TBR list

Sample Sunday: Translated fiction

My Sample Sunday spotlight this week is turned on three books that made their way onto my TBR shelves from Japan, Peru and Iceland.

As a reminder, Sample Sunday is where I look at all the books I own but have yet to read, and decide which I should part company with and which I should keep.

The Discreet Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa

I’ve had mixed experiences with novels by South American authors. I loved The Armies by Colombian author Evelio Rosero Diago but struggled with his countryman, Gabriel García Márquez. Dom Casmurro by the exotically-named Brazilian author Joaquin Maria Machado de Assis was a hoot but Isabelle Allende didn’t knock my socks off.

I’ve never read any Peruvian authors however, which is how I came to own The Discreet Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa. It’s the sixteenth novel written by this past winner of the Novel Prize in Literature and is described as “engaging tale of two men who find themselves under threat.”

Here’s the synopsis from the back cover:

The Discreet Hero follows two honourable rebels: a small businessman who finds himself the victim of blackmail; and the successful owner of an insurance company who plans to avenge himself against the two lazy sons who want him dead so they can claim their inheritance. With the love and support of the women in their lives, these two men are willing to risk everything to try and seize control of their destinies. ..

I’ve read a few pages from the beginning of the book which begins with the arrival of the blackmail threat. It’s written in a very fluid style and since the synopsis sounds interesting, I’m planning to keep this one.

The Verdict: Keep

The Sorrow of Angels by Jón Kalman Stefánsson

When I took this book off the shelves I discovered inside, the delivery note which tells me that I bought it in 2015. I have no idea why i wanted it but it may have been that I saw the author’s name on another blog site.

Immediately I see a problem: the back cover tells me that this is the second in a trilogy. Did I not know that when I bought the book or did I know it but was given to understand you didn’t have to have read book one in order to enjoy book two??

Here’s the synopsis from the back cover:

As the villagers gather in the inn to drink schnapps and coffee with the boy reads to them, Jens the postman stumbles in half dead, having almost frozen to his horse. On his next journey to the wide, open fjords he is accompanied by the boy. Both will risk their lives for each other, and for an unusual delivery.

So that sounds like a stand alone story. But a review in The Independent makes it clear that the trilogy follows the boy’s life. In book one he survives a fishing trip that led to his friend’s death, book two takes him on perilous expedition “that in its elemental terrors and existential challenges recalls a Nordic version of one of Cormac McCarthy’s journeys. ” It seems futile just to dive in with book 2 and thus missing out on some formative elements in the boy’s character. I could, of course, buy part one but the association with McCarthy was the deciding factor – if Stefansson’s book is anything like The Road, I know it will not be to my taste.

The Verdict: Abandon

The Decay of The Angel by Yukio Mishima

Another balls-up on my part. The Decay of The Angel is the final part of The Sea of Fertility tetralogy and I’ve not read, nor do I own, the first three books.

I must have been half asleep when I bought this book because it quite clearly says on the cover that it’s the final part of the tetralogy. They are all connected via the central character of Shigekuni Honda, who is a law student in book one (Spring Snow) and a wealthy retired judge in The Decay of the Angel. Each of the novels depicts what Honda comes to believe are successive reincarnations of his schoolfriend and his attempts to save them from the early deaths to which they seem to be condemned by karma.

I can’t see any value in reading just this book but the question is whether I want to read all the earlier ones too? Has anyone read this tetralogy and can give me a view? I’ve seen it described variously as “mesmerising” and emotionally and intellectually limited,

The Verdict: Awaiting Opinions

So that’s one fewer book on the TBR shelves this week. Maybe two depending on your insight about the Yukio Mishima.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

5 thoughts on “Sample Sunday: Translated fiction

  • Pingback: 9 Strategies To Tackle The Mountain Of Unread Books : BookerTalk

  • I’ve read the Mishima, though it was back in the 90s, but I absolutely loved it at the time (tho I could tell you no specifics). I still have all my copies. I would say keep and try to get hold of the others from the library when they’re open again and give him a try!

    • Ah yes the library, its been so long since I was in one that I had forgotten they existed

  • Sorry, I can’t help you with the third one as have not read it. I do like these posts though. It must certainly help you make up your mind whether to keep or toss.

    • they do push me to make decisions – without the prompt I wouldn’t spend that much time evaluating the books on the shelves


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