(The Rest of) the Best of 2016

IMG_5393As always, I’ll be wrapping up my reading year on the 1st of January, unveiling the statistics for 2016, as well as delivering my verdict as to the best (and worst…) that the year had to offer.  However, given the rather draconian rules limiting qualification for my annual awards (only one book per month can make the grade), many excellent works miss out, so that’s why today, just as was the case last year, I’m highlighting a few of my favourites that didn’t make it (all links, as usual, are to my reviews, either here on the blog or elsewhere on the net).  Have you read any of these books?  If not, you really should…

One of my favourite literary stomping grounds is East Asia, so it should come as no surprise that several books from the region appear on this list.  Headlining the collection is Han Kang’s Human Acts (translated by Deborah Smith: published by Portobello Books), an excellent look at the after-effects of a brutal government crackdown in the southern Korean city of Gwangju.  I preferred this to the much more widely read The Vegetarian, and it’s a shame it missed out on being nominated for this year’s Man Booker International PrizeJung Young Moon’s Vaseline Buddha (tr. Jung Yewon: Deep Vellum Press) is a very different book, a mesmerising and confusing (but often amusing) journey through a writer’s memories and his whimsical efforts to write a novel.

Crossing the sea to Japan brings another couple of gems that just missed out on the monthly IMG_5464prize.  Reading the Tale of Genji: Sources from the First Millennium (edited by Thomas Harper and Haruo Shirane: Columbia University Press) takes us back in time only to propel us forward once more, as this detailed collection of commentaries on Japan’s most famous novel allows us to see how readers over the centuries have regarded it.  However, my second choice is an altogether more modern affair.  Hideo Furukawa’s Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure (tr. Doug Slaymaker with Akikio Takenaka: Columbia University Press) is a genre-blending work in which the writer’s experiences of the Fukushima disasters morph into a novel of sorts, one that incorporates elements and characters from his earlier work.

img_5536Of course, with my background in French and German, works in those languages are always likely to feature heavily in my reading, and 2016 was no exception to this trend.  Two French novels I enjoyed were Marie Ndiaye’s Ladivine (tr. Jordan Stump: MacLehose Press), a work examining three generations of French women, and Marie Sizun’s Le Père de la petite (His Father’s Daughter), another Peirene Press offering in Adriana Hunter’s translation.  Meanwhile, I was also impressed by a couple of familiar Germanic names, with Thomas Bernhard’s Beton (Concrete) and W.G. Sebald’s Schwindel. Gefühle. (Vertigo) unfortunate not to be chosen as best in class.

My final selections also come from Europe.  Mercè Rodoreda’s War, So Much War (tr. Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent: Open Letter Books) is a dreamlike Catalan classic that follows a boy on his journey through an unspecified war zone, while the protagonists of Iván Repila’s The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse (tr. Sophie Hughes: Pushkin Press) have an even worse time of it, with the two young boys stuck down the bottom of a deep, muddy well.  Things are no sunnier in Mihail Sebastian’s For Two Thousand Years (tr. Philip Ó Ceallaigh: Penguin Classics), a classic Romanian novel dealing with antisemitism in pre-war Bucharest, but at least we can rely on Sjón for a laugh or two, right?  Well, that depends on whether you can find the funny side of the Spanish Flu epidemic, the main focus of Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was (tr. Victoria Cribb: Sceptre)…

Twelve of the (rest of the) best, I’m sure you’ll agree, but let’s round it up to a baker’s dozen IMG_5469with something slightly different.  While I do my best to keep you all up to speed with what’s happening in the world of literature in translation, someone who’s being it doing it for a lot longer (and a lot better) is M.A. Orthofer, the host of The Complete Review and its associated hangout, The Literary Saloon.  This year saw the publication of Orthofer’s book, The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction (Columbia University Press), a wide-ranging reference work exploring the world’s literary wonders, and while it didn’t make it through to my end-of-year awards, it’s an excellent creation and would make the ideal Christmas present for any friend or relative with a passion for translated fiction.

Then again, of course, you could just buy them my whole list – or wait until January to see my final picks.  Hope your bank balance is healthy…

3 thoughts on “(The Rest of) the Best of 2016

  1. I’ve read 7 of your 13 but 2 of them (Vertigo and Concrete – both of which I love – many years ago), and one is the Complete Review Guide which is difficult to compare to others.

    So that leaves 4 novels I’ve read this year, and three of those – Human Acts (2nd), Ladivine (6th) and The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse (8th) – are actually in my top 10 of 2016. Vaseline Buddha I found a little flawed.

    Rest of my top 10 is 1st Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett, 3rd Sleep of the Righteous by Wolfgang Hilbig , 4th Son of Man by Yi Munyol, 5th Death by Water by Kenzaburo Oe, 7th Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift (ridiculous omission from the Booker), 9th Transit by Rachel Cusk and 10th Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera (albeit that’s more of a lifetime achievement award).

    Looking forward to your top 12 – although guess I can find the contenders by reading back to past months.


    1. Paul – Yes, but I’ll be wrapping them up next week 🙂 For now, I’ll just say that one of your top picks also makes my selection – and it definitely ain’t the Kundera 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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