The best of the year The 10 best books of foreign fiction: from Nobelists and 'nobelables'

If the narrative list in Spanish is 'difficult', let alone the international one, especially in a particularly fruitful year

The best of the year The 10 best books of foreign fiction: from Nobelists and 'nobelables'

If the narrative list in Spanish is 'difficult', let alone the international one, especially in a particularly fruitful year. For this reason, Antonio Moresco, Jennifer Egan, Ian McEwan, Veronica Raimo, Bohumil Hrabal or Isaac Bashevis Singer could also appear in this decalogue.

Translation by Cecilia Ceriani. Anagram. 328 pages. €20.90 Ebook: €12.99 You can buy it here.

"I never asked myself what freedom meant until the day I hugged Stalin." With this resounding phrase begins Libre, the shocking, lucid and emotional memoirs with which Lea Ypi (Durrës, 1979) investigates her childhood and adolescence while she creates a fresco of the last years of communist Albania. We are in December 1990 and the Ypi girl is hiding at the foot of a statue of the dictator from protesters shouting "freedom" calling for the end of the communist government. As the sound of her footsteps dissipates, Lea looks up and discovers that Stalin is missing his head.

In this memoir in the form of a bildungsroman, Ypi, professor of Political Theory at the prestigious London School of Economics, draws on her life journey to maturity to add another layer of depth to her exploration of freedom, which is inevitably transformed with the age and loss of innocence.

As Marta Rebón explained in her review, "Ypi confronts us with freedom, or the lack of it, in all its facets, based on both her experience in one of the most disastrous dictatorships in Europe and her current professional performance in the city. It aims to hold self-indulgent liberal democracy and socialism in a mirror against each other, to reveal their intrinsic weaknesses in an attempt to 'fight cynicism and political apathy.'"

Translation by Magdalena Palmer. Nordic. 216 pages. €19.50 Ebook: €9.99 You can buy it here.

It is always a guarantee of great literature. After his overwhelming Seasonal Quartet, Ali Smith (Inverness, 1962) returns with a dazzling work, where his personal and poetic style overflows, reflecting on the high costs of freedom at various times in history. "After writing the best novel of the last decade in four parts, there was a certain expectation to see where Smith was going. Fragua disperses these fears by settling us in that unique territory, a mixture of amazement, bewilderment and happiness that we associate with the writer," Gonzalo Torné pointed out about an author who "writes so differently from the rest of her colleagues (with such audacity and self-confidence) that it would not be strange if the style of this era were associated with her novels in the future."

Translation by Maria Vútova. Fulgencio Pepper. 408 pages. 25 €You can buy it here.

Another author whose quality, recently endorsed by the Booker International, is non-negotiable. Months before the award, Gueorgui Gospodínov (Yámbol, 1968) spoke with La Lectura about The Tempestalis, a dystopian dream full of ironic premonitions that unmasks the intimate and dangerous relationship between nostalgia and politics. "When power takes over the past it turns it into propaganda," the Bulgarian warned. "Humor and tenderness shine in Gospodinov's sharp scalpel, which captures the zeitgeist of an era that longs above all to return to happy times," noted Marta Rebón in her review of this "remarkable literary creature about our most unrealizable desire: to resist at the same time without dying in the attempt".

Translation by Antonia Martin. Alfaguara. 320 pages. €20.90 Ebook: €9.99 You can buy it here.

Aesthete of the word and master of irony, the narrative of the Irishman John Banville (Wexford, 1945) has been beautifully sailing through our slippery reality for more than half a century, listening to constants such as the unreal that exists in reality or the many identities that They inhabit each of us. Weighty themes in The Singularities, the end point of a brilliant novel career and a wild masked ball full of multiple references to his almost twenty previous novels. A tribute that delves into the themes of a lifetime. "The essence of art is difficulty and society has renounced it," he pointed out accurately in the interview he gave to this supplement in February.

Translation by C. Gomez-Baggethun. Nordic and Of Conatus. 112 pages. 18 € Ebook: 8.99 €You can buy it here.

In the pools for years, it cannot be said that the Nobel awarded to Jon Fosse (Haugesund, 1959) has been a great surprise. But it will help the Spanish reader delve into the Norwegian's complex work. A good entry point, more than his poetry (which Sexto Piso has begun to edit) or his theater, can be this novel that reflects on life and its end and that, as our critic Carmen de Pascual pointed out, is faithful to a style " realistic and at the same time with a point of absurdity, dense but minimalist, and always poetic".

The literary prize is sometimes an attractive commercial claim, a badge of quality, an institutional gesture, whether flawed or not, an economic lifeline, a reason for dispute, or a curse. It also works as a discoverer of authors and manuscripts, as an excuse to immerse ourselves in readings outside our comfort zone, as an act of faith and also as a blatant proof of forgetfulness. Whether they enjoy greater or lesser prestige, awards (including finalists, when this information is relevant) continue to be incentives that drive literary agents and the publishing market. This 2023 has brought us notable titles that carry the name of an award on their lapel, or received it shortly after its publication. Although some are better known than others, each award, with its own philosophy and criteria, perseveres in its effort to maintain its relevance and energize the shelves of bookstores and libraries.

Such is the case of Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck (Uwe Johnson Prize - Anagrama), The Tempestalides by Gueorgui Gospodinov (Booker International - Fulgencio Pimentel), Bodies of Light by Jennifer Down (Miles Franklin Prize - Navona), Fortune by Hernan Diaz (Pulitzer). - Anagram), Sasha and Volodia by Mikhail Shishkin (Great Book Prize of Russia - Armenia), Depressed Living by Brigitte Giraud (Goncourt Prize - Password), The Graveyards of Taina Tervonen (Errata Naturae - Jan Michalski Prize), Orphanage by Serhiy Zhadan (EBRD Prize - Gutenberg Galaxy), Free of Lea Ypi (Ondaatje Prize - Anagram) or various Nobel: The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk (Anagram), The Deserter by Abdulrazak Gurnah (Salamandra), The Other Daughter of Annie Ernaux (Cabaret Voltaire) or Morning and Evening by Jon Fosse (Nordic and Of Conatus).

It should be noted that a good part of these awards have been awarded in countries that do not always coincide with the author's origin; That is to say, in reality the translation is rewarded, so the economic compensation is distinguished and distributed between the translator and his translator, as does the Booker International, or the EBRD. It is an effective way of remembering that translations are the result of craftsmanship as important for the target language as writing in the language itself. The irrelevance of national awards in a publishing power like Spain - with honorable exceptions, such as the Formentor Prize, in recent editions awarded to Quignard, Cartarescu, Ernaux or Ulítskaya - reminds me of that Unamunian saying that I paraphrase: let them reward, then, that we will take advantage of to make our catalog.

Translation by Ana Bejarano. Sigilo. 272 pages. €21.95 Ebook: €10.99 You can buy it here.

It seems a paradox, or perhaps it is just a reflection of how literature and society intertwine, but there was still no war in Israel when in March Yishai Sarid (Tel Aviv, 1965) criticized in Victoriosa the complex social climate of current Israel through the debate on the country's relentless war mobilization. "In order to keep alive the predisposition to kill, we must cultivate a radicalized narrative that, in the hands of extremist politicians, has disastrous effects," commented Marta Rebón about the plot. Fiction that becomes reality.

Translation by Agata Orzeszek and Ernesto Rubio. Anagram 1,072 pages. €29.90 Ebook: €17.99You can buy it here.

It is not too much to venture to say that a good part of the Nobel Prize that Olga Tokarczuk won in 2018 is due to this monumental novel. With a meticulous style and great artistic intelligence, The Books of Jacob, which delves into the history of the heretical movement of Frankism that emerged in the 18th century, which challenged the belief in the clear limits between religions and their principles, is, as Marta assured, Rebón in his review, "a novel-constellation that demolishes historical clichés and launches fruitful echoes in the present."

Translation by Carlos Fortea. Alfaguara. 720 pages. €24.90 Ebook: €10.99 You can buy it here.

Of Georgian origin but who has become one of the most important German writers, Nino Haratischwili (Tbilisi, 1983) repeats in this latest novel the recipe of her previous works, such as The Eighth Life (for Brilka) or The Cat and the General: "The three are extensive historical stories with a dense structure of characters whose destinies the author uses to capture the course of history," our review pointed out. The Lost Light is about friendship, political anarchy and violence in a post-Soviet Georgia mired in an endless winter.

Translation by Rita da Costa. Salamander. 336 pages. 21 € Ebook: 9.99 €You can buy it here.

"Today's society is finally aware of the cruelty of colonialism," said Abdulrazak Gurnah (Zanzibar, 1948) about this novel with an enveloping and dazzling structure that reflects on the territorial and mental complexities of colonialism and the wounds left by the past. "The Deserter is a novel about abandonment and its trail of pain. A broad search for how individuals are trapped by circumstances that go back to past generations," explained Marta Rebón in her review.

Translation by Ibon Zubiaur. From Conatus. 404 pages. €22.90 Ebook: €14.99 You can buy it here.

Acclaimed in Germany, Blue Woman, by Antje Rávik Strubel (Postdam, 1974), won the German Book Prize in 2021. She was recognized as one of the most unique and sophisticated storytellers of recent decades. "Although unknown in Spain, she is the author of several impressive novels that extemporaneously despise almost any notion of entertainment," noted Alberto Gordo in his review of this heartbreaking work about sexual abuse that lyrically reflects on how to narrate the unspeakable.

To avoid beating around the bush: in the unusual case that you only plan to read a novel from 2023, read Forge by Ali Smith. Perhaps it does not live up to its prodigious Seasonal Cycle but it is a great novel by a unique writer, who with her unusual narrative syntax, her unpredictable dialogues and her jumps in time takes the pulse of European society: so self-absorbed and so exclusive. .

I also recommend that you don't miss Ghost Days by the very intelligent Jeanette Winterson who throws a party and feasts on the genre. First-class narrative veined by the always disturbing and lucid reflections of its author.

Although the contributions of "established" writers have not been more than satisfactory this year, I highlight a short volume by Paul Auster, halfway between essay and biographical suggestion. Auster accumulates memories and data to denounce the proliferation of firearms in the United States and its horrific consequences. I wish the example would spread and our elders would come out of the sterile labyrinth of scolding a youth that does not even bother to listen to them to support causes that benefit society.

And now a Japanese author? Well, I'm afraid so, and since my knowledge of his literature is rather superficial, Autumn Tapestry, by Teru Miyamoto, is among the best of the year, not because it is Japanese but as a subtle portrait of the multiple colors of the mood that it gives us. the memory when we remember the stories we left behind. I also highlight Diary of a Peon by Thierry Metz, a book that is like a breath of fresh air in a narrative so often dominated by idlers or aspirants to respectability. Metz, in addition to being a worker, is a poet, and his relationship with his words provokes effects of disturbing expressiveness.

Although James Joyce's letters have all the appearance of being included to honor me with a prestigious cultural object (Jim Joyce? In 2023? What a discovery!), the truth is that literature is not only nourished by novelties, but also by the way the classics are presented to the public. And Diego Garrido's editing is impeccable. I also recommend that the reader who does not know Amy Hempel read the new edition of his Complete Stories. Hempel is a master of psychology with a handling of ellipsis that does not disdain that of Alice Munro. She is an "artisan of the story" full of unexpected and creative insights.

I'm leaving for last the book that I found the most fun of the year, I'm a Fan, by newcomer Sheena Patel: cheeky, evil, intelligent and obscene in more or less equal parts. A flight of dark laughter.