As some of you may have seen, last week I posted on a fine collection of books which, while all wonderful reads, didn’t quite make it through the monthly tussles for entry into my book of the year award. Today, however, I’ll be introducing you to my twelve monthly winners, with a particular focus on the six most recent titles (the others can probably speak for themselves). On New Year’s day, when my Annual Awards post appears, you’ll find out my favourites, including the winner of the prestigious book of the year award (which could go to any book I reviewed in 2016, no matter when it was originally published or translated into English). All clear? Never mind – off we go 🙂
January – While my January in Japan event has (unfortunately) long disappeared due to work commitments towards the end of the year, I still try to up the J-Lit ante in January, and Kenzaburō Ōe’s Death by Water (translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm: Atlantic Books) was one of my highlights of the month (and my eventual pick for our Shadow Man Booker International Prize winner). A typical autobiographical tale, the novel examines the patriarchy and right-wing politics in Japan – making it an even more fascinating read at the end of this rather worrying year…
April – Another story which seems apt amidst talk of building giant walls is Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World (tr. Lisa Dillman: And Other Stories). We follow Makina, a teenage girl making a journey across a border to find her brother, in a novella which examines the nature of modern North-American immigration politics in the form of a dreamlike tale incorporating elements of Central-American mythology. This one was overlooked for the MBIP but did take out the American equivalent, the Best Translated Book Award (making the Booker judges look very silly in the process…).
May – That’s quite enough talk about the world in general, though. Let’s get back to moody self-introspective artists – and when it comes to literary navel-gazing, there are none more angst-ridden than Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard. Some Rain Must Fall (tr. Don Bartlett: Harvill Secker) is the fifth and penultimate part of his autobiographical novel My Struggle, looking at his student days, and while the fourth part was an embarrassing mess, Some Rain May Fall saw Knausi back to his best, with just the right blend of anger and pathos 🙂
June – Of course, it’s not just men that feel the need to open up about their lives – there are plenty of talkative gorillas out there too. Peter Verhelst’s The Man I Became (tr. David Colmer: Peirene Press) has a former resident of the rainforest discussing his rise to the status of fully-fledged human, and his feelings when he gets there. You see, when you’ve reached the top, you have to stop – and there’s no end to the things troubling you. Another excellent Peirene choice, with all the hidden allegories a
gorilla reader could wish for 🙂
September – There must be something in the Nordic air at the moment, as Knausi isn’t the only writer feeling the need to bare his soul. Jón Kalman Stefánsson has decided to take a look at Icelandic life during his childhood, and Fish Have No Feet (tr. Philip Roughton: MacLehose Press) is the result. A shade more prosaic than the superb historical trilogy that made his name in English, the novel is nevertheless packed with wit and flair, and I suspect that there’s a sequel on the way at some point too.
October – With so much testosterone-fuelled nostalgia around, it’s a good job that my final choice here balances this out a little. In Bae Suah’s A Greater Music (tr. Deborah Smith: Open Letter Books) a Korean writer’s return to Berlin evokes memories of the year she spent there, and the woman she spent it with. Beautifully written, the book marks Bae’s long-form debut in English and is sure to increase the number of fans of her work in the Anglosphere.
I’m sure you’re all wondering what the other six monthly winners were, so (for the sake of completion) here’s the rest of the list 🙂
February – Your Face Tomorrow 3: Poison, Shadow and Farewell
by Javier Marías (tr. Margaret Jull Costa: Chatto & Windus)
March – Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar
(tr. Gregory Rabassa: Pantheon Books)
July – War and War by László Krasznahorkai
(tr. George Szirtes: New Directions)
August – Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda
(tr. Martha Tennent)
November – The Confusions of Young Törleß by Robert Musil
(tr. Shaun Whiteside: Penguin)
December – The Spirits of the Earth by Catherine Colomb
(tr. John Taylor: Seagull Books)
And the shortlist (and winner)? See you in two weeks’ time 😉