Never have I been so happy to see the year change. As distressing as it was, 2020 was still a brilliant year for reading – as you can see from my personal Best Books of 2020 list – and while I’m hoping that 2021 will be as different to its predecessor as possible, this is one aspect I’d really rather didn’t change. Fortunately, having had a peek at forthcoming titles from inspired independent publishers such as Charco Press, Fitzcarraldo Editions, Comma Press, Istros Books and Fum d’Estampa, I feel fairly sure we’ll be on solid reading ground.
Although January seems like a great time to hunker down and dive into some of the thicker books I was given for Christmas, I’m behind on my December reviews and so have downsized when it comes to page count for this month. Still, I’m starting the year as I mean to go on with a very healthy dose of translation – all four of my January titles are translated into English. Two are giving me the chance to catch up on titles I’m missing from last year’s Booker International shortlist, while the other two are published by independent presses – another area I want to focus on even more this year.
New for 2021 – another resolution – is the German title joining my reading list every month. The vast majority of these will be as yet untranslated into English and will hopefully provide some inspiration for publishers or other translators.
And so I’m welcoming in the new year as follows:
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (Vintage)
What the publisher says: ‘Hat, ribbon, bird, rose. To the people on the island, a disappeared thing no longer has any meaning. It can be burned in the garden, thrown in the river or handed over to the Memory Police. Soon enough, the island forgets it ever existed. When a young novelist discovers that her editor is in danger of being taken away by the Memory Police, she desperately wants to save him. For some reason, he doesn’t forget, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for him to hide his memories. Who knows what will vanish next? The Memory Police is a beautiful, haunting and provocative fable about the power of memory and the trauma of loss, from one of Japan’s greatest writers.’
Sleepless by Anders Bortne, translated from the Norwegian by Lucy Moffatt (Sandstone Press)
What the publisher says: ‘Anders Bortne enjoys a good life in Oslo. Happily married with two delightful children, he works as a speechwriter and has a cartoon strip in the newspaper. But Anders has been sleepless for sixteen years and it’s taking a toll. No remedy has gone untested; not one has worked. Perhaps the solution is closer than he thinks…’
The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijnveld, translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchison (Faber & Faber)
What the publisher says: ‘Ten-year-old Jas has a unique way of experiencing her universe: the feeling of udder ointment on her skin as protection against harsh winters; the texture of green warts, like capers, on migrating toads; the sound of ‘blush words’ that aren’t in the Bible. But when a tragic accident ruptures the family, her curiosity warps into a vortex of increasingly disturbing fantasies – unlocking a darkness that threatens to derail them all. A bestselling sensation in the Netherlands, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s radical debut novel is studded with images of wild, violent beauty: a world of language unlike any other, exquisitely captured in Michele Hutchison’s translation.’
The Book of Jakarta edited by Maesy Ang & Teddy W. Kusuma (Comma Press)
What the publisher says: ‘Made up of over 17,000 islands, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country on the planet. It is home to hundreds of different ethnicities and languages, and a cultural identity that is therefore constantly in flux. Like the country as a whole, the capital Jakarta is a multiplicity of irreducible, unpredictable and contradictory perspectives. From down-and-out philosophers to roadside entertainers, the characters in these stories see Jakarta from all angles. Traversing different neighbourhoods and social strata, their stories capture the energy, aspirations, and ever-changing landscape of what is also the world’s fastest-sinking city.’
Streulicht (Sky Glow) by Deniz Ohde (Suhrkamp Verlag)
What New Books in German says: ‘Deniz Ohde’s debut is an exquisitely written novel about the struggle to find one’s place in a divided and prejudiced society. Sky Glow stands out for both its inventive and expressive literary style and its timely contribution to debates around institutional racism. The narrator-protagonist is a German girl with a Turkish mother who encounters countless acts of habitual, subconscious prejudice relating to her appearance, her social class and her upbringing. In describing these acts, and her feelings of powerlessness in the face of them, the author holds up a mirror to her readers, forcing them to consider their own prejudices and behaviour.’