funny, and immersive tale of modern Japan and old-fashioned romance."
- by Anne Serre
Mel Joulwan convinced me to read this super-short French novel when she described it as a "naughty fairy tale" in WSIRN Episode 219, called "Required reading revisited." This novel was published in France in 1992 but not translated into English until 2018. In this lush story with Gothic vibes, three mysterious sisters dwell in an isolated mansion behind a golden gate, ever-watchful that an unsuspecting man will stumble upon the garden path, that they may first bewitch and then devour him. Smart, magical, playful—and also A LOT darker than I expected; "naughty" doesn't begin to cover it. (Content warnings for sexual assault and other sexual content.)
A National Book Award finalist and Winner of the 2019 Albertine Prize and Lambda Literary Award, and countless other literary awards (this checks a lot of boxes for the <a href="https://modernmrsdarcy.com/reading-challenge-2020/">2020 MMD Reading Challenge</a>). At the age of ten, Kimiâ Sadr fled Iran with her mother and sisters to join their father in France. Now 25, Kimiâ sits in the waiting room of a Paris fertility clinic while generations of Sadr ancestors visit her, flooding her with memories, history, and stories. Merging a sweeping family story with factual Iranian history, this semi-biographical novel explores cultural and sexual identity, family tradition, and storytelling as a means of finding oneself.
- by Maja Lunde
Told in alternating perspectives, this Norwegian novel weaves two stories together to form an apocalyptic story about family and survival. In 2019, seventy-year-old Signe takes to the ocean on a harrowing mission to cross in a sailboat, driven by lost love. Years later, following a worldwide water shortage in 2041, David and his daughter Lou flee drought-ravaged Southern Europe on a mission to reunite with their family. Along their journey, they find artifacts and belongings from Signe's adventure, and their stories merge.
Set in the village of al-Awafi in Oman, this prize-winning family saga is the first book by a female Omani author to be translated into English. The story follows three sisters who take different paths, marrying in heartbreak, marrying for duty, and refusing to marry. Through their stories, every part of Oman society is revealed along with family histories. Told in alternating perspectives with a wide array of characters, the finely-woven stories require attentive reading.
Gustavo "Highway" Sanchez Sanchez is a traveler, story-teller, and auctioneer who proudly possesses the teeth of "notorious infamous" people like Plato, Marilyn Monroe, or Virginia Woolf. In what Luiselli calls a "novel-essay," she takes the reader on Highway's journey through Mexico City with literary references, stories, and a unique creative collaboration. She wrote this short book with the help of workers at the Jumex Juice Factory, sharing each piece with them book-club-style and shaping the story based on their comments and reactions.