Creating a list of authors I read for the first time in 2021 should have been an easy task. But when I did a quick tally of all the new names I read last year, I ended up with 28 names. So just choosing 10 for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic has been somewhat of a challenge. I tried coming at it from directions. The authors I want to read again, either their back catalogue or any of their newer works. Best new discoveries from indie presses? In the end I went from new discoveries in translation, in keeping with my focus in the last few years or reading more broadly from around the world.
Maria Barbel, Stone in a Landslide
Spanish author Maria Barbel manages to encompass in just 126 pages a lifetime of sorrow and happiness. A gem of a tale about a woman living in the shadow of the Spanish Civil War. Translation by Laura McGloughlin and Paul Mitchell. Published by Pereine in 2010. My review is here.
Alina Bronsky, My Grandmother’s Braid
The grandmother in Bronsky’s novel is an ex Russian ballerina who rules the roost in her household, completely dominating her husband and grandson. This is a fabulous character study and a tale about relationships. Translation by Tim Mohr. Published by Europa Editions in 2021. My review is here.
Urs Faes, Twelve Nights
This novella from the Swiss author Urs Faes is a tad melancholic. It’s a tale of a man returning home to the Black Forest after a 40 year exile, hoping to be reconciled with his brother. Around him the snow swirls and the spirits of Twelfth Night begin to stir. A tremendously atmospheric novella translated from German by Jamie Lee Searle. Published by Harvill Secker in 2020. My review is here
José Eduardo Agualusa A General Theory Of Oblivion
A double first here: the first time I’ve read anything by a writer from Angola and my first book by Agualusa who is considered one of the leading literary voices in Angola and the Portuguese-speaking world. This is a slim novel of a woman who bricks herself into an apartment on the eve of Angola’s independence, surviving on pigeons she entraps and food she grows on her balcony. We hear her thoughts and observations and get to meet a number of other characters who are trying to survive in the new state. Translation from Portuguese by Daniel Hahn, published by Vintage in 2016. My review is here.
Guido Morselli, Dissipatio H.G.
You need a clear head to read Morselli’s novella. The plot is deceptively simple: a man wakes to find every other human being in the world has disappeared. He wanders around a city and the countryside trying to find signs of life. But into this Morselli has woven dense philosophical reflections on existence, death and the future of Earth. Published after the author’s suicide in 1973, Dissipatio, translated by Frederika Randall is available from NYRB. My review is here.
Veronique Tadjo, In The Company of Men
Prepare to be disturbed by Tadjo’s novella. It a salutary reminder of the Ebola outbreak that devastated Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone between 2014 and 2016. We hear from exhausted medical staff, gravediggers, the victims and their families. Watching over them is the wise Baobob tree which has witnessed man’s disregard for nature and now pays the price. Translated from the French by the author in collaboration with John Cullen. Published by Other Press in 2021. My review is here.
Yuri Herrera, Signs Preceding The End of the World
From Mexico comes a short novel whose plot about a physical (Illegal) border crossing leads to questions about other forms of transition and transformation. It has multiple allegorical references to the concept of the mythological Underworld and the River Styx. If you don’t pick up on these it really doesn’t matter because the book is strong enough to stand on its own merit. This was the first of Herrera’s novels published in English via the British independent press And Other Stories in 2015 with translation by Lisa Dillman. My review is here.
Shion Miura, The Great Passage
If you a lover of language, this could be a good choice. Miura’s novel concerns an endeavour to create a 2,900 page dictionary, the most comprehensive guide to the Japanese language ever produced. We watch as the publishing team wrestle with production processes, paper quality, unco-operative academics and the precise meaning of words, As work progresses, they leave behind loneliness, cynicism and low self-confidence to find love, friendship and a new sense of purpose in life. Published in Japan in 2011, an English translation by Juliet Winters Carpenter was issued by Amazon Crossing in 2017. My review is here.
Masjid Ishikawa, A River In Darkness
The only non fiction book in my list, Ishikawa’s memoirs are a deeply disturbing account of how he and his family became the unwitting victim of a con trick to get them to live in North Korea. After 40 years under the control of a brutal dictatorship he attempted an extraordinary journey to escape. Published originally in Japan in 2000 using the nom de plume of Shunsuke Miyazaki to protect Ishikawa’s family, an English translation by Risa Kobayashi and Martin Brown was issued in 2017, through the Amazon Crossing scheme. My review is here.
Yun Ko-eun, The Disaster Tourist
A surreal novel that contains a serious ethical question about holiday tours to places marked by disaster. Yun Ko-eun imagines a company devoted exclusively to organising such “holidays” to earthquake zones etc. But what happens when a place loses its appeal to tourists? First published in Korean in 2013, The Disaster Tourist, translated into English by Lizzie Buehler was published by SerpentsTail in 2021. My review is here.
I enjoyed some of these more than others. If I had to pick any favourites it would be the three that — coincidentally — feature at the start of this list. And if you forced me to choose just one I’ll go for Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbel.
What have you discovered new in the last year? Any authors you now want to continue to read? Do you make a conscious effort to read authors you’ve not experienced previously or do you prefer to read authors with whom you are already familiar?