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Science Editor

  • A Publication of the Council of Science Editors

Book Review: A Practical Guide to Scientific and Technical Translation: Publishing, Style and Terminology

book review translate in english

In a conversational tone and sometimes being repetitive, which shows a fear that the readers do not grasp the real goal of A Practical Guide to Scientific and Technical Translation: Publishing, Style and Terminology or do not understand clearly their advice, James Brian Alexander Mitchell and Anca Irina Florescu-Mitchell use their experiences as researchers, reviewers, proofreaders, and translators to give detailed instructions for writing in English and producing technical and professional translations. Mitchell is a native English speaker who translates from French to English, and Florescu-Mitchell is a non-native English speaker who translates from French to English, English to French, and English/French to Romanian. I write this book review from the point of view of a non-native English speaker who writes my own articles in English and does professional translations from English to Portuguese.

The book is divided into 2 parts. The first part, Direct Authoring, is devoted to helping scientists who are non-native speakers of English to write scientific papers. The second part, Technical Translation for Translators, provides guidance for professional translators of technical writing. 

According to the authors, “direct authoring” is when a non-native speaker, after deciding what to write in their paper, starts to write it directly in English. In this first part of the book, Mitchell and Florescu-Mitchell clarified that their goal is to help scientists to avoid making mistakes common to those who use English as a second language, and not to write a grammar book. They use examples in French from their experience working with authors to explain to scientists what to do and not to do in terms of style, grammar, and convention, when preparing a scientific paper for publication. Examples are observing the differences between UK English and U.S. English, the use of contractions, vague words and colloquial language, passive and active voice, present tense, past tense, future tense, gender neutral text, and numbers and units, among other rules. It is very interesting to note how the use of certain words reveals the identity of the author. In the excerpt below, we can see a mistake in a paper written by a French author using a false friend, or words that appear the same way but that have different meanings.

In English, “realise” means coming to the understanding of something: “I realise that I have to go to the dentist today so I cannot go for coffee”  In French, this word has a much wider meaning and it is common to see a French person write something like:  “The experiment was realized”  These sentences are completely wrong in English and should read like: “The experiment was performed”

The false friends here are reáliser (French) and realize (English). It is also intriguing to see that the origin of some grammar mistakes committed by non-native speakers when writing in English are the rules they learn to speak and write in their native language. As an example, let’s look at the mistakes in writing in English related to the plurals and adjectives pointed out in the book:

Plurals This is something that often shows up in articles written by a non-native English speaker. In fact, there are two problems, not using plurals when you should and using them when you should not. In French for example, the “s” at the end of a plural noun is generally not pronounced. It is often found in articles where the French author has thought about what they want to say but when they write it, they forget about the “s” in English because they don’t hear it

Adjectives One of the difficulties that arises when writing in or translating into English is the placement of adjectives where these are placed before the noun in English, while, in French for example, they are more often placed AFTER the noun (there are actually rules, even in French, believe it or not!)

This type of error may cause misunderstandings in a scientific paper and easily reveal to the editor and to the reviewer that the author is not a native English speaker. In the world of scientific publishing, papers written by non-native speakers open the door for publication bias during the peer-review process, showing the connection between both language and identity and language and power.

In this first part of the book, the authors also cover scientific writing style. They provide a good characterization of the scientific style, bringing up its main characteristics such as accuracy, clarity, and readability, and highlighting the importance of the concepts discussed in a scientific article. However, Mitchell and Florescu-Mitchell say:

This does not mean that it has to be written so that everyone can understand it. That is the role of the “popular press ” . A scientific article has a certain targeted audience who should understand the concepts presented so that they can take in this knowledge and access its authenticity. 

Although this is certainly true for some scientific journals, it should be noted that there is a recent push in many scientific journals to make scientific articles more understandable for a wider audience. Examples are the initiatives of the biomedical journals The BMJ and Research Involvement and Engagement in involving patients in their peer-review process. One of the roles of these patients is to check “the clarity of the reported research and its interpretation to a lay audience.” 1 Research Involvement and Engagement still asks authors to submit a plain language summary, 2 along with the manuscript and the abstract, to make the paper accessible to patients, reviewers, and to the public. 3 Thus, these bold initiatives are broadening the role of scientific journals, blurring the lines between scientific journals and science magazines, and making the authors write their articles in an understandable way in order to reach a wider audience. This wider audience may be scientists from different fields of knowledge or even non-scientists.

Before I start to review the second part of the book, I would like to comment on the advice given about how to write peer-review reports. In the Reviewing section, the authors talk about the fear of non-native speakers of English of unintentionally insulting the authors of the manuscripts that they are reviewing in the context of the anonymous peer review, mainly when they have to reject a paper. Based on their experience reviewing peer-review reports, some examples were given to deal with this kind of situation:

In one sentence, the reviewers said: “there were too many “useless” details”. While this may indeed have been correct, the word “useless” is very strong and perhaps a bit insulting. We recommended that this be changed to: “there were too many details that were not very useful”. This softens the tone and allows the author to reflect on whether this statement is helpful. To say that something is “useless” is very final and can put the author into a combative mood for the response.

As we can see, the tone of the report can hurt the feelings of the authors and put them in a bad mood when responding to a review, which may be unhealthy for all people involved in the peer review. Another fear of the non-native speaker is judging the English of other non-native speakers when they themselves make grammar mistakes. As a non-native speaker, I would like to add the fear of having your competence as a researcher put in doubt or your report disregarded. That was a case reported to me by an editor of a scientific journal: a non-native speaker of English reviewed an article of a native speaker and this article was rejected. The author was offensive with the editor, questioning the credibility of the journal by arguing why they would select non-native speakers to evaluate their article. To avoid this type of problem, Mitchell and Florescu-Mitchell suggest that reviewers concerned about the quality of their writing ask a professional or colleague proficient in English to check out their English before sending reports. It is a good idea, but sometimes it may be hard to do or awkward in practice. These concerns should be considered when implementing or researching models of open peer review to ensure participation of any interested member of the scientific community or the public and to reflect about diversity, equity, and inclusion in scientific journals.

The second part of the book, Technical Translation for Translators, is divided into sections discussing the essential tools to work as a technical translator, features, advantages and limitations, and technical problems of computer aided translations (CAT) tools, machine translation, translation in specific technical fields, translation of patents, legal contracts with translation agencies, internet searching and terminology, and translation as a profession.

The authors provide a realistic and critical view of the translators’ job market, presenting challenges ranging from where and how to find the right terminology for a document to common problems that translators face. However, the authors go beyond the idea that to do a translation is only necessary to find the right terminology. For them, professional translators must understand what they are translating. For this reason, if the translator does not know anything on the subject they were invited to translate, they must decline the invitation to avoid mistakes. Mitchell and Florescu-Mitchell summarize that “technical translation is not about words but about the meaning of words (Definition, Concepts and Content)” and more: “Technical Translation is all about context.”

From the experience of the authors doing translations in the fields of Physics, Automotive Engineering, Aeronautical Translations, Railways and Trams, Mechanical Engineering, Construction, Nuclear Engineering, Renewable Energy, Hydroelectric Power and Hydraulic Engineering, and Patents, professional translators can learn about the advantages of using spelling and grammar checks and the CAT tools and also how to avoid falling into some traps when using them. 

This second part of the book is richly illustrated with photographs of bilingual and specialized dictionaries used by the authors. The most interesting insight is how the authors bring to light the importance of the Internet and visual dictionaries to help the professional translator to find the accurate context for its terminology. 

Regarding translation as a profession, 3 examples of common problems faced by translators and approached by the authors are as follows: 1) The client says the translation is too literal, when sometimes it should be literal to be accurate. 2) The client accuses the translator of having used machine translation as an excuse to say they did not like the translation. 3) The client thinks the translation was not made by a native English speaker. I would like to highlight this last problem. Mitchell and Florescu-Mitchell criticize the notion of being a native speaker of a language. For the authors,

Just because you were born in a certain country does not mean that you necessarily have a good grasp of its language. Indeed, if you left the country early in life you may not speak that language at all. So what is your native language? Well, it is the language that you have learned to write in and master but legally this does not make you a Native XXX speaker. Of course, when you hand in a translation it should sound like what an English speaker would expect so in that sense it is a valid requirement. One of the points to consider though is to ask if the person making the comment is qualified to make it. Are they a native English speaker? In our experience, they are not. 

In fact , in my experience as a non-native speaker author and professional translator, it has been curious to realize native speakers of the English language are more understanding with the mistakes of non-natives than the non-natives themselves. For a non-native speaker of English, writing a paper in this language can be challenging. Not only because of the grammar rules, which can be learned by taking English classes or consulting books, but because it involves the embarrassment of sharing with others our writing imperfections inside a scientific culture where errors are not seen in a very good light. This way, I recommend A Practical Guide to Scientific and Technical Translation: Publishing, Style and Terminology for native and non-native speakers of English and for professional translators from any technical field. This guide will help scientists improve their writing in English and professional translators to refine their working practices.

References and Links

  • Schroter S, Price A, Flemyng E, Demaine A, Elliot J, Harmston RR, Richards T, Staniszewska S, Stephens R. Perspectives on involvement in the peer review process: surveys of patient and public reviewers at two journals. BMJ Open 2018;8:e023357. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2018-023357
  • https://researchinvolvement.biomedcentral.com/
  • Carvalho do Amaral J, Schultz J. Sophie Staniszewska and Richard Stephens: democratizing science through public involvement. Sci Ed. 2021;44:110–115. https://doi.org/10.36591/SE-D-4404-111  

Janaynne Carvalho do Amaral is with Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.  

Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of the Council of Science Editors or the Editorial Board of Science Editor.

Book Review--Translation: The Basics

  • January 2020

Ernst R Wendland at Stellenbosch University

  • Stellenbosch University

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Book Review: The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Pragmatics

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2021, Intercultural Pragmatics

The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Pragmatics is the first book that manifests an overall picture of the core concepts and theoretical issues in prag-matics, outlines the latest developments in the disciplinary connections between translation studies and pragmatics, and presents how pragmatics has been applied broadly in diverse aspects of translation, oral and sign language interpreting activities. This book consists of three parts, namely: Influence and Intersections, Methodological Issues and Applications. Its contributions centers in the characteristics of linguistic pragmatics, and their interpretation in authentic and experimental data in relation to a variety of translation and interpreting activities covering journalism, science and technology, literature and audiovisual translation (AVT), online translation, medical interpreting and subtitling or dubbing for the theatre. It also includes scholarships on research topics beyond the text level such as the study of interpersonal relationships in practitioner networks and the development of pragmatic competence in interpreter training. There are large numbers of practical illustrations and lists of recommended readings in every chapter. Here follows a brief review covering all the specific articles in each part. Part I encompasses three chapters-"Speech Acts and Translation", "Im/Politeness and Interpreting", and "Cognitive Pragmatics and Translation". Chapter 1 starts from introducing speech act theory from the perspective of philosophy of language, reviewing Austin's taxonomy (1962) and Searle's taxonomy (1969) sequentially, and then Grice's theory of implicatures. It further reflects on the correlations between pragmatics and translation based on the representative existing scholarships (Brown and Levinson 1987; Mason and Stewart 2001; etc.) that discuss issues in Speech acts theory, and points out that this theory is highly relevant and applicable in evaluating translation activities especially in legal context. The chapter concludes in that despite the universality of certain linguistic behaviors, "(linguistic) functions vary considerably across languages, to the point that, in translation, not only mismatches between illocutionary points, but also minor shifts in style and register, may alter the picture of the whole social network displayed" (p. 24).

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On Reviewing Translations: Confessions of a Book Reviewer (of works in translation)

There is an anecdote about translation—which, fittingly, I´ve only come across second-hand —that involves an enthusiastic Ernest Hemingway gushing to a friend that finally, with a new translation of War and Peace , he can get through the whole novel.  His friend then says, of the translation: “They say it can be improved upon.  I'm sure it can, although I don´t know Russian.”

Reviewing works in translation there´s really no escaping what feels like the empty, or non-committal, response of Hemingway´s friend.  The reviewer rarely has the original in front of him; space is excruciatingly tight, and there´s often little to go on.  What´s more, the text has not come directly to him but through the hands—sometimes expert, sometimes not—of a translator.  The translation Hemingway was talking about was by Constance Garnett, who in a way was refracting Tolstoy through a sensibility not terribly different from Hemingway´s own.  (Which was enough to prompt Joseph Brodsky to complain that readers confused the prose of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky because they were all simply reading the prose of Constance Garnett.)  So maybe Hemingway was being slyly self-congratulatory.  But there´s Hemingway´s friend, too, and in his case (as often in ours) griping about a translation almost seems an instance of biting the hand that feeds you.      

So, under the circumstances, how do we review a translated work on “its own terms”? How can we make the best of what we have?  To be critical without being unfair, to praise pointedly and without cliché?

There is a certain paradox to reviewing the work in translation.  The translation is both utterly immediate (its effects totalizing) and at the same time impossibly elusive.  As Daniel Hahn points out , you´re barely conscious of a good translation most of the time—and he´s right, although this is just a manner of speaking.  You may appreciate the translation but think of it as the author´s achievement, forgetting, in a sense, that the book was basically written twice. 

Other contributors have proposed ways out of this vicious circle, from mentioning the translator´s name upfront, alongside the author´s, to asking after convergences or discrepancies between known facts about the author´s original language and the language of the translation.  All are smart and invaluable suggestions—unsurprising that they should come from three distinguished translators.  But the two examples they cite of good reviews are somewhat particular. In both cases, they are of books that have been translated before, and the first example is one of those sprawling James Wood reviews for the  New Yorker , in which he seems to have all the space in the world.

This entry is for book reviewers who aren´t James Wood nor Michael Dirda, and who don´t necessarily have the luxury of comparing new translations of a text with older ones.  These are writers who have between 500 and 1,000 words, are pressed for time and space (a distinguished line, by the way, of reviewers under the gun ), and—most importantly—are reading a work in translation by an author they´ve never read before, from a language they don´t know firsthand.  These reviewers have maybe three sentences (if that many) to comment specifically on the subject of the translation because everything else about the book is new and has to be laid out for the reader. 

What then?  In a way this may sound like an adapted version of what others have mentioned, but it´s worth saying just the same.  To invoke an author is to conjure her translator, so a reference to one means acknowledging the other, and this should appear in plain sight in the review.  To illustrate the point, I´ve pulled some choice lines from recent reviews we´ve published at WWB :

– ” … the fluent and vibrant translation which also enhances the almost electric, centrifugal quality of [the author´s] sentences”;

– “…the agile translation gives [to one character] the fitting voice of a polished academic who has lost his bearings”; 

– “It’s a testament to the translator . . . that the stories remain so alive and arresting today”;

– “With this English-language Sosnowski , [the translator] has contributed a new voice to the canon of writers descended from Ashbery and Schuyler, and, in the process of establishing such lineage—here, across international lines—he has helped further define the bounds of poetic language. “

Admittedly, these extracts are all positive evaluations of translations.  And it´s harder to find examples with this level of attention to detail that level harsher judgments and that are also illustrative, for our purposes.  But what I mean to draw out is that each of these examples shares in the common conviction that the author and the translator are fused together in an unavoidable way.  Author and translator jointly conceive of the text a reviewer is reading, to the extent that “the electric, centrifugal quality of the author ´s sentences,” for instance, is a thing we can only observe by simultaneously referring to the translator .  A character´s idiosyncrasies and affectations—features that define him within the world of the novel as conceived by the author—are only known because the translator has seen to it that he sounds “like a polished academic who has lost his bearings.¨” What I love about the last example is the idea of the Polish poet Sosnowski having a separate identity in English, brought into being by his translator , who, in the process, enriches the poetic language of English by importing in effects from another language.         

It´s a translator who says in Isaac Babel´s “Guy de Maupassant” (with apologies for not quoting from Peter Constantine´s indispensable translation, which I don´t have on hand) that “a phrase is born into the world both good and bad at the same time.  The secret lies in a slight, an almost invisible twist.  The lever should rest in your hand, getting warm, and you can only turn it once, not twice.”

In a way, this says everything and nothing about how we might handle works in translation.  The translator´s task is a life-and-death affair, and that “invisible twist” saves or dashes a phrase born into goodness and badness at once.  We'd hope a reviewer could tell us whether or not we've witnessed a single turn of the lever, or else that fatal second twist.  But to harbor this hope in good faith we must acknowledge first that the author is forever giving birth to twins—and more, that the “author” as we´ve come to know her may, after all, be “authors.”

Jonathan Blitzer is an editor at Words without Borders , and a writer and translator currently based in Madrid.  His recent series of translations of short fiction from Madrid is appearing monthly in the magazine. 

Jonathan Blitzer

Jonathan Blitzer is an editor at Words Without Borders…

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book review translate in english

40 of the Most Popular Translated Books on Goodreads

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Pierce Alquist

Pierce Alquist is a transplanted New Yorker living and working in the publishing scene in Boston. Don’t worry if she fooled you, the red hair is misleading. She’s a literature in translation devotee and reviewer and lover of small, independent presses. A voracious traveler and foodie, you can find her in her kitchen making borscht or covered in red pepper paste as she perfects her kimchi recipe.

View All posts by Pierce Alquist

It’s a mixture of classics like Anna Karenina   and  The Odyssey , current bestsellers like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and A Man Called Ove   (two of the four Swedish books on the list), and some others that I initially couldn’t figure out why they had made the list but then realized that many of them had movie/TV adaptations. You might recognize John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let Me In by its movie title,  Let the Right One In .

I was pleasantly surprised by two newer titles that made the list:  Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell, and  Human Acts by Han Kang, translated from Korean by Deborah Smith. Both are dark, unsettling, and very interesting new titles that have captured the attention of readers. Their presence on the list is wonderful.

Curious if you've read the most popular translated books on Goodreads? We've rounded up the top 40. book lists | goodreads lists | translated books | popular books in translation | most popular translated books

None of this, however, makes up for one glaring failing. One that can’t be overlooked. There is not a single African novel on this list! Not one! If nothing else, So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ and translated by Modupé Bodé-Thomas deserves to be on this list. It’s a classic. I’d also recommend recent favorites of mine like Tram 83  by Fiston Mwanza Mujila and translated by Roland Glasser, La Bastarda  by Trifonia Melibea Obono and translated by Lawrence Schimel, Congo Inc.: Bismarck’s Testament by In Koli Jean Bofane and translated by Marjolijn de Jager, and Transparent City by Ondjaki and translated by Stephen Henighan.

I do realize that if Goodreads narrowed its search by ratings and reviews that there might not have been a translated novel from Africa that ranked as highly as the 40 that made the list. But it’s still unacceptable. One should have been chosen anyway, with a note like, “Hey, we saw that no translated novels from Africa made this list so here’s our recommendation.” Because that’s what it looks like to really  celebrate the universality of the joy of reading.

In honor of #WorldBookDay , here are 40 of the Most Popular Translated Books on Goodreads: https://t.co/pTooqJA3vQ pic.twitter.com/2Ggwmwi4Tb — goodreads (@goodreads) April 23, 2019

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, translated from the German by A.W. Wheen

A Man Called Ove  by Fredrik Backman, translated from Swedish by Henning Koch

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, translated from Russian by Richard Pevear  and Larissa Volokhonsky

A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea   by Masaji Ishikawa, translated from Japanese by Risa Kobayashi and Martin Brown

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, translated from Japanese by Yuji Oniki

Blindness   by José Saramago, translated from Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero

Candide by Voltaire, translated from French by Robert M. Adams

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, translated from Russian by David McDuff

Don Quixote  by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, translated from Spanish by Edith Grossman

Fever Dream  by Samanta Schweblin, translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell

The Hangman’s Daughter  by Oliver Pötzsch, translated from German by Lee Chadeayne

Human Acts by Han Kang, translated from Korean by Deborah Smith

Inferno   by Dante Alighieri, translated from Italian by Anthony M. Esolen

Inkheart  by Cornelia Funke, translated from German by Anthea Bell

Les Misérables  by Victor Hugo, translated from French by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee

Let Me In  by John Ajvide Lindqvist, translated from Swedish by Ebba Sergerberg

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, translated from French by Geoffrey Wall

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein

Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko, translated from Russian by Andrew Bromfield

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, translated from Japanese by Jay Rubin

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, translated from Spanish by Gregory Rabassa

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind, translated from German by John E. Woods

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi, translated from French by the author

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, translated from German by Hilda Rosner

Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue, translated from Spanish by Natasha Wimmer

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, translated from Portuguese by Alan R. Clarke and Özdemir İnce

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, translated from French by Robin Buss

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, translated from Dutch by B. M. Mooyaart-Doubleday

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, translated from French by Alison Anderson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, translated from Swedish by Reg Keeland

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, translated from Spanish by Magda Bogin

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, translated from Japanese by Cathy Hirano

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, translated from French by Richard Howard

The Metamorphosis  by Franz Kafka, translated from German by Michael Hofmann

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, translated from Italian by William Weaver

The Odyssey by Homer, translated from Ancient Greek by Robert Fagles

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated from Spanish by Lucia Graves

The Snowman by Jo Nesbø, translated from Swedish by Don Bartlett

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated from Chinese by Ken Liu

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, translated from Czech by Michael Henry Heim

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Your Three Best Options for Efficient Book Translation

Guest Author

  • August 2, 2019

OK, so you’ve completed (or are completing) your manuscript. Maybe it’s already (on the way to becoming) a published book. Even though your blood, sweat, and tears are on the pages–visible only to you–you now realize that this is, in fact, only the end of the beginning and far, far from the beginning of the end of your book publishing journey. Leave aside for the moment the important questions and tasks related to book marketing , social media , and public relations. Let’s focus on another topic that may prove equally important: translation. Tomedes has been translating books for more than a decade. Yet many authors, surprisingly, don’t even think of having their book translated.

Why, after all, limit your book to the language in which it was written? You can vastly expand your readership by creating multiple language editions.  Think about all the readers who don’t speak your mother tongue. Why deny them the pleasure of your brilliant thoughts and clever content?

Look Before You Leap

But just a second. It was hard enough, and costly enough, just to complete a book in one language. Won’t it just multiply your headaches, and your expenses, to undertake each additional language?

It doesn’t need to be so painful, or expensive, if you plan carefully.

A good place to start, not surprisingly, is reading. There are some excellent, authoritative resources for book authors and translators. These include the Translation Journal and Kindlepreneur (which focuses on ebooks).

But let’s assume you’ve done your homework and are ready to take a deep dive into the work itself. What are the best options out there for authors who want to get their works translated, quickly and efficiently, at a reasonable cost? Let’s look at the possible ways to get the job done cost-effectively, without sacrificing quality and accuracy. We consider a trio of approaches.

Do It Yourself

What was inconceivable just a few years ago is not firmly within the realm of the possible. Do It Yourself translation is within your grasp – if you have the courage, the time, and the nerves to undertake it.  The DIY option is, not surprisingly by far the cheapest option – but the cost in your personal effort and time commitment is greatest. Let’s weigh the pros and cons.

Pros of DIY Translation

There are many languages and translation tools out there, just waiting for you.  Some are free. Others have a nominal cost. Most of us are familiar with Google Translate but this is just the gorilla in the machine translation market. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of alternatives.  Some focus on a handful of translation pairs. For sure, as you will immediately discover, some are (much) better than others.

Thinking of Google Translate? Think Twice

For the sake of simplicity, let’s say you choose to use Google Translate. Not a bad choice: one of the biggest companies in the world – Alphabet – has poured millions of dollars/Euros/pounds into making this a truly sophisticated tool for professionals. Anyone who used Translate in its early days will be delighted to discover the algorithm and database improvements that now grace the current product.

Go to translate.google.com then copy and paste your brilliant first chapter into the left-column box. Then select your target language. As if by magic, voila, your chapter is now rendered into a whole new tongue. Ready to pop the cork on that expensive bottle of champagne? Maybe wait a minute.

If the target language is a second or third language to you, then you’re ahead of the game. You may be already able to spot the mistakes or awkward expression in your freshly baked translation. Maybe you know enough to fix them yourself. Maybe not. Google (and most other machine translation providers) helps you out by presenting a list of alternative word choices for the ones it initially selected. If you know a little about your target language, you may be able to use these lists to your advantage to tweak and smooth the translation into something less jarring to a mother-tongue reader of the target language.

Cons of DIY Translation

But let’s assume that you really have no competence in the target language. What then? You are left with three alternatives: friends, freelancers, and professional translation agencies.

Let’s dispense with the first option swiftly. Friends don’t ask friends to translate their writing. It’s more likely than not a recipe for the end of the friendship. Why?  Because translation usually does not fall into the category of a favor that friends do for each other.  True, if you have given up your kidney to your foreign-language friend, or they are hopelessly in love with you, they may feel obliged, or impassioned enough, to give your translation the time and dedication that it so richly deserves.  Otherwise, trust me, you are risking your friendship and probably not doing any great favors to your content.  Friends, even those competent or even expert in a foreign language, are not professional translators. They lack the experience, the tools, and the tricks, to get the job done. So don’t expect them to!

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The Freelance Option

If you are a professional writer, chances are that you may have already encountered freelance marketplaces like freelance.com, fiverr.com or upwork.com. Each day there are hundreds if not thousands of job offers on these marketplace sites, many of them for writing, editing, proofreading, and translation services. The offers come from companies and individuals. Some are for a fixed fee while others let you set your own rate or make an offer.  Freelancers compete to be selected for each of these jobs. The marketplace typically takes a commission of 10% to 20% of the freelancer’s earnings. Many writers supplement their earnings with these kinds of freelance gigs.

What To Look For in a Freelance Translator

In this case, though, we’re talking about crossing over to the client-side of the marketplace and seeking out potential translators for your book. Needless to say, the quality of translators varies drastically and you need to separate those who offer the best value for the money. Basically, you will post a job offer and receive after a day or three a list of candidates, each with a rating score, a profile, and many reviews of their past work.

ONLY seek out those who are mother-tongue speakers of the TARGET language.

That’s the thing that matters.  Read the reviews carefully. Select only those with excellent reviews and successful job completions, ideally with a published translation with explicit credit to the translator.

Contracting the Freelance Translator

Once you find a translator that seems the best value for your money, you will make a contract. Be sure to set milestones, especially in the beginning, to make sure you are happy with the translator’s work. In your contract, make sure you are explicit that you are contracting for human translation, not machine translation. There is a temptation to use software tools like Google Translate (or a similar machine translation) to expedite or check the work. While there is no harm in the translator using those tools as part of the process, a professional translator will not see machine translation as a substitute for “the real thing.”

Audit Your Freelance Translator to Weed Out Fakes

As the politicians say: trust but verify. Run your original through Google Translate and compare it to what your translator turns in to you.  If one seems to resemble the other, check additional passages. If the resemblance seems too close, don’t be shy about bringing this to the translator’s attention or, in extreme cases, canceling the contract then and there. Your book is your pride and joy, and you should get what you expect for a professional translator, no less.

Get a Second Opinion on Your Freelance Translation

Let’s say the process goes well and your translator presents you, proudly, with what he or she considers a final translation draft. Are you done? By no means! At that point, you would be well advised to post another job: editing and proofreading your translator’s work. Again, hire a native mother-tongue speaker of the target language. The editor/proofer will serve as a “second opinion” or “double-check” of the veracity and naturalness of the translation. Some will even add a “third opinion” but that becomes a matter of trust, comfort level, and (of course) budget.

Once you are satisfied that the translation is excellent, you will submit it to the publisher ( Lulu or other ) in the required format and/or according to the specified template. There still is a final round of review (proofing) before your translated work goes to press, and you should include this as a final milestone in your contract with your editor/proofreader.

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Professional Agencies

If the process described above seems to you a bit daunting – involving more supervision and back-and-forth than you anticipated – fear not. There is an alternative. Find an agency that specializes in literary translation, including (explicitly) book translation. If they have strong references and reviews (including published works in the desired target language), then you can feel confident entrusting to them many of the intermediate steps described in the previous section. Translation agencies usually are also familiar with localization, which involves familiarity with the cultural and social norms of the target audience, which can help you avoid embarrassing mistakes.

Pay a Premium For Professional Translation Services

Sure, you will pay a premium for this professionalism, and for the accompanying management and supervision of the whole process. Translation pricing will vary from language to language, of course, often as a function of the local economy and the laws of supply and demand. As a rule of thumb, a top professional translation agency will cost 30-50% more in translation cost than the combination of a freelancer and an editor/proofreader. But then again, your time is valuable, and you are likely to get a better product by working with an agency with an excellent track record and years of experience under its metaphorical belt.

Look For a Long Guarantee on Translation Work

If you are a skeptical, untrusting sort – and we strongly recommend that you be one! – it’s not a bad idea to hire an independent editor/proofreader who will review the agency’s work at the “galley” stage to find any errors or typos or formatting issues that may have crept into the process. But the good news about working with translation agencies is that some offer a guarantee about the accuracy of their work. Many agencies offer a month while a few, like Tomedes, offer a full year. If you, or your “hired gun” editor/proofer, find errors, they will take responsibility for fixing them. And, if you are smart enough to include this clause in your contract with the agency, they will even reimburse you for at least some of your expenses for hiring an independent editor/proofer.

How to Stage Multiple Translations

There is one additional point to be considered: additional languages. It’s always a good idea to do one translation before undertaking others. You familiarize yourself with the process and you learn from experience. The big advantage of working with a professional translation agency is that the second, third and subsequent translations are likely to be far more efficient. Most agencies support dozens of target languages and have the resources to ensure that the result is flawless. Truth be told, the process of translation is likely to reveal flaws in your original. Once those are corrected, future translations will go more smoothly and usually will involve “economies of scale” that will save you significantly in future translations.

Paul H, Content Marketing Manager

Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the part-time editor at  Study Clerk  and the CEO of Tomedes, a language service provider where he manages a global network of translators and language specialists.

Still looking for software or service to translate my books into French, Spanish, German, Italian. Suggestions,


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What Makes a Good Translated Book Review?

In the second of our blog posts about reviewing translated books, to go alongside the launch of our Reading Chinese Book Review Network , more of the translators we've worked with on the project have shared their thoughts on what makes a good review of a translated book.

book review translate in english

Eric Abrahamsen - translator and publisher of Paper Republic

book review translate in english

Dave Haysom - translator and editor of Pathlight Magazine

book review translate in english

Also, this can be controversial, but I like comparisons! Especially when it comes to authors I might not have much context for. Not if they're forced or untrue, obviously -- I probably don't mean "XX is China's answer to Kafka" etc -- but if there are specific reasons why elements of a story or writer's style resonate with something I'm likely to be familiar with (be it a book, author, film, tv series), I think it can be helpful.'

Natascha Bruce - translator (and one of the winners of our first Bai Meigui Translation Competition )

If this has inspired you, and you'd like to get involved with our Book Review Network, you can apply here . Or if you're looking for somewhere to start with Chinese fiction, check out our Bookclub page, where we're putting up 'flash reviews' of our monthly stories by our book reviewers, and tweeting about them using the hashtag #goodchinesereads.

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What’s lost in translation: book review of ‘into english: poems, translations, commentaries’.

Into English Book Review

There’s a story that says when the Old Testament was being translated from Hebrew to Greek for the first time, 72 translators were hired to do the job. Each of them worked on the project separately, and when the results were compared, each translation was exactly identical to all the others. This was considered a sign from above that the translation of the text was indeed God’s Word. If this story is true, it would definitely need to be a divine miracle, because finding even two translations that are the same is basically impossible.

For the most part, people trust translations to represent the original text pretty accurately, but this trust starts to ebb when it comes to poetry. There is something about poetry, whether it be the importance of the individual words or the visual form of the poems, that makes it so much harder to translate from one language to another. Take one of the simplest concepts in poems: rhyming. When translating two words that rhyme, is it more important to find two words that rhyme in the translated language, or to get as close to the definition of the original words as possible? This is just one of many questions that are addressed in the anthology Into English: Poems, Translations, Commentaries , a recent book from Graywolf Press that was edited by Martha Collins and Kevin Prufer.

For those who want to read non-English poetry, this book is a great introduction to works from all over the world. Exactly 25 poems appear in chronological order, which includes the poem in its original language, three English translations and a short commentary about the poem. Collins acknowledges at the beginning that there are not enough African poets and female writers in this book. She expresses her hope that this book will act as just a first step to a more inclusive treatment of international poetry in translation. At the least, there is a reasonable amount of language diversity, from an ancient Greek poem by Sappho to a Haitian Creole poem by Félix Morisseau-Leroy.

Even if you’re not someone who reads poetry in your spare time, the translations in the book are beautiful. There is something so fascinating about seeing three translations side by side and looking at the differences. You can look at each word and question the decisions behind it. Even with a two-line poem, like the one in the anthology by Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō, the resulting translations can be wildly different:

The end of autumn, and some rooks Are perched upon a withered branch. translated by Basil Hall Chamberlain (1902)

On a leafless bough A crow is sitting: — autumn, Darkening now — translated by Harold G. Henderson (1925)

A black crow Has settled himself On a leafless tree Fall on an autumn day. translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa (1966)

The commentaries that follow each of the poems cover a vast array of topics, from the fascinating to the pedantic. At times the tonal and informational differences between the commentaries take away from the cohesiveness of the book, but they do occasionally help keep the essays from becoming repetitive. Some parts are eminently skimmable, because they go into a level of detail that readers outside academia probably do not care about. The worst sections are those in which the writer seems to spend the entire essay arguing why the three translations in the book are inferior to their own. Apparently, those who contributed to the anthology did so under the condition that their own translation cannot be one of the three included. Still, a few writers include their own translation in their commentary anyway, which seems a bit self-serving.

Most of the writers do a fantastic job of illuminating the theories behind poetry translation in engaging ways. David Young’s essay on the Rainer Maria Rilke section is helpful because it not only discusses the three translations, but also explains why each of them was chosen in the first place, and how each translator approaches the problem of the poem. In another part, Carl Phillips reveals his opinion at the very beginning of his commentary, writing:

If I don’t know a language, and if I am coming to a text for the first time, I’m completely at the mercy of a translator, and I want to be able to trust that he or she has made it possible for me to believe I have in fact read War and Peace , for example, and not a variation on it (side by side with the reality, though, that every translation is a variation).

In reading the book, you can also patch together an ideological history of translation. More than one writer talks about Virgil’s statements about how translating a poem is “song replying to song replying to song.” Joanna Huss Trzeciak Huss cites Walter Benjamin, who said “the translator’s task is to restore to wholeness a vessel that, after Babel, has been shattered into fragments.” Which is quite a task to ask of anyone, really. There is no cohesive story of translation throughout time, but that is a job for a different book. In Into English , it’s just a hodgepodge of ideas, many of which will help you rethink poetry in other languages.

The most important question addressed: why bother translating a poem more than once, anyway? A range of answers are offered. For one, the English language changes, so new translations can help modernize the text. There is a somewhat skeptical possibility, offered by Joannes Göransson, that “once a poet like Tranströmer has become part of the U.S. canon of ‘international poetry,’ it becomes an act of conservatism to continue translating him: we translate and review the translations because the poet is acceptable and publishable.” There are sad repercussions to this canon, because it means that a single person becomes the poetic voice of a country, and everyone else gets ignored. New poets remain unknown, while old ones get published again and again in the billionth edition with a new foreword by Jonathan Franzen or whomever.

Then, there’s the seemingly defeatist answer to this question: poems are simply untranslatable. Hearing it like that, it might make the whole practice of translating poetry seem pointless. Why read something you’ll never fully “get?” The best part of reading Into English is that it helps you push against that thought. Many of the commentaries exude the palpable excitement of the authors reading a poem’s many translations and finding new meaning in each. By reframing this impossibility of translation as a good thing, it makes a powerful argument for poetry as a whole. Cole Swensen, commenting on Charles Baudelaire, writes it as such:

All translations need an absolutely untranslatable moment to remind us that any translation is, in fact, impossible — and thus unlimited.

This is the third article in our series Babbeling Books . We’re spotlighting non-English books, new and old, that interact with language or language-learning in some way. If you have any books that you think we should cover next, let us know at [email protected] or in the comments. Our only requirement is that the book must have been originally published in a language other than English.

17 Book Review Examples to Help You Write the Perfect Review

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17 book review examples to help you write the perfect review.

17 Book Review Examples to Help You Write the Perfect Review

It’s an exciting time to be a book reviewer. Once confined to print newspapers and journals, reviews now dot many corridors of the Internet — forever helping others discover their next great read. That said, every book reviewer will face a familiar panic: how can you do justice to a great book in just a thousand words?

As you know, the best way to learn how to do something is by immersing yourself in it. Luckily, the Internet (i.e. Goodreads and other review sites , in particular) has made book reviews more accessible than ever — which means that there are a lot of book reviews examples out there for you to view!

In this post, we compiled 17 prototypical book review examples in multiple genres to help you figure out how to write the perfect review . If you want to jump straight to the examples, you can skip the next section. Otherwise, let’s first check out what makes up a good review.

Are you interested in becoming a book reviewer? We recommend you check out Reedsy Discovery , where you can earn money for writing reviews — and are guaranteed people will read your reviews! To register as a book reviewer, sign up here.

Pro-tip : But wait! How are you sure if you should become a book reviewer in the first place? If you're on the fence, or curious about your match with a book reviewing career, take our quick quiz:

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What must a book review contain?

Like all works of art, no two book reviews will be identical. But fear not: there are a few guidelines for any aspiring book reviewer to follow. Most book reviews, for instance, are less than 1,500 words long, with the sweet spot hitting somewhere around the 1,000-word mark. (However, this may vary depending on the platform on which you’re writing, as we’ll see later.)

In addition, all reviews share some universal elements, as shown in our book review templates . These include:

  • A review will offer a concise plot summary of the book. 
  • A book review will offer an evaluation of the work. 
  • A book review will offer a recommendation for the audience. 

If these are the basic ingredients that make up a book review, it’s the tone and style with which the book reviewer writes that brings the extra panache. This will differ from platform to platform, of course. A book review on Goodreads, for instance, will be much more informal and personal than a book review on Kirkus Reviews, as it is catering to a different audience. However, at the end of the day, the goal of all book reviews is to give the audience the tools to determine whether or not they’d like to read the book themselves.

Keeping that in mind, let’s proceed to some book review examples to put all of this in action.

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Book review examples for fiction books

Since story is king in the world of fiction, it probably won’t come as any surprise to learn that a book review for a novel will concentrate on how well the story was told .

That said, book reviews in all genres follow the same basic formula that we discussed earlier. In these examples, you’ll be able to see how book reviewers on different platforms expertly intertwine the plot summary and their personal opinions of the book to produce a clear, informative, and concise review.

Note: Some of the book review examples run very long. If a book review is truncated in this post, we’ve indicated by including a […] at the end, but you can always read the entire review if you click on the link provided.

Examples of literary fiction book reviews

Kirkus Reviews reviews Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man :

An extremely powerful story of a young Southern Negro, from his late high school days through three years of college to his life in Harlem.
His early training prepared him for a life of humility before white men, but through injustices- large and small, he came to realize that he was an "invisible man". People saw in him only a reflection of their preconceived ideas of what he was, denied his individuality, and ultimately did not see him at all. This theme, which has implications far beyond the obvious racial parallel, is skillfully handled. The incidents of the story are wholly absorbing. The boy's dismissal from college because of an innocent mistake, his shocked reaction to the anonymity of the North and to Harlem, his nightmare experiences on a one-day job in a paint factory and in the hospital, his lightning success as the Harlem leader of a communistic organization known as the Brotherhood, his involvement in black versus white and black versus black clashes and his disillusion and understanding of his invisibility- all climax naturally in scenes of violence and riot, followed by a retreat which is both literal and figurative. Parts of this experience may have been told before, but never with such freshness, intensity and power.
This is Ellison's first novel, but he has complete control of his story and his style. Watch it.

Lyndsey reviews George Orwell’s 1984 on Goodreads:

YOU. ARE. THE. DEAD. Oh my God. I got the chills so many times toward the end of this book. It completely blew my mind. It managed to surpass my high expectations AND be nothing at all like I expected. Or in Newspeak "Double Plus Good." Let me preface this with an apology. If I sound stunningly inarticulate at times in this review, I can't help it. My mind is completely fried.
This book is like the dystopian Lord of the Rings, with its richly developed culture and economics, not to mention a fully developed language called Newspeak, or rather more of the anti-language, whose purpose is to limit speech and understanding instead of to enhance and expand it. The world-building is so fully fleshed out and spine-tinglingly terrifying that it's almost as if George travelled to such a place, escaped from it, and then just wrote it all down.
I read Fahrenheit 451 over ten years ago in my early teens. At the time, I remember really wanting to read 1984, although I never managed to get my hands on it. I'm almost glad I didn't. Though I would not have admitted it at the time, it would have gone over my head. Or at the very least, I wouldn't have been able to appreciate it fully. […]

The New York Times reviews Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry :

Three-quarters of the way through Lisa Halliday’s debut novel, “Asymmetry,” a British foreign correspondent named Alistair is spending Christmas on a compound outside of Baghdad. His fellow revelers include cameramen, defense contractors, United Nations employees and aid workers. Someone’s mother has FedExed a HoneyBaked ham from Maine; people are smoking by the swimming pool. It is 2003, just days after Saddam Hussein’s capture, and though the mood is optimistic, Alistair is worrying aloud about the ethics of his chosen profession, wondering if reporting on violence doesn’t indirectly abet violence and questioning why he’d rather be in a combat zone than reading a picture book to his son. But every time he returns to London, he begins to “spin out.” He can’t go home. “You observe what people do with their freedom — what they don’t do — and it’s impossible not to judge them for it,” he says.
The line, embedded unceremoniously in the middle of a page-long paragraph, doubles, like so many others in “Asymmetry,” as literary criticism. Halliday’s novel is so strange and startlingly smart that its mere existence seems like commentary on the state of fiction. One finishes “Asymmetry” for the first or second (or like this reader, third) time and is left wondering what other writers are not doing with their freedom — and, like Alistair, judging them for it.
Despite its title, “Asymmetry” comprises two seemingly unrelated sections of equal length, appended by a slim and quietly shocking coda. Halliday’s prose is clean and lean, almost reportorial in the style of W. G. Sebald, and like the murmurings of a shy person at a cocktail party, often comic only in single clauses. It’s a first novel that reads like the work of an author who has published many books over many years. […]

Emily W. Thompson reviews Michael Doane's The Crossing on Reedsy Discovery :

In Doane’s debut novel, a young man embarks on a journey of self-discovery with surprising results.
An unnamed protagonist (The Narrator) is dealing with heartbreak. His love, determined to see the world, sets out for Portland, Oregon. But he’s a small-town boy who hasn’t traveled much. So, the Narrator mourns her loss and hides from life, throwing himself into rehabbing an old motorcycle. Until one day, he takes a leap; he packs his bike and a few belongings and heads out to find the Girl.
Following in the footsteps of Jack Kerouac and William Least Heat-Moon, Doane offers a coming of age story about a man finding himself on the backroads of America. Doane’s a gifted writer with fluid prose and insightful observations, using The Narrator’s personal interactions to illuminate the diversity of the United States.
The Narrator initially sticks to the highways, trying to make it to the West Coast as quickly as possible. But a hitchhiker named Duke convinces him to get off the beaten path and enjoy the ride. “There’s not a place that’s like any other,” [39] Dukes contends, and The Narrator realizes he’s right. Suddenly, the trip is about the journey, not just the destination. The Narrator ditches his truck and traverses the deserts and mountains on his bike. He destroys his phone, cutting off ties with his past and living only in the moment.
As he crosses the country, The Narrator connects with several unique personalities whose experiences and views deeply impact his own. Duke, the complicated cowboy and drifter, who opens The Narrator’s eyes to a larger world. Zooey, the waitress in Colorado who opens his heart and reminds him that love can be found in this big world. And Rosie, The Narrator’s sweet landlady in Portland, who helps piece him back together both physically and emotionally.
This supporting cast of characters is excellent. Duke, in particular, is wonderfully nuanced and complicated. He’s a throwback to another time, a man without a cell phone who reads Sartre and sleeps under the stars. Yet he’s also a grifter with a “love ‘em and leave ‘em” attitude that harms those around him. It’s fascinating to watch The Narrator wrestle with Duke’s behavior, trying to determine which to model and which to discard.
Doane creates a relatable protagonist in The Narrator, whose personal growth doesn’t erase his faults. His willingness to hit the road with few resources is admirable, and he’s prescient enough to recognize the jealousy of those who cannot or will not take the leap. His encounters with new foods, places, and people broaden his horizons. Yet his immaturity and selfishness persist. He tells Rosie she’s been a good mother to him but chooses to ignore the continuing concern from his own parents as he effectively disappears from his old life.
Despite his flaws, it’s a pleasure to accompany The Narrator on his physical and emotional journey. The unexpected ending is a fitting denouement to an epic and memorable road trip.

The Book Smugglers review Anissa Gray’s The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls :

I am still dipping my toes into the literally fiction pool, finding what works for me and what doesn’t. Books like The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray are definitely my cup of tea.
Althea and Proctor Cochran had been pillars of their economically disadvantaged community for years – with their local restaurant/small market and their charity drives. Until they are found guilty of fraud for stealing and keeping most of the money they raised and sent to jail. Now disgraced, their entire family is suffering the consequences, specially their twin teenage daughters Baby Vi and Kim.  To complicate matters even more: Kim was actually the one to call the police on her parents after yet another fight with her mother. […]

Examples of children’s and YA fiction book reviews

The Book Hookup reviews Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give :

♥ Quick Thoughts and Rating: 5 stars! I can’t imagine how challenging it would be to tackle the voice of a movement like Black Lives Matter, but I do know that Thomas did it with a finesse only a talented author like herself possibly could. With an unapologetically realistic delivery packed with emotion, The Hate U Give is a crucially important portrayal of the difficulties minorities face in our country every single day. I have no doubt that this book will be met with resistance by some (possibly many) and slapped with a “controversial” label, but if you’ve ever wondered what it was like to walk in a POC’s shoes, then I feel like this is an unflinchingly honest place to start.
In Angie Thomas’s debut novel, Starr Carter bursts on to the YA scene with both heart-wrecking and heartwarming sincerity. This author is definitely one to watch.
♥ Review: The hype around this book has been unquestionable and, admittedly, that made me both eager to get my hands on it and terrified to read it. I mean, what if I was to be the one person that didn’t love it as much as others? (That seems silly now because of how truly mesmerizing THUG was in the most heartbreakingly realistic way.) However, with the relevancy of its summary in regards to the unjust predicaments POC currently face in the US, I knew this one was a must-read, so I was ready to set my fears aside and dive in. That said, I had an altogether more personal, ulterior motive for wanting to read this book. […]

The New York Times reviews Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood :

Alice Crewe (a last name she’s chosen for herself) is a fairy tale legacy: the granddaughter of Althea Proserpine, author of a collection of dark-as-night fairy tales called “Tales From the Hinterland.” The book has a cult following, and though Alice has never met her grandmother, she’s learned a little about her through internet research. She hasn’t read the stories, because her mother, Ella Proserpine, forbids it.
Alice and Ella have moved from place to place in an attempt to avoid the “bad luck” that seems to follow them. Weird things have happened. As a child, Alice was kidnapped by a man who took her on a road trip to find her grandmother; he was stopped by the police before they did so. When at 17 she sees that man again, unchanged despite the years, Alice panics. Then Ella goes missing, and Alice turns to Ellery Finch, a schoolmate who’s an Althea Proserpine superfan, for help in tracking down her mother. Not only has Finch read every fairy tale in the collection, but handily, he remembers them, sharing them with Alice as they journey to the mysterious Hazel Wood, the estate of her now-dead grandmother, where they hope to find Ella.
“The Hazel Wood” starts out strange and gets stranger, in the best way possible. (The fairy stories Finch relays, which Albert includes as their own chapters, are as creepy and evocative as you’d hope.) Albert seamlessly combines contemporary realism with fantasy, blurring the edges in a way that highlights that place where stories and real life convene, where magic contains truth and the world as it appears is false, where just about anything can happen, particularly in the pages of a very good book. It’s a captivating debut. […]

James reviews Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight, Moon on Goodreads:

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown is one of the books that followers of my blog voted as a must-read for our Children's Book August 2018 Readathon. Come check it out and join the next few weeks!
This picture book was such a delight. I hadn't remembered reading it when I was a child, but it might have been read to me... either way, it was like a whole new experience! It's always so difficult to convince a child to fall asleep at night. I don't have kids, but I do have a 5-month-old puppy who whines for 5 minutes every night when he goes in his cage/crate (hopefully he'll be fully housebroken soon so he can roam around when he wants). I can only imagine! I babysat a lot as a teenager and I have tons of younger cousins, nieces, and nephews, so I've been through it before, too. This was a believable experience, and it really helps show kids how to relax and just let go when it's time to sleep.
The bunny's are adorable. The rhymes are exquisite. I found it pretty fun, but possibly a little dated given many of those things aren't normal routines anymore. But the lessons to take from it are still powerful. Loved it! I want to sample some more books by this fine author and her illustrators.

Publishers Weekly reviews Elizabeth Lilly’s Geraldine :

This funny, thoroughly accomplished debut opens with two words: “I’m moving.” They’re spoken by the title character while she swoons across her family’s ottoman, and because Geraldine is a giraffe, her full-on melancholy mode is quite a spectacle. But while Geraldine may be a drama queen (even her mother says so), it won’t take readers long to warm up to her. The move takes Geraldine from Giraffe City, where everyone is like her, to a new school, where everyone else is human. Suddenly, the former extrovert becomes “That Giraffe Girl,” and all she wants to do is hide, which is pretty much impossible. “Even my voice tries to hide,” she says, in the book’s most poignant moment. “It’s gotten quiet and whispery.” Then she meets Cassie, who, though human, is also an outlier (“I’m that girl who wears glasses and likes MATH and always organizes her food”), and things begin to look up.
Lilly’s watercolor-and-ink drawings are as vividly comic and emotionally astute as her writing; just when readers think there are no more ways for Geraldine to contort her long neck, this highly promising talent comes up with something new.

Examples of genre fiction book reviews

Karlyn P reviews Nora Roberts’ Dark Witch , a paranormal romance novel , on Goodreads:

4 stars. Great world-building, weak romance, but still worth the read.
I hesitate to describe this book as a 'romance' novel simply because the book spent little time actually exploring the romance between Iona and Boyle. Sure, there IS a romance in this novel. Sprinkled throughout the book are a few scenes where Iona and Boyle meet, chat, wink at each, flirt some more, sleep together, have a misunderstanding, make up, and then profess their undying love. Very formulaic stuff, and all woven around the more important parts of this book.
The meat of this book is far more focused on the story of the Dark witch and her magically-gifted descendants living in Ireland. Despite being weak on the romance, I really enjoyed it. I think the book is probably better for it, because the romance itself was pretty lackluster stuff.
I absolutely plan to stick with this series as I enjoyed the world building, loved the Ireland setting, and was intrigued by all of the secondary characters. However, If you read Nora Roberts strictly for the romance scenes, this one might disappoint. But if you enjoy a solid background story with some dark magic and prophesies, you might enjoy it as much as I did.
I listened to this one on audio, and felt the narration was excellent.

Emily May reviews R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy Wars , an epic fantasy novel , on Goodreads:

“But I warn you, little warrior. The price of power is pain.”
Holy hell, what did I just read??
➽ A fantasy military school
➽ A rich world based on modern Chinese history
➽ Shamans and gods
➽ Detailed characterization leading to unforgettable characters
➽ Adorable, opium-smoking mentors
That's a basic list, but this book is all of that and SO MUCH MORE. I know 100% that The Poppy War will be one of my best reads of 2018.
Isn't it just so great when you find one of those books that completely drags you in, makes you fall in love with the characters, and demands that you sit on the edge of your seat for every horrific, nail-biting moment of it? This is one of those books for me. And I must issue a serious content warning: this book explores some very dark themes. Proceed with caution (or not at all) if you are particularly sensitive to scenes of war, drug use and addiction, genocide, racism, sexism, ableism, self-harm, torture, and rape (off-page but extremely horrific).
Because, despite the fairly innocuous first 200 pages, the title speaks the truth: this is a book about war. All of its horrors and atrocities. It is not sugar-coated, and it is often graphic. The "poppy" aspect refers to opium, which is a big part of this book. It is a fantasy, but the book draws inspiration from the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Rape of Nanking.

Crime Fiction Lover reviews Jessica Barry’s Freefall , a crime novel:

In some crime novels, the wrongdoing hits you between the eyes from page one. With others it’s a more subtle process, and that’s OK too. So where does Freefall fit into the sliding scale?
In truth, it’s not clear. This is a novel with a thrilling concept at its core. A woman survives plane crash, then runs for her life. However, it is the subtleties at play that will draw you in like a spider beckoning to an unwitting fly.
Like the heroine in Sharon Bolton’s Dead Woman Walking, Allison is lucky to be alive. She was the only passenger in a private plane, belonging to her fiancé, Ben, who was piloting the expensive aircraft, when it came down in woodlands in the Colorado Rockies. Ally is also the only survivor, but rather than sitting back and waiting for rescue, she is soon pulling together items that may help her survive a little longer – first aid kit, energy bars, warm clothes, trainers – before fleeing the scene. If you’re hearing the faint sound of alarm bells ringing, get used to it. There’s much, much more to learn about Ally before this tale is over.

Kirkus Reviews reviews Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One , a science-fiction novel :

Video-game players embrace the quest of a lifetime in a virtual world; screenwriter Cline’s first novel is old wine in new bottles.
The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. So who can blame Wade, our narrator, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS has captivating bells and whistles, and it’s free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate. Old-fashioned riddles lead to three keys and three gates. Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, is the first gunter (egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, first of three.
Halliday was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, primarily the arcade games, so the novel is as much retro as futurist. Parzival’s great strength is that he has absorbed all Halliday’s obsessions; he knows by heart three essential movies, crossing the line from geek to freak. His most formidable competitors are the Sixers, contract gunters working for the evil conglomerate IOI, whose goal is to acquire the OASIS. Cline’s narrative is straightforward but loaded with exposition. It takes a while to reach a scene that crackles with excitement: the meeting between Parzival (now world famous as the lead contender) and Sorrento, the head of IOI. The latter tries to recruit Parzival; when he fails, he issues and executes a death threat. Wade’s trailer is demolished, his relatives killed; luckily Wade was not at home. Too bad this is the dramatic high point. Parzival threads his way between more ’80s games and movies to gain the other keys; it’s clever but not exciting. Even a romance with another avatar and the ultimate “epic throwdown” fail to stir the blood.
Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.

Book review examples for non-fiction books

Nonfiction books are generally written to inform readers about a certain topic. As such, the focus of a nonfiction book review will be on the clarity and effectiveness of this communication . In carrying this out, a book review may analyze the author’s source materials and assess the thesis in order to determine whether or not the book meets expectations.

Again, we’ve included abbreviated versions of long reviews here, so feel free to click on the link to read the entire piece!

The Washington Post reviews David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon :

The arc of David Grann’s career reminds one of a software whiz-kid or a latest-thing talk-show host — certainly not an investigative reporter, even if he is one of the best in the business. The newly released movie of his first book, “The Lost City of Z,” is generating all kinds of Oscar talk, and now comes the release of his second book, “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI,” the film rights to which have already been sold for $5 million in what one industry journal called the “biggest and wildest book rights auction in memory.”
Grann deserves the attention. He’s canny about the stories he chases, he’s willing to go anywhere to chase them, and he’s a maestro in his ability to parcel out information at just the right clip: a hint here, a shading of meaning there, a smartly paced buildup of multiple possibilities followed by an inevitable reversal of readerly expectations or, in some cases, by a thrilling and dislocating pull of the entire narrative rug.
All of these strengths are on display in “Killers of the Flower Moon.” Around the turn of the 20th century, oil was discovered underneath Osage lands in the Oklahoma Territory, lands that were soon to become part of the state of Oklahoma. Through foresight and legal maneuvering, the Osage found a way to permanently attach that oil to themselves and shield it from the prying hands of white interlopers; this mechanism was known as “headrights,” which forbade the outright sale of oil rights and granted each full member of the tribe — and, supposedly, no one else — a share in the proceeds from any lease arrangement. For a while, the fail-safes did their job, and the Osage got rich — diamond-ring and chauffeured-car and imported-French-fashion rich — following which quite a large group of white men started to work like devils to separate the Osage from their money. And soon enough, and predictably enough, this work involved murder. Here in Jazz Age America’s most isolated of locales, dozens or even hundreds of Osage in possession of great fortunes — and of the potential for even greater fortunes in the future — were dispatched by poison, by gunshot and by dynamite. […]

Stacked Books reviews Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers :

I’ve heard a lot of great things about Malcolm Gladwell’s writing. Friends and co-workers tell me that his subjects are interesting and his writing style is easy to follow without talking down to the reader. I wasn’t disappointed with Outliers. In it, Gladwell tackles the subject of success – how people obtain it and what contributes to extraordinary success as opposed to everyday success.
The thesis – that our success depends much more on circumstances out of our control than any effort we put forth – isn’t exactly revolutionary. Most of us know it to be true. However, I don’t think I’m lying when I say that most of us also believe that we if we just try that much harder and develop our talent that much further, it will be enough to become wildly successful, despite bad or just mediocre beginnings. Not so, says Gladwell.
Most of the evidence Gladwell gives us is anecdotal, which is my favorite kind to read. I can’t really speak to how scientifically valid it is, but it sure makes for engrossing listening. For example, did you know that successful hockey players are almost all born in January, February, or March? Kids born during these months are older than the others kids when they start playing in the youth leagues, which means they’re already better at the game (because they’re bigger). Thus, they get more play time, which means their skill increases at a faster rate, and it compounds as time goes by. Within a few years, they’re much, much better than the kids born just a few months later in the year. Basically, these kids’ birthdates are a huge factor in their success as adults – and it’s nothing they can do anything about. If anyone could make hockey interesting to a Texan who only grudgingly admits the sport even exists, it’s Gladwell. […]

Quill and Quire reviews Rick Prashaw’s Soar, Adam, Soar :

Ten years ago, I read a book called Almost Perfect. The young-adult novel by Brian Katcher won some awards and was held up as a powerful, nuanced portrayal of a young trans person. But the reality did not live up to the book’s billing. Instead, it turned out to be a one-dimensional and highly fetishized portrait of a trans person’s life, one that was nevertheless repeatedly dubbed “realistic” and “affecting” by non-transgender readers possessing only a vague, mass-market understanding of trans experiences.
In the intervening decade, trans narratives have emerged further into the literary spotlight, but those authored by trans people ourselves – and by trans men in particular – have seemed to fall under the shadow of cisgender sensationalized imaginings. Two current Canadian releases – Soar, Adam, Soar and This One Looks Like a Boy – provide a pointed object lesson into why trans-authored work about transgender experiences remains critical.
To be fair, Soar, Adam, Soar isn’t just a story about a trans man. It’s also a story about epilepsy, the medical establishment, and coming of age as seen through a grieving father’s eyes. Adam, Prashaw’s trans son, died unexpectedly at age 22. Woven through the elder Prashaw’s narrative are excerpts from Adam’s social media posts, giving us glimpses into the young man’s interior life as he traverses his late teens and early 20s. […]

Book Geeks reviews Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love :

“Eat Pray Love” is so popular that it is almost impossible to not read it. Having felt ashamed many times on my not having read this book, I quietly ordered the book (before I saw the movie) from amazon.in and sat down to read it. I don’t remember what I expected it to be – maybe more like a chick lit thing but it turned out quite different. The book is a real story and is a short journal from the time when its writer went travelling to three different countries in pursuit of three different things – Italy (Pleasure), India (Spirituality), Bali (Balance) and this is what corresponds to the book’s name – EAT (in Italy), PRAY (in India) and LOVE (in Bali, Indonesia). These are also the three Is – ITALY, INDIA, INDONESIA.
Though she had everything a middle-aged American woman can aspire for – MONEY, CAREER, FRIENDS, HUSBAND; Elizabeth was not happy in her life, she wasn’t happy in her marriage. Having suffered a terrible divorce and terrible breakup soon after, Elizabeth was shattered. She didn’t know where to go and what to do – all she knew was that she wanted to run away. So she set out on a weird adventure – she will go to three countries in a year and see if she can find out what she was looking for in life. This book is about that life changing journey that she takes for one whole year. […]

Emily May reviews Michelle Obama’s Becoming on Goodreads:

Look, I'm not a happy crier. I might cry at songs about leaving and missing someone; I might cry at books where things don't work out; I might cry at movies where someone dies. I've just never really understood why people get all choked up over happy, inspirational things. But Michelle Obama's kindness and empathy changed that. This book had me in tears for all the right reasons.
This is not really a book about politics, though political experiences obviously do come into it. It's a shame that some will dismiss this book because of a difference in political opinion, when it is really about a woman's life. About growing up poor and black on the South Side of Chicago; about getting married and struggling to maintain that marriage; about motherhood; about being thrown into an amazing and terrifying position.
I hate words like "inspirational" because they've become so overdone and cheesy, but I just have to say it-- Michelle Obama is an inspiration. I had the privilege of seeing her speak at The Forum in Inglewood, and she is one of the warmest, funniest, smartest, down-to-earth people I have ever seen in this world.
And yes, I know we present what we want the world to see, but I truly do think it's genuine. I think she is someone who really cares about people - especially kids - and wants to give them better lives and opportunities.
She's obviously intelligent, but she also doesn't gussy up her words. She talks straight, with an openness and honesty rarely seen. She's been one of the most powerful women in the world, she's been a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, she's had her own successful career, and yet she has remained throughout that same girl - Michelle Robinson - from a working class family in Chicago.
I don't think there's anyone who wouldn't benefit from reading this book.

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The 1 00 Best Books of the 21st Century

Finally! 20 - 1

Stack of 20 books

As voted on by 503 novelists, nonfiction writers, poets, critics and other book lovers — with a little help from the staff of The New York Times Book Review.

Many of us find joy in looking back and taking stock of our reading lives, which is why we here at The New York Times Book Review decided to mark the first 25 years of this century with an ambitious project: to take a first swing at determining the most important, influential books of the era. In collaboration with the Upshot, we sent a survey to hundreds of literary luminaries , asking them to name the 10 best books published since Jan. 1, 2000.

Stephen King took part. So did Bonnie Garmus, Claudia Rankine, James Patterson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Elin Hilderbrand, Thomas Chatterton Williams, Roxane Gay, Marlon James, Sarah MacLean, Min Jin Lee, Jonathan Lethem and Jenna Bush Hager, to name just a few . And you can also take part! Vote here and let us know what your top 10 books of the century are.

We hope you’ll discover a book you’ve always meant to read, or encounter a beloved favorite you’d like to pick up again. Above all, we hope you’re as inspired and dazzled as we are by the breadth of subjects, voices, opinions, experiences and imagination represented here.

The 100 Best Books of the 21st Century

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Book cover for Tree of Smoke

Tree of Smoke

Denis Johnson 2007

Like the project of the title — an intelligence report that the newly minted C.I.A. operative William “Skip” Sands comes to find both quixotic and useless — the Vietnam-era warfare of Johnson’s rueful, soulful novel lives in shadows, diversions and half-truths. There are no heroes here among the lawless colonels, assassinated priests and faith-stricken NGO nurses; only villainy and vast indifference.

Liked it? Try “ Missionaries ,” by Phil Klay or “ Hystopia ,” by David Means.

Interested? Read our review . Then reserve it at your local library or buy it from Amazon , Apple , Barnes & Noble or Bookshop .

Book cover for How to Be Both

How to Be Both

Ali Smith 2014

This elegant double helix of a novel entwines the stories of a fictional modern-day British girl and a real-life 15th-century Italian painter. A more conventional book might have explored the ways the past and present mirror each other, but Smith is after something much more radical. “How to Be Both” is a passionate, dialectical critique of the binaries that define and confine us. Not only male and female, but also real and imaginary, poetry and prose, living and dead. The way to be “both” is to recognize the extent to which everything already is. — A.O. Scott, critic at large for The Times

Liked it? Try “ Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi ,” by Geoff Dyer or “ The Argonauts ,” by Maggie Nelson.

Book cover for Bel Canto

Ann Patchett 2001

A famed opera singer performs for a Japanese executive’s birthday at a luxe private home in South America; it’s that kind of party. But when a group of young guerrillas swoops in and takes everyone in the house hostage, Patchett’s exquisitely calibrated novel — inspired by a real incident — becomes a piano wire of tension, vibrating on high.

Book cover for Bel Canto

My wife and I share books we love with our kids, and after I raved about “Bel Canto” — the voice, the setting, the way romance and suspense are so perfectly braided — I gave copies to my kids, and they all loved it, too. My son was in high school then, and he became a kind of lit-pusher, pressing his beloved copy into friends’ hands. We used to call him the Keeper of the Bel Canto. — Jess Walter, author of “Beautiful Ruins”

Liked it? Try “ Nocturnes ,” by Kazuo Ishiguro or “ The Piano Tuner ,” by Daniel Mason.

Book cover for Men We Reaped

Men We Reaped

Jesmyn Ward 2013

Sandwiched between her two National Book Award-winning novels, Ward’s memoir carries more than fiction’s force in its aching elegy for five young Black men (a brother, a cousin, three friends) whose untimely exits from her life came violently and without warning. Their deaths — from suicide and homicide, addiction and accident — place the hidden contours of race, justice and cruel circumstance in stark relief.

Liked it? Try “ Breathe: A Letter to My Sons ,” by Imani Perry or “ Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir ,” by Natasha Trethewey.

book review translate in english

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments

Saidiya Hartman 2019

A beautiful, meticulously researched exploration of the lives of Black girls whom early-20th-century laws designated as “wayward” for such crimes as having serial lovers, or an excess of desire, or a style of comportment that was outside white norms. Hartman grapples with “the power and authority of the archive and the limits it sets on what can be known” about poor Black women, but from the few traces she uncovers in the historical record, she manages to sketch moving portraits, restoring joy and freedom and movement to what, in other hands, might have been mere statistics. — Laila Lalami, author of “The Other Americans”

Liked it? Try “In the Wake: On Blackness and Being,” by Christina Sharpe or “ All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake ,” by Tiya Miles.

Book cover for Bring Up the Bodies

Bring Up the Bodies

Hilary Mantel 2012

The title comes from an old English legal phrase for summoning men who have been accused of treason to trial; in the court’s eyes, effectively, they are already dead. But Mantel’s tour-de-force portrait of Thomas Cromwell, the second installment in her vaunted “Wolf Hall” series, thrums with thrilling, obstinate life: a lowborn statesman on the rise; a king in love (and out of love, and in love again); a mad roundelay of power plays, poisoned loyalties and fateful realignments. It’s only empires, after all.

stack of books facing backward

Liked it? Try “ This Is Happiness ,” by Niall Williams or “ The Western Wind ,” by Samantha Harvey.

Interested? Read our review . Then reserve it at your local library or buy it from Amazon , Apple or Barnes & Noble .

Book cover for On Beauty

Zadie Smith 2005

Consider it a bold reinvention of “Howards End,” or take Smith’s sprawling third novel as its own golden thing: a tale of two professors — one proudly liberal, the other staunchly right-wing — whose respective families’ rivalries and friendships unspool over nearly 450 provocative, subplot-mad pages.

Book cover for On Beauty

“You don’t have favorites among your children, but you do have allies.”

Let’s admit it: Family is often a kind of war, even if telepathically conducted. — Alexandra Jacobs, book critic for The Times

Liked it? Try “ Crossroads ,” by Jonathan Franzen.

Book cover for Station Eleven

Station Eleven

Emily St. John Mandel 2014

Increasingly, and for obvious reasons, end-times novels are not hard to find. But few have conjured the strange luck of surviving an apocalypse — civilization preserved via the ad hoc Shakespeare of a traveling theater troupe; entire human ecosystems contained in an abandoned airport — with as much spooky melancholic beauty as Mandel does in her beguiling fourth novel.

Liked it? Try “ Severance ,” by Ling Ma or “ The Passage ,” by Justin Cronin.

Book cover for The Days of Abandonment

The Days of Abandonment

Elena Ferrante; translated by Ann Goldstein 2005

There is something scandalous about this picture of a sensible, adult woman almost deranged by the breakup of her marriage, to the point of neglecting her children. The psychodrama is naked — sometimes hard to read, at other moments approaching farce. Just as Ferrante drew an indelible portrait of female friendship in her quartet of Neapolitan novels, here, she brings her all-seeing eye to female solitude.

Book cover for The Days of Abandonment

“The circle of an empty day is brutal, and at night it tightens around your neck like a noose.”

It so simply encapsulates how solitude can, with the inexorable passage of time, calcify into loneliness and then despair. — Alexandra Jacobs

Liked it? Try “ Eileen ,” by Ottessa Moshfegh or “ Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation ,” by Rachel Cusk.

Book cover for The Human Stain

The Human Stain

Philip Roth 2000

Set during the Clinton impeachment imbroglio, this is partly a furious indictment of what would later be called cancel culture, partly an inquiry into the paradoxes of class, sex and race in America. A college professor named Coleman Silk is persecuted for making supposedly racist remarks in class. Nathan Zuckerman, his neighbor (and Roth’s trusty alter ego), learns that Silk, a fellow son of Newark, is a Black man who has spent most of his adult life passing for white. Of all the Zuckerman novels, this one may be the most incendiary, and the most unsettling. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “ Vladimir ,” by Julia May Jonas or “ Blue Angel ,” by Francine Prose.

Book cover for The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer

Viet Thanh Nguyen 2015

Penned as a book-length confession from a nameless North Vietnamese spy as Saigon falls and new duties in America beckon, Nguyen’s richly faceted novel seems to swallow multiple genres whole, like a satisfied python: political thriller and personal history, cracked metafiction and tar-black comedy.

Liked it? Try “ Man of My Time ,” by Dalia Sofer or “ Tomás Nevinson ,” by Javier Marías; translated by Margaret Jull Costa.

Book cover for The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between

Hisham Matar 2016

Though its Pulitzer Prize was bestowed in the category of biography, Matar’s account of searching for the father he lost to a 1990 kidnapping in Cairo functions equally as absorbing detective story, personal elegy and acute portrait of doomed geopolitics — all merged, somehow, with the discipline and cinematic verve of a novel.

Liked it? Try “ A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: Anatomy of a Jerusalem Tragedy ,” by Nathan Thrall, “ House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East ,” by Anthony Shadid or “ My Father’s Fortune ,” by Michael Frayn.

book review translate in english

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

Brevity, thy name is Lydia Davis. If her work has become a byword for short (nay, microdose) fiction, this collection proves why it is also hard to shake; a conflagration of odd little umami bombs — sometimes several pages, sometimes no more than a sentence — whose casual, almost careless wordsmithery defies their deadpan resonance.

Liked it? Try “ Ninety-Nine Stories of God ,” by Joy Williams or “ Tell Me: Thirty Stories ,” by Mary Robison.

Book cover for Detransition, Baby

Detransition, Baby

Torrey Peters 2021

Love is lost, found and reconfigured in Peters’s penetrating, darkly humorous debut novel. But when the novel’s messy triangular romance — between two trans characters and a cis-gendered woman — becomes an unlikely story about parenthood, the plot deepens, and so does its emotional resonance: a poignant and gratifyingly cleareyed portrait of found family.

Book cover for Detransition, Baby

Peters’s sly wit and observational genius, her ability to balance so many intimate realities, cultural forces and zeitgeisty happenings made my head spin. It got me hot, cracked me up, punched my heart with grief and understanding. I’m in awe of her abilities, and will re-read this book periodically just to remember how it’s done. — Michelle Tea, author of “Against Memoir”

Liked it? Try “ I Heard Her Call My Name: A Memoir of Transition ,” by Lucy Sante or “ Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta ,” by James Hannaham.

Book cover for Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

Frederick Douglass

David W. Blight 2018

It is not hard to throw a rock and hit a Great Man biography; Blight’s earns its stripes by smartly and judiciously excavating the flesh-and-bone man beneath the myth. Though Douglass famously wrote three autobiographies of his own, there turned out to be much between the lines that is illuminated here with rigor, flair and refreshing candor.

Liked it? Try “ The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family ,” by Kerri K. Greenidge or “Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865,” by James Oakes.

Book cover for Pastoralia

George Saunders 2000

An ersatz caveman languishes at a theme park; a dead maiden aunt comes back to screaming, scatological life; a bachelor barber born with no toes dreams of true love, or at least of getting his toe-nubs licked. The stories in Saunders’s second collection are profane, unsettling and patently absurd. They’re also freighted with bittersweet humanity, and rendered in language so strange and wonderful, it sings.

Liked it? Try “ Swamplandia! ,” by Karen Russell or “ Friday Black ,” by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah.

Book cover for The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

The Emperor of All Maladies

Siddhartha Mukherjee 2010

The subtitle, “A Biography of Cancer,” provides some helpful context for what lies between the covers of Mukherjee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, though it hardly conveys the extraordinary ambition and empathy of his telling, as the trained oncologist weaves together disparate strands of large-scale history, biology and devastating personal anecdote.

Liked it? Try “ Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End ,” by Atul Gawande, “ Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery ,” by Henry Marsh or “ I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life ,” by Ed Yong.

Book cover for When We Cease to Understand the World

When We Cease to Understand the World

Benjamín Labatut; translated by Adrian Nathan West 2021

You don’t have to know anything about quantum theory to start reading this book, a deeply researched, exquisitely imagined group portrait of tormented geniuses. By the end, you’ll know enough to be terrified. Labatut is interested in how the pursuit of scientific certainty can lead to, or arise from, states of extreme psychological and spiritual upheaval. His characters — Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrödinger, among others — discover a universe that defies rational comprehension. After them, “scientific method and its object could no longer be prised apart.” That may sound abstract, but in Labatut’s hands the story of quantum physics is violent, suspenseful and finally heartbreaking. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “ The Rigor of Angels: Borges, Heisenberg, Kant, and the Ultimate Nature of Reality ,” by William Egginton, “ The Noise of Time ,” by Julian Barnes or “The End of Days,” by Jenny Erpenbeck; translated by Susan Bernofsky.

Book cover for Hurricane Season

Hurricane Season

Fernanda Melchor; translated by Sophie Hughes 2020

Her sentences are sloping hills; her paragraphs, whole mountains. It’s no wonder that Melchor was dubbed a sort of south-of-the-border Faulkner for her baroque and often brutally harrowing tale of poverty, paranoia and murder (also: witches, or at least the idea of them) in a fictional Mexican village. When a young girl impregnated by her pedophile stepfather unwittingly lands there, her arrival is the spark that lights a tinderbox.

Liked it? Try “ Liliana’s Invincible Summer: A Sister’s Search for Justice ,” by Cristina Rivera Garza or “ Fever Dream ,” by Samanta Schweblin; translated by Megan McDowell.

Book cover for Pulphead

John Jeremiah Sullivan 2011

When this book of essays came out, it bookended a fading genre: collected pieces written on deadline by “pulpheads,” or magazine writers. Whether it’s Sullivan’s visit to a Christian rock festival, his profile of Axl Rose or a tribute to an early American botanist, he brings to his subjects not just depth, but an open-hearted curiosity. Indeed, if this book feels as if it’s from a different time, perhaps that’s because of its generous receptivity to other ways of being, which offers both reader and subject a kind of grace.

Liked it? Try “ Sunshine State ,” by Sarah Gerard, “ Consider the Lobster ,” by David Foster Wallace or “ Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It ,” by Geoff Dyer.

Book cover for The Story of the Lost Child

The Story of the Lost Child

Elena Ferrante; translated by Ann Goldstein 2015

All things, even modern literature’s most fraught female friendship, must come to an end. As the now middle-aged Elena and Lila continue the dance of envy and devotion forged in their scrappy Neapolitan youth, the conclusion of Ferrante’s four-book saga defies the laws of diminishing returns, illuminating the twined psychologies of its central pair — intractable, indelible, inseparable — in one last blast of X-ray prose.

Liked it? Try “The Years That Followed,” by Catherine Dunne or “From the Land of the Moon,” by Milena Agus; translated by Ann Goldstein.

book review translate in english

A Manual for Cleaning Women

Lucia Berlin 2015

Berlin began writing in the 1960s, and collections of her careworn, haunted, messily alluring yet casually droll short stories were published in the 1980s and ’90s. But it wasn’t until 2015, when the best were collected into a volume called “A Manual for Cleaning Women,” that her prodigious talent was recognized. Berlin writes about harried and divorced single women, many of them in working-class jobs, with uncanny grace. She is the real deal. — Dwight Garner, book critic for The Times

book review translate in english

“I hate to see anything lovely by myself.”

It’s so true, to me at least, and I have heard no other writer express it. — Dwight Garner

Liked it? Try “ The Flamethrowers ,” by Rachel Kushner or “ The Complete Stories ,” by Clarice Lispector; translated by Katrina Dodson.

Book cover for Septology

Jon Fosse; translated by Damion Searls 2022

You may not be champing at the bit to read a seven-part, nearly 700-page novel written in a single stream-of-consciousness sentence with few paragraph breaks and two central characters with the same name. But this Norwegian masterpiece, by the winner of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature, is the kind of soul-cleansing work that seems to silence the cacophony of the modern world — a pair of noise-canceling headphones in book form. The narrator, a painter named Asle, drives out to visit his doppelgänger, Asle, an ailing alcoholic. Then the narrator takes a boat ride to have Christmas dinner with some friends. That, more or less, is the plot. But throughout, Fosse’s searching reflections on God, art and death are at once haunting and deeply comforting.

Book cover for Septology

I had not read Fosse before he won the Nobel Prize, and I wanted to catch up. Luckily for me, the critic Merve Emre (who has championed his work) is my colleague at Wesleyan, so I asked her where to start. I was hoping for a shortcut, but she sternly told me that there was nothing to do but to read the seven-volume “Septology” translated by Damion Searls. Luckily for me, I had 30 hours of plane travel in the next week or so, and I had a Kindle.

Reading “Septology” in the cocoon of a plane was one of the great aesthetic experiences of my life. The hypnotic effects of the book were amplified by my confinement, and the paucity of distractions helped me settle into its exquisite rhythms. The repetitive patterns of Fosse’s prose made its emotional waves, when they came, so much more powerful. — Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University

Liked it? Try “ Armand V ,” by Dag Solstad; translated by Steven T. Murray.

Book cover for An American Marriage

An American Marriage

Tayari Jones 2018

Life changes in an instant for Celestial and Roy, the young Black newlyweds at the beating, uncomfortably realistic heart of Jones’s fourth novel. On a mostly ordinary night, during a hotel stay near his Louisiana hometown, Roy is accused of rape. He is then swiftly and wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison. The couple’s complicated future unfolds, often in letters, across two worlds. The stain of racism covers both places.

Liked it? Try “ Hello Beautiful ,” by Ann Napolitano or “ Stay with Me ,” by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀.

Book cover for Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

Gabrielle Zevin 2022

The title is Shakespeare; the terrain, more or less, is video games. Neither of those bare facts telegraphs the emotional and narrative breadth of Zevin’s breakout novel, her fifth for adults. As the childhood friendship between two future game-makers blooms into a rich creative collaboration and, later, alienation, the book becomes a dazzling disquisition on art, ambition and the endurance of platonic love.

Liked it? Try “ Normal People ,” by Sally Rooney or “ Super Sad True Love Story ,” by Gary Shteyngart.

Book cover for Exit West

Mohsin Hamid 2017

The modern world and all its issues can feel heavy — too heavy for the fancies of fiction. Hamid’s quietly luminous novel, about a pair of lovers in a war-ravaged Middle Eastern country who find that certain doors can open portals, literally, to other lands, works in a kind of minor-key magical realism that bears its weight beautifully.

Liked it? Try “ The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida ,” by Shehan Karunatilaka or “ A Burning ,” by Megha Majumdar.

Book cover for Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge

Elizabeth Strout 2008

When this novel-in-stories won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2009, it was a victory for crotchety, unapologetic women everywhere, especially ones who weren’t, as Olive herself might have put it, spring chickens. The patron saint of plain-spokenness — and the titular character of Strout’s 13 tales — is a long-married Mainer with regrets, hopes and a lobster boat’s worth of quiet empathy. Her small-town travails instantly became stand-ins for something much bigger, even universal.

Liked it? Try “ Tom Lake ,” by Ann Patchett or “ Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage ,” by Alice Munro.

Book cover for The Passage of Power

The Passage of Power

Robert Caro 2012

The fourth volume of Caro’s epic chronicle of Lyndon Johnson’s life and times is a political biography elevated to the level of great literature. His L.B.J. is a figure of Shakespearean magnitude, whose sudden ascension from the abject humiliations of the vice presidency to the summit of political power is a turn of fortune worthy of a Greek myth. Caro makes you feel the shock of J.F.K.’s assassination, and brings you inside Johnson’s head on the blood-drenched day when his lifelong dream finally comes true. It’s an astonishing and unforgettable book. — Tom Perrotta, author of “The Leftovers”

Liked it? Try “ G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century ,” by Beverly Gage, “ King: A Life ,” by Jonathan Eig or “ American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer ,” by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin.

Book cover for Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets

Secondhand Time

Svetlana Alexievich; translated by Bela Shayevich 2016

Of all the 20th century’s grand failed experiments, few came to more inglorious ends than the aspiring empire known, for a scant seven decades, as the U.S.S.R. The death of the dream of Communism reverberates through the Nobel-winning Alexievich’s oral history, and her unflinching portrait of the people who survived the Soviet state (or didn’t) — ex-prisoners, Communist Party officials, ordinary citizens of all stripes — makes for an excoriating, eye-opening read.

Liked it? Try “ Gulag ,” by Anne Applebaum or “ Is Journalism Worth Dying For? Final Dispatches ,” by Anna Politkovskaya; translated by Arch Tait.

Book cover for The Copenhagen Trilogy: Childhood, Youth, Dependency

The Copenhagen Trilogy

Tove Ditlevsen; translated by Tiina Nunnally and Michael Favala Goldman 2021

Ditlevsen’s memoirs were first published in Denmark in the 1960s and ’70s, but most English-language readers didn’t encounter them until they appeared in a single translated volume more than five decades later. The books detail Ditlevsen’s hardscrabble childhood, her flourishing early career as a poet and her catastrophic addictions, which left her wedded to a psychotic doctor and hopelessly dependent on opioids by her 30s. But her writing, however dire her circumstances, projects a breathtaking clarity and candidness, and it nails what is so inexplicable about human nature.

Liked it? Try “ The End of Eddy ,” by Édouard Louis; translated by Michael Lucey.

Book cover for All Aunt Hagar’s Children

All Aunt Hagar’s Children

Edward P. Jones 2006

Jones’s follow-up to his Pulitzer-anointed historical novel, “The Known World,” forsakes a single narrative for 14 interconnected stories, disparate in both direction and tone. His tales of 20th-century Black life in and around Washington, D.C., are haunted by cumulative loss and touched, at times, by dark magical realism — one character meets the Devil himself in a Safeway parking lot — but girded too by loveliness, and something like hope.

Book cover for All Aunt Hagar’s Children

“It was, I later learned about myself, as if my heart, on the path that was my life, had come to a puddle in the road and had faltered, hesitated, trying to decide whether to walk over the puddle or around it, or even to go back.”

The metaphor is right at the edge of corniness, but it's rendered with such specificity that it catches you off guard, and the temporal complexity — the way the perspective moves forward, backward and sideways in time — captures an essential truth about memory and regret. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “ The Office of Historical Corrections ,” by Danielle Evans or “ Perish ,” by LaToya Watkins.

Book cover for The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

The New Jim Crow

Michelle Alexander 2010

One year into Barack Obama’s first presidential term, Alexander, a civil rights attorney and former Supreme Court clerk, peeled back the hopey-changey scrim of early-aughts America to reveal the systematic legal prejudice that still endures in a country whose biggest lie might be “with liberty and justice for all.” In doing so, her book managed to do what the most urgent nonfiction aims for but rarely achieves: change hearts, minds and even public policy.

Liked it? Try “ Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America ,” by James Forman Jr., “ America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s ,” by Elizabeth Hinton or “ Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent ,” by Isabel Wilkerson.

Interested? Reserve it at your local library or buy it from Amazon , Apple , Barnes & Noble or Bookshop .

Book cover for The Friend

Sigrid Nunez 2018

After suffering the loss of an old friend and adopting his Great Dane, the book’s heroine muses on death, friendship, and the gifts and burdens of a literary life. Out of these fragments a philosophy of grief springs like a rabbit out of a hat; Nunez is a magician. — Ada Calhoun, author of “Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me”

Book cover for The Friend

“The Friend” is a perfect novel about the size of grief and love, and like the dog at the book’s center, the book takes up more space than you expect. It’s my favorite kind of masterpiece — one you can put into anyone’s hand. — Emma Straub, author of “This Time Tomorrow”

Liked it? Try “ Autumn ,” by Ali Smith or “ Stay True: A Memoir ,” by Hua Hsu.

Book cover for Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

Far From the Tree

Andrew Solomon 2012

In this extraordinary book — a combination of masterly reporting and vivid storytelling — Solomon examines the experience of parents raising exceptional children. I have often returned to it over the years, reading it for its depth of understanding and its illumination of the particulars that make up the fabric of family. — Meg Wolitzer, author of “The Interestings”

Liked it? Try “ Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us ,” by Rachel Aviv or “ NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity ,” by Steven Silberman.

Book cover for We the Animals

We the Animals

Justin Torres 2011

The hummingbird weight of this novella — it barely tops 130 pages — belies the cherry-bomb impact of its prose. Tracing the coming-of-age of three mixed-race brothers in a derelict upstate New York town, Torres writes in the incantatory royal we of a sort of sibling wolfpack, each boy buffeted by their parents’ obscure grown-up traumas and their own enduring (if not quite unshakable) bonds.

Liked it? Try “ Shuggie Bain ,” by Douglas Stuart, “ Fire Shut Up in My Bones ,” by Charles Blow or “ On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous ,” by Ocean Vuong.

Book cover for The Plot Against America

The Plot Against America

Philip Roth 2004

What if, in the 1940 presidential election, Charles Lindbergh — aviation hero, America-firster and Nazi sympathizer — had defeated Franklin Roosevelt? Specifically, what would have happened to Philip Roth, the younger son of a middle-class Jewish family in Newark, N.J.? From those counterfactual questions, the adult Roth spun a tour de force of memory and history. Ever since the 2016 election his imaginary American past has pulled closer and closer to present-day reality. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “ Biography of X ,” by Catherine Lacey or “ The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family ,” by Joshua Cohen.

Book cover for The Great Believers

The Great Believers

Rebecca Makkai 2018

It’s mid-1980s Chicago, and young men — beautiful, recalcitrant boys, full of promise and pure life force — are dying, felled by a strange virus. Makkai’s recounting of a circle of friends who die one by one, interspersed with a circa-2015 Parisian subplot, is indubitably an AIDS story, but one that skirts po-faced solemnity and cliché at nearly every turn: a bighearted, deeply generous book whose resonance echoes across decades of loss and liberation.

Liked it? Try “ The Interestings ,” by Meg Wolitzer, “ A Little Life ,” by Hanya Yanagihara or “ The Emperor’s Children ,” by Claire Messud.

Book cover for Veronica

Mary Gaitskill 2005

Set primarily in a 1980s New York crackling with brittle glamour and real menace, “Veronica” is, on the face of it, the story of two very different women — the fragile former model Alison and the older, harder Veronica, fueled by fury and frustrated intelligence. It's a fearless, lacerating book, scornful of pieties and with innate respect for the reader’s intelligence and adult judgment.

Liked it? Try “ The Quick and the Dead ,” by Joy Williams, “ Look at Me ,” by Jennifer Egan or “ Lightning Field ,” by Dana Spiotta.

Book cover for 10:04

Ben Lerner 2014

How closely does Ben Lerner, the very clever author of “10:04,” overlap with its unnamed narrator, himself a poet-novelist who bears a remarkable resemblance to the man pictured on its biography page? Definitive answers are scant in this metaphysical turducken of a novel, which is nominally about the attempts of a Brooklyn author, burdened with a hefty publishing advance, to finish his second book. But the delights of Lerner’s shimmering self-reflexive prose, lightly dusted with photographs and illustrations, are endless.

Book cover for 10:04

“Shaving is a way to start the workday by ritually not cutting your throat when you’ve the chance.”

“10:04” is filled with sentences that cut this close to the bone. Comedy blends with intimations of the darkest aspects of our natures, and of everyday life. Who can shave anymore without recalling this “Sweeney Todd”-like observation? — Dwight Garner

Liked it? Try “ The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. ,” by Adelle Waldman, “ Open City ,” by Teju Cole or “ How Should a Person Be? ,” by Sheila Heti.

Book cover for Demon Copperhead

Demon Copperhead

Barbara Kingsolver 2022

In transplanting “David Copperfield” from Victorian England to modern-day Appalachia, Kingsolver gives the old Dickensian magic her own spin. She reminds us that a novel can be wildly entertaining — funny, profane, sentimental, suspenseful — and still have a social conscience. And also that the injustices Dickens railed against are still very much with us: old poison in new bottles. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “ James ,” by Percival Everett or “ The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store ,” by James McBride.

Book cover for Heavy: An American Memoir

Kiese Laymon 2018

What is the psychic weight of secrets and lies? In his unvarnished memoir, Laymon explores the cumulative mass of a past that has brought him to this point: his Blackness; his fraught relationship to food; his family, riven by loss and addiction and, in his mother’s case, a kind of pathological perfectionism. What emerges is a work of raw emotional power and fierce poetry.

Liked it? Try “ Men We Reaped ,” by Jesmyn Ward or “ Another Word for Love ,” by Carvell Wallace.

Book cover for Middlesex

Jeffrey Eugenides 2002

Years before pronouns became the stuff of dinner-table debates and email signatures, “Middlesex” offered the singular gift of an intersex hero — “sing now, O Muse, of the recessive mutation on my fifth chromosome!” — whose otherwise fairly ordinary Midwestern life becomes a radiant lens on recent history, from the burning of Smyrna to the plush suburbia of midcentury Grosse Pointe, Mich. When the teenage Calliope, born to doting Greek American parents, learns that she is not in fact a budding young lesbian but biologically male, it’s less science than assiduously buried family secrets that tell the improbable, remarkable tale.

Liked it? Try “ The Nix ,” by Nathan Hill, “ The Heart’s Invisible Furies ,” by John Boyne or “ The Signature of All Things ,” by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Book cover for Stay True

Hua Hsu 2022

An unlikely college friendship — Ken loves preppy polo shirts and Pearl Jam, Hua prefers Xeroxed zines and Pavement — blossoms in 1990s Berkeley, then is abruptly fissured by Ken’s murder in a random carjacking. Around those bare facts, Hsu’s understated memoir builds a glimmering fortress of memory in which youth and identity live alongside terrible, senseless loss.

Liked it? Try “ Truth & Beauty: A Friendship ,” by Ann Patchett, “ The Best Minds: A Story of Friendship, Madness, and the Tragedy of Good Intentions ,” by Jonathan Rosen or “ Just Kids ,” by Patti Smith.

Book cover for Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

Nickel and Dimed

Barbara Ehrenreich 2001

Waitress, hotel maid, cleaning woman, retail clerk: Ehrenreich didn’t just report on these low-wage jobs; she actually worked them, trying to construct a life around merciless managers and wildly unpredictable schedules, while also getting paid a pittance for it. Through it all, Ehrenreich combined a profound sense of moral outrage with self-deprecating candor and bone-dry wit. — Jennifer Szalai, nonfiction book critic for The Times

Liked it? Try “ Poverty, by America ,” by Matthew Desmond or “ The Working Poor: Invisible in America ,” by David K. Shipler.

Book cover for The Flamethrowers

The Flamethrowers

Rachel Kushner 2013

Motorcycle racing across the arid salt flats of Utah; art-star posturing in the downtown demimonde of 1970s New York; anarchist punk collectives and dappled villas in Italy: It’s all connected (if hardly contained) in Kushner’s brash, elastic chronicle of a would-be artist nicknamed Reno whose lust for experience often outstrips both sense and sentiment. The book’s ambitions rise to meet her, a churning bedazzlement of a novel whose unruly engine thrums and roars.

Liked it? Try “ City on Fire ,” by Garth Risk Hallberg or “ The Girls ,” by Emma Cline.

Book cover for The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

The Looming Tower

Lawrence Wright 2006

What happened in New York City one incongruously sunny morning in September was never, of course, the product of some spontaneous plan. Wright’s meticulous history operates as a sort of panopticon on the events leading up to that fateful day, spanning more than five decades and a geopolitical guest list that includes everyone from the counterterrorism chief of the F.B.I. to the anonymous foot soldiers of Al Qaeda.

Liked it? Try “ Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 ,” by Steve Coll or “ MBS: The Rise to Power of Mohammed bin Salman ,” by Ben Hubbard.

Book cover for Tenth of December

Tenth of December

George Saunders 2013

For all of their linguistic invention and anarchic glee, Saunders’s stories are held together by a strict understanding of the form and its requirements. Take plot: In “Tenth of December,” his fourth and best collection, readers will encounter an abduction, a rape, a chemically induced suicide, the suppressed rage of a milquetoast or two, a veteran’s post-­traumatic impulse to burn down his mother’s house — all of it buffeted by gusts of such merriment and tender regard and daffy good cheer that you realize only in retrospect how dark these morality tales really are.

Book cover for Tenth of December

Nobody writes like George Saunders. He has cultivated a genuinely original voice, one that is hilarious and profound, tender and monstrous, otherworldly and deeply familiar, much like the American psyche itself. With each of these stories, you feel in the hands of a master — because you are. — Matthew Desmond, author of “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City”

Liked it? Try “Delicate Edible Birds: And Other Stories,” by Lauren Groff, “ Oblivion: Stories ,” by David Foster Wallace or “ The Nimrod Flipout: Stories ,” by Etgar Keret, translated by Miriam Shlesinger and Sondra Silverston.

Book cover for Runaway

Alice Munro 2004

On one level, the title of Munro’s 11th short-story collection refers to a pet goat that goes missing from its owners’ property; but — this being Munro — the deeper reference is to an unhappy wife in the same story, who dreams of leaving her husband someday. Munro’s stories are like that, with shadow meanings and resonant echoes, as if she has struck a chime and set the reverberations down in writing.

Liked it? Try “ Homesickness ,” by Colin Barrett or “ The Collected Stories of Lorrie Moore .”

Book cover for Train Dreams

Train Dreams

Denis Johnson 2011

Call it a backwoods tragedy, stripped to the bone, or a spare requiem for the American West: Johnson’s lean but potent novella carves its narrative from the forests and dust-bowl valleys of Spokane in the early decades of the 20th century, following a day laborer named Robert Grainier as he processes the sudden loss of his young family and bears witness to the real-time formation of a raw, insatiable nation.

Liked it? Try “ That Old Ace in the Hole ,” by Annie Proulx or “ Night Boat to Tangier ,” by Kevin Barry.

Book cover for Life After Life

Life After Life

Kate Atkinson 2013

Can we get life “right”? Are there choices that would lead, finally, to justice or happiness or save us from pain? Atkinson wrestles with these questions in her brilliant “Life After Life” — a historical novel, a speculative novel, a tale of time travel, a moving portrait of life before, during and in the aftermath of war. It gobbles up genres and blends them together until they become a single, seamless work of art. I love this goddamn book. — Victor LaValle, author of “Lone Women”

Book cover for Life After Life

“‘Fox Corner — that’s what we should call the house. No one else has a house with that name and shouldn’t that be the point?’

‘Really?’ Hugh said doubtfully. ‘It’s a little whimsical, isn’t it? It sounds like a children’s story. The House at Fox Corner. ’

‘A little whimsy never hurt anyone.’

‘Strictly speaking, though,’ Hugh said, ‘can a house be a corner? Isn’t it at one?’

So this is marriage, Sylvie thought.”

“Her brilliant ear. Her humor. Her openness. Her peculiar gifts. Some of her books are perfect. The rest are merely superb.” — Amy Bloom, writer

Liked it? Try “Light Perpetual,” by Francis Spufford or “ Neverhome ,” by Laird Hunt.

Book cover for Trust

Hernan Diaz 2022

How many ways can you tell the same story? Which one is true? These questions and their ethical implications hover over Diaz’s second novel. It starts out as a tale of wealth and power in 1920s New York — something Theodore Dreiser or Edith Wharton might have taken up — and leaps forward in time, across the boroughs and down the social ladder, breathing new vitality into the weary tropes of historical fiction. — A.O. Scott

Book cover for Trust

Be prepared for some serious mind games! Set in New York City in the 1920s and ’30s, the story of a Manhattan financier and his high-society wife is told through four “books” — a novel, a manuscript, a memoir and a journal. But which version should you trust? Is there even one true reality?

As we sift our way through these competing narratives, Diaz serves us clues and red herrings in equal measure. We know we are being gamed, but we’re not sure exactly which character is gaming us. While each reader will draw their own conclusion when they reach the end of this complex and thrilling book, what is never disputed is the ease with which money and power can bend reality itself. — Dua Lipa, singer and songwriter behind the Service95 Book Club

Liked it? Try “ This Strange Eventful History ,” by Claire Messud or “ The Luminaries ,” by Eleanor Catton.

Book cover for The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian

Han Kang; translated by Deborah Smith 2016

One ordinary day, a young housewife in contemporary Seoul wakes up from a disturbing dream and simply decides to … stop eating meat. As her small rebellion spirals, Han’s lean, feverish novel becomes a surreal meditation on not just what the body needs, but what a soul demands.

Book cover for The Vegetarian

“I want to swallow you, have you melt into me and flow through my veins.”

“The Vegetarian” is a short novel with a mysterious, otherworldly air. It feels haunted, oppressive … It’s a story about hungers and starvation and desire, and how these become intertwined.” — Silvia Moreno-Garcia, author of “Mexican Gothic”

Liked it? Try “ My Year of Rest and Relaxation ,” by Ottessa Moshfegh or “ Convenience Store Woman ,” by Sayaka Murata; translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori.

Book cover for Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

Marjane Satrapi 2003

Drawn in stark black-and-white panels, Satrapi’s graphic novel is a moving account of her early life in Iran during the Islamic Revolution and her formative years abroad in Europe. The first of its two parts details the impacts of war and theocracy on both her family and her community: torture, death on the battlefield, constant raids, supply shortages and a growing black market. Part 2 chronicles her rebellious, traumatic years as a teenager in Vienna, as well as her return to a depressingly restrictive Tehran. Devastating — but also formally inventive, inspiring and often funny — “Persepolis” is a model of visual storytelling and personal narrative.

Liked it? Try “ https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/19/books/review/martyr-kaveh-akbar.html '>Martyr! ,” by Kaveh Akbar or “ Disoriental ,” by Négar Djavadi; translated by Tina Kover.

Interested? Read our review . Then reserve it at your local library or buy it from Amazon , Barnes & Noble or Bookshop .

Book cover for A Mercy

Toni Morrison 2008

Mercies are few and far between in Morrison’s ninth novel, set on the remote colonial land of a 17th-century farmer amid his various slaves and indentured servants (even the acquisition of a wife, imported from England, is strictly transactional). Disease runs rampant and children die needlessly; inequity is everywhere. And yet! The Morrison magic, towering and magisterial, endures.

Liked it? Try “ Year of Wonders ,” by Geraldine Brooks or “ The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois ,” by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers.

Book cover for The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch

Donna Tartt 2013

For a time, it seemed as if Tartt’s vaunted 1992 debut, “The Secret History,” might be her only legacy, a once-in-a-career comet zinging across the literary sky. Then, more than a decade after the coolish reception to her 2002 follow-up, “The Little Friend,” came “The Goldfinch” — a coming-of-age novel as narratively rich and riveting as the little bird in the Dutch painting it takes its title from is small and humble. That 13-year-old Theo Decker survives the museum bombing that kills his mother is a minor miracle; the tiny, priceless souvenir he inadvertently grabs from the rubble becomes both a talisman and an albatross in this heady, haunted symphony of a novel.

Liked it? Try “ Freedom ,” by Jonathan Franzen or “ Demon Copperhead ,” by Barbara Kingsolver.

Book cover for The Argonauts

The Argonauts

Maggie Nelson 2015

Call it a memoir if you must, but this is a book about the necessity — and also the thrill, the terror, the risk and reward — of defying categories. Nelson is a poet and critic, well versed in pop culture and cultural theory. The text she interprets here is her own body. An account of her pregnancy, her relationship with the artist Harry Dodge and the early stages of motherhood, “The Argonauts” explores queer identity, gender politics and the meaning of family. What makes Nelson such a valuable writer is her willingness to follow the sometimes contradictory rhythms of her own thinking in prose that is sharp, supple and disarmingly heartfelt. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “My 1980s and Other Essays,” by Wayne Koestenbaum, “ No One Is Talking About This ,” by Patricia Lockwood or “ On Immunity ,” by Eula Biss.

Book cover for The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season

N.K. Jemisin 2015

“The Fifth Season” weaves its story in polyphonic voice, utilizing a clever story structure to move deftly through generational time. Jemisin delivers this bit of high craft in a fresh, unstuffy voice — something rare in high fantasy, which can take its Tolkien roots too seriously. From its heartbreaking opening (a mother’s murdered child) to its shattering conclusion, Jemisin shows the power of what good fantasy fiction can do. “The Fifth Season” explores loss, grief and personhood on an intimate level. But it also takes on themes of discrimination, human breeding and ecological collapse with an unflinching eye and a particular nuance. Jemisin weaves a world both horrifyingly familiar and unsettlingly alien. — Rebecca Roanhorse, author of “Mirrored Heavens”

Liked it? Try “ American War ,” by Omar El Akkad or “ The Year of the Flood ,” by Margaret Atwood.

Book cover for Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

Tony Judt 2005

By the time this book was published in 2005, there had already been innumerable volumes covering Europe’s history since the end of World War II. Yet none of them were quite like Judt’s: commanding and capacious, yet also attentive to those stubborn details that are so resistant to abstract theories and seductive myths. The writing, like the thinking, is clear, direct and vivid. And even as Judt was ruthless when reflecting on Europe’s past, he maintained a sense of contingency throughout, never succumbing to the comfortable certainty of despair. — Jennifer Szalai

Liked it? Try “ We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Ireland ,” by Fintan O’Toole, “ Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin ,” by Timothy D. Snyder or “ To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 ,” by Adam Hochschild.

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A Brief History of Seven Killings

Marlon James 2014

“Brief”? For a work spanning nearly 700 pages, that word is, at best, a winky misdirection. To skip even a paragraph, though, would be to forgo the vertiginous pleasures of James’s semi-historical novel, in which the attempted assassination of an unnamed reggae superstar who strongly resembles Bob Marley collides with C.I.A. conspiracy, international drug cartels and the vibrant, violent Technicolor of post-independence Jamaica.

Liked it? Try “ Telex From Cuba ,” by Rachel Kushner or “ Brief Encounters With Che Guevara ,” by Ben Fountain.

Book cover for Small Things Like These

Small Things Like These

Claire Keegan 2021

Not a word is wasted in Keegan’s small, burnished gem of a novel, a sort of Dickensian miniature centered on the son of an unwed mother who has grown up to become a respectable coal and timber merchant with a family of his own in 1985 Ireland. Moralistically, though, it might as well be the Middle Ages as he reckons with the ongoing sins of the Catholic Church and the everyday tragedies wrought by repression, fear and rank hypocrisy.

Book cover for Small Things Like These

This is the book I would like to have written because its sentences portray a life — in all its silences, subtleties and defenses — that I would hope to live if its circumstances were mine. It’s never idle, I guess, to be asked what we would give up for another. — Claudia Rankine, author of “Citizen”

Liked it? Try “ The Rachel Incident ,” by Caroline O’Donoghue or “ Mothers and Sons ,” by Colm Tóibín.

Book cover for H Is for Hawk

H Is for Hawk

Helen Macdonald 2015

I read “H Is for Hawk” when I was writing my own memoir, and it awakened me to the power of the genre. It is a book supposedly about training a hawk named Mabel but really about wonder and loss, discovery and death. We discover a thing, then we lose it. The discovering and the losing are two halves of the same whole. Macdonald knows this and she shows us, weaving the loss of her father through the partial taming (and taming is always partial) of this hawk. — Tara Westover, author of “Educated”

Book cover for H Is for Hawk

“There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realize that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer.”

Chosen by Tara Westover.

Liked it? Try “ The Friend ,” by Sigrid Nunez or “Braiding Sweetgrass,” by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

Book cover for A Visit From the Goon Squad

A Visit From the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan 2010

In the good old pre-digital days, artists used to cram 15 or 20 two-and-a-half-minute songs onto a single vinyl LP. Egan accomplished a similar feat of compression in this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, a compact, chronologically splintered rock opera with (as they say nowadays) no skips. The 13 linked stories jump from past to present to future while reshuffling a handful of vivid characters. The themes are mighty but the mood is funny, wistful and intimate, as startling and familiar as your favorite pop album. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “ Girl, Woman, Other ,” by Bernardine Evaristo, “ Doxology ,” by Nell Zink or “ Telegraph Avenue ,” by Michael Chabon.

Book cover for The Savage Detectives

The Savage Detectives

Roberto Bolaño; translated by Natasha Wimmer 2007

“The Savage Detectives” is brash, hilarious, beautiful, moving. It’s also over 600 pages long, which is why I know that my memory of reading it in a single sitting is definitely not true. Still, the fact that it feels that way is telling. I was not the same writer I’d been before reading it, not the same person. Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, the wayward poets whose youth is chronicled in “Detectives,” became personal heroes, and everything I’ve written since has been shaped by Bolaño’s masterpiece. — Daniel Alarcón, author of “At Night We Walk in Circles”

Liked it? Try “ The Old Drift ,” by Namwali Serpell or “The Literary Conference,” by César Aira; translated by Katherine Silver.

Book cover for The Years

Annie Ernaux; translated by Alison L. Strayer 2018

Spanning decades, this is an outlier in Ernaux’s oeuvre; unlike her other books, with their tight close-ups on moments in her life, here such intimacies are embedded in the larger sweep of social history. She moves between the chorus of conventional wisdom and the specifics of her own experiences, showing how even an artist with such a singular vision could recognize herself as a creature of her cohort and her culture. Most moving to me is how she begins and ends by listing images she can still recall — a merry-go-round in the park; graffiti in a restroom — that have been inscribed into her memory, yet are ultimately ephemeral. — Jennifer Szalai

Liked it? Try “ Leaving the Atocha Station ,” by Ben Lerner, “ All Fours ,” by Miranda July or “Swimming in Paris: A Life in Three Stories,” by Colombe Schneck; translated by Lauren Elkin and Natasha Lehrer.

Book cover for Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates 2015

Framed, like James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time,” as both instruction and warning to a young relative on “how one should live within a Black body,” Coates’s book-length letter to his 15-year-old son lands like forked lightning. In pages suffused with both fury and tenderness, his memoir-manifesto delineates a world in which the political remains mortally, maddeningly inseparable from the personal.

Liked it? Try “ American Sonnets For My Past and Future Assassin ,” by Terrance Hayes, “ Don’t Call Us Dead ,” by Danez Smith or “ Black Folk Could Fly ,” by Randall Kenan.

Book cover for Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Alison Bechdel 2006

“A queer business.” That’s how Bechdel describes her closeted father’s death after he steps in the path of a Sunbeam Bread truck. The phrase also applies to her family’s funeral home concern; their own Victorian, Addams-like dwelling; and this marvelous graphic memoir of growing up gay and O.C.D.-afflicted (which generated a remarkable Broadway musical). You forget, returning to “Fun Home,” that the only color used is a dreamy gray-blue; that’s how vivid and particular the story is. Even the corpses crackle with life. — Alexandra Jacobs

Book cover for Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

I read “Fun Home” with creative writing students in a course I teach at Dartmouth College called “Investigative Memoir.” The first time I taught it, a student wrote in their anonymous course evaluation, “I should not have been exposed to this” — the censorious voice tends to be passive. The last time I taught it, a student said that if they’d found this in their high school library — in a state in which such books are now all but illegal in high school libraries — it would have changed their life. I’m long past my schooling, but “Fun Home” still changes my life every time I return. — Jeff Sharlet, author of “The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War”

Liked it? Try “ Blankets ,” by Craig Thompson, “ My Dirty Dumb Eyes ,” by Lisa Hanawalt or “ Small Fry ,” by Lisa Brennan-Jobs.

Book cover for Citizen

Claudia Rankine 2014

“I, too, am America,” Langston Hughes wrote, and with “Citizen” Rankine stakes the same claim, as ambivalently and as defiantly as Hughes did. This collection — which appeared two years after Trayvon Martin’s death, and pointedly displays a hoodie on its cover like the one Martin wore when he was killed — lays out a damning indictment of American racism through a mix of free verse, essayistic prose poems and visual art; a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist in both poetry and criticism (the first book ever nominated in two categories), it took home the prize in poetry in a deserving recognition of Rankine’s subtle, supple literary gifts.

Liked it? Try “ Voyage of the Sable Venus: And Other Poems ,” by Robin Coste Lewis, “How to be Drawn,” by Terrance Hayes or “ Ordinary Notes ,” by Christina Sharpe.

Book cover for Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones

Jesmyn Ward 2011

As Hurricane Katrina bears down on the already battered bayou town of Bois Sauvage, Miss., a motherless 15-year-old girl named Esch, newly pregnant with a baby of her own, stands in the eye of numerous storms she can’t control: her father’s drinking, her brothers’ restlessness, an older boy’s easy dismissal of her love. There’s a biblical force to Ward’s prose, so swirling and heady it feels like a summoning.

Liked it? Try “ Southern Cross the Dog ,” by Bill Cheng or “ The Yellow House: A Memoir ,” by Sarah Broom.

Book cover for The Line of Beauty

The Line of Beauty

Alan Hollinghurst 2004

Oh, to be the live-in houseguest of a wealthy friend! And to find, as Hollinghurst’s young middle-class hero does in early-1980s London, that a whole intoxicating world of heedless privilege and sexual awakening awaits. As the timeline implies, though, the specter of AIDS looms not far behind, perched like a gargoyle amid glittering evocations of cocaine and Henry James. Lust, money, literature, power: Rarely has a novel made it all seem so gorgeous, and so annihilating.

Liked it? Try “ Necessary Errors ,” by Caleb Crain.

Book cover for White Teeth

White Teeth

Zadie Smith 2000

“Full stories are as rare as honesty,” one character confides in “White Teeth,” though Smith’s debut novel, in all its chaotic, prismatic glory, does its level best to try. As her bravura book unfurls, its central narrative of a friendship between a white Londoner and a Bengali Muslim seems to divide and regenerate like starfish limbs; and so, in one stroke, a literary supernova was born.

Liked it? Try “ Lionel Asbo: State of England ,” by Martin Amis or “ Americanah ,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Book cover for Sing, Unburied, Sing

Sing, Unburied, Sing

Jesmyn Ward 2017

Road trips aren’t supposed to be like this: an addled addict mother dragging her 13-year-old son and his toddler sister across Mississippi to retrieve their father from prison, and feeding her worst habits along the way. Grief and generational trauma haunt the novel, as do actual ghosts, the unrestful spirits of men badly done by. But Ward’s unflinching prose is not a punishment; it loops and soars in bruising, beautiful arias.

Book cover for Sing, Unburied, Sing

“Home is about the earth. Whether the earth open up to you. Whether it pull you so close the space between you and it melt and it beats like your heart. Same Time.”

“This passage from ‘Sing, Unburied, Sing’ means so much to me. Richie says it to the protagonist, Jojo. He’s a specter, a child ghost, a deeply wounded wanderer, and yet also so wise.” — Imani Perry, author of “Breathe” and “South to America”

Liked it? Try “ The Turner House ,” by Angela Flournoy or “ Lincoln in the Bardo ,” by George Saunders.

Book cover for The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai

Helen DeWitt 2000

Sibylla, an American expat in Britain, is a brilliant scholar: omnivore, polyglot, interdisciplinary theorist — all of it. Her young son, Ludo, is a hothouse prodigy, mastering the “Odyssey” and Japanese grammar, fixated on the films of Akira Kurosawa. Two questions arise: 1) Who is the real genius? 2) Who is Ludo’s father? Ludo’s search for the answer to No. 2 propels the plot of this funny, cruel, compassionate, typographically bananas novel. I won’t spoil anything, except to say that the answer to No. 1 is Helen DeWitt. — A.O. Scott

Liked it? Try “ The Instructions ,” by Adam Levin.

Book cover for Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell 2004

Mitchell’s almost comically ambitious novel is indeed a kind of cumulus: a wild and woolly condensation of ideas, styles and far-flung milieus whose only true commonality is the reincarnated soul at its center. The book’s six nesting narratives — from 1850s New Zealand through 1930s Belgium, groovy California, recent-ish England, dystopian Korea and Hawaii — also often feel like a postmodern puzzle-box that whirls and clicks as its great world(s) spin, throwing off sparks of pulp, philosophy and fervid humanism.

Liked it? Try “ Same Bed Different Dreams ,” by Ed Park or “ Specimen Days ,” by Michael Cunningham.

Book cover for Americanah

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 2013

This is a love story — but what a love story! Crisscrossing continents, families and recent decades, “Americanah” centers on a Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who discovers what it means to be Black by immigrating to the United States, and acquires boutique celebrity blogging about it. (In the sequel, she’d have a Substack.) Ifemelu’s entanglements with various men undergird a rich and rough tapestry of life in Barack Obama’s America and beyond. And Adichie’s sustained examination of absurd social rituals — like the painful relaxation of professionally “unacceptable” hair, for example — is revolutionary. — Alexandra Jacobs

Liked it? Try “ We Need New Names ,” by NoViolet Bulawayo, “ Netherland ,” by Joseph O’Neill or “ Behold the Dreamers ,” by Imbolo Mbue.

Book cover for Atonement

Ian McEwan 2002

Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done, or so the saying goes. But what a naïve, peevish 13-year-old named Briony Tallis sets in motion when she sees her older sister flirting with the son of a servant in hopelessly stratified pre-war England surpasses disastrous; it’s catastrophic. It’s also a testament to the piercing elegance of McEwan’s prose that “Atonement” makes us care so much.

Liked it? Try “ The Sense of an Ending ,” by Julian Barnes, “ Brooklyn ,” by Colm Toíbín or “ Life Class ,” by Pat Barker.

Book cover for Random Family

Random Family

Adrian Nicole LeBlanc 2003

More than 20 years after it was published, “Random Family” still remains unmatched in depth and power and grace. A profound, achingly beautiful work of narrative nonfiction, it is the standard-bearer of embedded reportage. LeBlanc gave her all to this book, writing about people experiencing deep hardship in their full, lush humanity. — Matthew Desmond, author of “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City”

Book cover for Random Family

I hate “Random Family.” It robbed us nonfiction writers of all our excuses: Well, it’s easier for fiction writers to achieve that level of interiority. Until “Random Family” entered the chat. It’s easier to create emotion on screen. Until “Random Family” entered the chat. It’s impossible to capture and understand a community if you’re an outsider. Until “Random Family” entered the chat.

Based on a decade of painstaking reporting in a social micro-world, it is a book of total immersion, profound empathy, rigorous storytelling, assiduous factualness, page-turning revelation and literary rizz. I hate “Random Family” because it took away all the excuses. I adore it because it raised the sky. — Anand Giridharadas, author of “The Persuaders: At the Front Lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds, and Democracy”

Liked it? Try “ Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City ,” by Andrea Elliott or “ When Crack Was King: A People’s History of a Misunderstood Era ,” by Donovan X. Ramsey.

Book cover for The Overstory

The Overstory

Richard Powers 2018

We may never see a poem as lovely as a tree, but a novel about trees — they are both the stealth protagonists and the beating, fine-grained heart of this strange, marvelous book — becomes its own kind of poetry, biology lesson and impassioned environmental polemic in Powers’s hands. To know that our botanical friends are capable of communication and sacrifice, sex and memory, is mind-altering. It is also, you might say, credit overdue: Without wood pulp, after all, what would the books we love be made of?

Liked it? Try “ Greenwood ,” by Michael Christie or “ Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures ,” by Merlin Sheldrake.

Book cover for Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

Alice Munro 2001

Munro’s stories apply pointillistic detail and scrupulous psychological insight to render their characters’ lives in full, at lengths that test the boundaries of the term “short fiction.” (Only one story in this book is below 30 pages, and the longest is over 50.) The collection touches on many of Munro’s lifelong themes — family secrets, sudden reversals of fortune, sexual tensions and the unreliability of memory — culminating in a standout story about a man confronting his senile wife’s attachment to a fellow resident at her nursing home.

Liked it? Try “ So Late in the Day: Stories of Women and Men ,” by Claire Keegan or “ Nora Webster ,” by Colm Tóibín.

Book cover for Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Katherine Boo 2012

If the smash movie “Slumdog Millionaire” gave the world a feel-good story of transcending caste in India via pluck and sheer improbable luck, Boo’s nonfiction exploration of several interconnected lives on the squalid outskirts of Mumbai is its sobering, necessary corrective. The casual violence and perfidy she finds there is staggering; the poverty and disease, beyond bleak. In place of triumph-of-the-human-spirit bromides, though, what the book delivers is its own kind of cinema, harsh and true.

Liked it? Try “ Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea ,” by Barbara Demick or “ Waiting to Be Arrested at Night: A Uyghur Poet's Memoir of China's Genocide ,” by Tahir Hamut Izgil; translated by Joshua L. Freeman.

Book cover for Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Matthew Desmond 2016

Like Barbara Ehrenreich or Michelle Alexander, Desmond has a knack for crystallizing the ills of a patently unequal America — here it’s the housing crisis, as told through eight Milwaukee families — in clear, imperative terms. If reading his nightmarish exposé of a system in which race and poverty are shamelessly weaponized and eviction costs less than accountability feels like outrage fuel, it’s prescriptive, too; to look away would be its own kind of crime.

Liked it? Try “ Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America ,” by Barbara Ehrenreich or “ Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive ,” by Stephanie Land.

Book cover for Erasure

Percival Everett 2001

More than 20 years before it was made into an Oscar-winning movie, Everett’s deft literary satire imagined a world in which a cerebral novelist and professor named Thelonious “Monk” Ellison finds mainstream success only when he deigns to produce the most broad and ghettoized portrayal of Black pain. If only the ensuing decades had made the whole concept feel laughably obsolete; alas, all the 2023 screen adaptation merited was a title change: “American Fiction.”

Liked it? Try “ Yellowface ,” by R.F. Kuang or “ The Sellout ,” by Paul Beatty.

Book cover for Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland

Say Nothing

Patrick Radden Keefe 2019

“Say Nothing” is an amazing accomplishment — a definitive, impeccably researched history of the Troubles, a grim, gripping thriller, an illuminating portrait of extraordinary people who did unspeakable things, driven by what they saw as the justness of their cause. Those of us who lived in the U.K. in the last three decades of the 20th century know the names and the events — we were all affected, in some way or another, by the bombs, the bomb threats, the assassinations and attempted assassinations. What we didn’t know was what it felt like to be on the inside of a particularly bleak period of history. This book is, I think, unquestionably one of the greatest literary achievements of the 21st century. — Nick Hornby, author of “High Fidelity”

Liked it? Try “ A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan's Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them ,” by Timothy Egan or “ We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops, and Corruption ,” by Justin Fenton.

Book cover for Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo

George Saunders 2017

A father mourns his young son, dead of typhoid; a president mourns his country riven by civil war. In Saunders’s indelible portrait, set in a graveyard populated by garrulous spirits, these images collide and coalesce, transforming Lincoln’s private grief — his 11-year-old boy, Willie, died in the White House in 1862 — into a nation’s, a polyphony of voices and stories. The only novel to date by a writer revered for his satirical short stories, this book marks less a change of course than a foregrounding of what has distinguished his work all along — a generosity of spirit, an ear acutely tuned to human suffering.

Liked it? Try “ Sing, Unburied, Sing ,” by Jesmyn Ward, “ Grief Is the Thing With Feathers ,” by Max Porter or “ Hamnet ,” by Maggie O’Farrell.

Book cover for The Sellout

The Sellout

Paul Beatty 2015

Part of this wild satire on matters racial, post-racial, maybe-racial and Definitely Not Racial in American life concerns a group known as the Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals. One of them has produced an expurgated edition of an American classic titled “The Pejorative-Free Adventures and Intellectual and Spiritual Journeys of African-American Jim and His Young Protégé, White Brother Huckleberry Finn, as They Go in Search of the Lost Black Family Unit.” Beatty’s method is the exact opposite: In his hands, everything sacred is profaned, from the Supreme Court to the Little Rascals. “The Sellout” is explosively funny and not a little bit dangerous: an incendiary device disguised as a whoopee cushion, or maybe vice versa. — A.O. Scott

Book cover for The Sellout

Some voices are so sharp they slice right through reality to reveal everything we’ve been hiding or ignoring or didn’t know was there. This novel cut into me — as a writer and reader and American. It’s fearless and funny and unlike anything else I’ve read. — Charles Yu, author of “Interior Chinatown”

Liked it? Try “ Harry Sylvester Bird ,” by Chinelo Okparanta or “ We Cast a Shadow ,” by Maurice Carlos Ruffin.

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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Michael Chabon 2000

Set during the first heyday of the American comic book industry, from the late 1930s to the early 1950s, Chabon’s exuberant epic centers on the Brooklyn-raised Sammy Clay and his Czech immigrant cousin, Joe Kavalier, who together pour their hopes and fears into a successful comic series even as life delivers them some nearly unbearable tragedies. Besotted with language and brimming with pop culture, political relevance and bravura storytelling, the novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2001.

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“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” combines eloquent prose, captivating characters, a deeply researched setting and an adventure that previously only belonged to the pulps. High art and low art and who the heck cares? Chabon opened the doors not just for comic book nerds, but for every kind of nerd, including this gay one. Chabon’s book made me the writer I am, and I’m still dazzled by it: the century's first masterpiece. — Andrew Sean Greer, author of “Less”

Liked it? Try “ Carter Beats the Devil ,” by Glen David Gold or “ The Fortress of Solitude ,” by Jonathan Lethem.

Book cover for Pachinko

Min Jin Lee 2017

“History has failed us, but no matter.” So begins Lee’s novel, the rich and roiling chronicle of a Korean family passing through four generations of war, colonization and personal strife. There are slick mobsters and disabled fishermen, forbidden loves and secret losses. And of course, pachinko, the pinball-ish game whose popularity often supplies a financial lifeline for the book’s characters — gamblers at life like all of us, if hardly guaranteed a win.

Liked it? Try “ Homegoing ,” by Yaa Gyasi, “ The Covenant of Water ,” by Abraham Verghese or “ Kantika ,” by Elizabeth Graver.

Book cover for Outline

Rachel Cusk 2015

This novel is the first and best in Cusk’s philosophical, unsettling and semi-autobiographical Outline trilogy, which also includes the novels “Transit” and “Kudos.” In this one an English writer flies to Athens to teach at a workshop. Along the way, and once there, she falls into intense and resonant conversations about art, intimacy, life and love. Cusk deals, brilliantly, in uncomfortable truths. — Dwight Garner

Liked it? Try “ Checkout 19 ,” by Claire-Louise Bennett or “ Topics of Conversation ,” by Miranda Popkey.

Book cover for The Road

Cormac McCarthy 2006

There is nothing green or growing in McCarthy’s masterpiece of dystopian fiction, the story of an unnamed man and his young son migrating over a newly post-apocalyptic earth where the only remaining life forms are desperate humans who have mostly descended into marauding cannibalism. Yet McCarthy renders his deathscape in curious, riveting detail punctuated by flashes of a lost world from the man’s memory that become colorful myths for his son. In the end, “The Road” is a paean to parental love: A father nurtures and protects his child with ingenuity and tenderness, a triumph that feels redemptive even in a world without hope. — Jennifer Egan, author of “A Visit From the Goon Squad”

Liked it? Try “ On Such a Full Sea ,” by Chang-rae Lee or “ The Buried Giant ,” by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Book cover for The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking

Joan Didion 2005

Having for decades cast a famously cool and implacable eye on everything from the Manson family to El Salvador, Didion suddenly found herself in a hellscape much closer to home: the abrupt death of her partner in life and art, John Gregory Dunne, even as their only child lay unconscious in a nearby hospital room. (That daughter, Quintana Roo, would be gone soon too, though her passing does not fall within these pages.) Dismantled by shock and grief, the patron saint of ruthless clarity did the only thing she could do: She wrote her way through it.

Liked it? Try “ When Breath Becomes Air ,” by Paul Kalanithi, “ Crying in H Mart ,” by Michelle Zauner or “ Notes on Grief ,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Junot Díaz 2007

Díaz’s first novel landed like a meteorite in 2007, dazzling critics and prize juries with its mix of Dominican history, coming-of-age tale, comic-book tropes, Tolkien geekery and Spanglish slang. The central plotline follows the nerdy, overweight Oscar de León through childhood, college and a stint in the Dominican Republic, where he falls disastrously in love. Sharply rendered set pieces abound, but the real draw is the author’s voice: brainy yet inviting, mordantly funny, sui generis.

Liked it? Try “ Deacon King Kong ,” by James McBride or “ The Russian Debutante’s Handbook ,” by Gary Shteyngart.

Book cover for Gilead

Marilynne Robinson 2004

The first installment in what is so far a tetralogy — followed by “Home,” “Lila” and “Jack” — “Gilead” takes its title from the fictional town in Iowa where the Boughton and Ames families reside. And also from the Book of Jeremiah, which names a place where healing may or may not be found: “Is there no balm in Gilead?” For John Ames, who narrates this novel, the answer seems to be yes. An elderly Congregationalist minister who has recently become a husband and father, he finds fulfillment in both vocation and family. Robinson allows him, and us, the full measure of his hard-earned joy, but she also has an acute sense of the reality of sin. If this book is a celebration of the quiet decency of small-town life (and mainline Protestantism) in the 1950s, it is equally an unsparing critique of how the moral fervor and religious vision of the abolitionist movement curdled, a century later, into complacency. — A.O. Scott

Book cover for Gilead

“Then he put his hat back on and stalked off into the trees again and left us standing there in that glistening river, amazed at ourselves and shining like the apostles. I mention this because it seems to me transformations just that abrupt do occur in this life, and they occur unsought and unawaited, and they beggar your hopes and your deserving.”

From a dog-eared, battered, underlined copy of Marilynne Robinson’s “Gilead,” I offer the following quote which undoes me every time I read it — transformation and its possibility is so much a part of what I read for. — Kate DiCamillo, novelist

Liked it? Try “Tinkers,” by Paul Harding or “ Zorrie ,” by Laird Hunt.

Book cover for Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro 2005

Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are boarders at an elite English school called Hailsham. Supervised by a group of “guardians,” the friends share music and rumors while navigating the shifting loyalties and heartbreaks of growing up. It’s all achingly familiar — at times, even funny. But things begin to feel first off, then sinister and, ultimately, tragic. As in so much of the best dystopian fiction, the power of “Never Let Me Go” to move and disturb arises from the persistence of human warmth in a chilly universe — and in its ability to make us see ourselves through its uncanny mirror. Is Ishiguro commenting on biotechnology, reproductive science, the cognitive dissonance necessary for life under late-stage capitalism? He’d never be so didactic as to tell you. What lies at the heart of this beautiful book is not social satire, but deep compassion.

Liked it? Try “ Station Eleven ,” by Emily St. John Mandel, “ Oryx and Crake ,” by Margaret Atwood or “ Scattered All Over the Earth ,” by Yoko Tawada; translated by Margaret Mitsutani.

Book cover for Austerlitz

W.G. Sebald; translated by Anthea Bell 2001

Sebald scarcely lived long enough to see the publication of his final novel; within weeks of its release, he died from a congenital heart condition at 57. But what a swan song it is: the discursive, dreamlike recollections of Jacques Austerlitz, a man who was once a small refugee of the kindertransport in wartime Prague, raised by strangers in Wales. Like the namesake Paris train station of its protagonist, the book is a marvel of elegant construction, haunted by memory and motion.

Liked it? Try “ Transit ,” by Rachel Cusk or “ Flights ,” by Olga Tokarczuk; translated by Jennifer Croft.

Book cover for The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead 2016

“The Underground Railroad” is a profound revelation of the intricate aspects of slavery and nebulous shapes of freedom featuring an indomitable female protagonist: Cora from Georgia. The novel seamlessly combines history, horror and fantasy with philosophical speculation and cultural criticism to tell a compulsively readable, terror-laden narrative of a girl with a fierce inner spark who follows the mysterious path of her mother, Mabel, the only person ever known to have escaped from the Randall plantations.

I could hardly make it through this plaintively brutal novel. Neither could I put it down. “The Underground Railroad” bleeds truth in a way that few treatments of slavery can, fiction or nonfiction. Whitehead’s portrayals of human motivation, interaction and emotional range astonish in their complexity. Here brutality is bone deep and vulnerability is ocean wide, yet bravery and hope shine through in Cora’s insistence on escape. I rooted for Cora in a way that I never had for a character, my heart breaking with each violation of her spirit. Just as Cora inherits her mother’s symbolic victory garden, we readers of Whitehead’s imaginary world can inherit Cora’s courage. — Tiya Miles, author of “All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake”

Book cover for The Underground Railroad

“Mabel had packed for her adventure. A machete. Flint and tinder. She stole a cabin mate’s shoes, which were in better shape. For weeks, her empty garden testified to her miracle. Before she lit out she dug up every yam from their plot, a cumbersome load and ill-advised for a journey that required a fleet foot. The lumps and burrows in the dirt were a reminder to all who walked by. Then one morning they were all smoothed over. Cora got on her knees and planted anew. It was her inheritance.”

Chosen by Tiya Miles.

Liked it? Try “ The Prophets ,” by Robert Jones Jr., “ Washington Black ,” by Esi Edugyan or “ The American Daughters ,” by Maurice Carlos Ruffin.

Book cover for 2666

Roberto Bolaño; translated by Natasha Wimmer 2008

Bolaño’s feverish, vertiginous novel opens with an epigraph from Baudelaire — “An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom” — and then proceeds, over the course of some 900 pages, to call into being an entire world governed in equal parts by boredom and the deepest horror. The book (published posthumously) is divided into five loosely conjoined sections, following characters who are drawn for varying reasons to the fictional Mexican city of Santa Teresa: a group of academics obsessed with an obscure novelist, a doddering philosophy professor, a lovelorn police officer and an American reporter investigating the serial murders of women in a case with echoes of the real-life femicide that has plagued Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. In Natasha Wimmer’s spotless translation, Bolaño’s novel is profound, mysterious, teeming and giddy: Reading it, you go from feeling like a tornado watcher to feeling swept up in the vortex, and finally suspect you might be the tornado yourself.

Liked it? Try “ Compass ,” by Mathias Énard; translated by Charlotte Mandell.

Book cover for The Corrections

The Corrections

Jonathan Franzen 2001

With its satirical take on mental health, self-improvement and instant gratification, Franzen’s comic novel of family disintegration is as scathingly entertaining today as it was when it was published at the turn of the millennium. The story, about a Midwestern matron named Enid Lambert who is determined to bring her three adult children home for what might be their father’s last Christmas, touches on everything from yuppie excess to foodie culture to Eastern Europe’s unbridled economy after the fall of communism — but it is held together, always, by family ties. The novel jumps deftly from character to character, and the reader’s sympathies jump with it; in a novel as alert to human failings as this one is, it is to Franzen’s enduring credit that his genuine affection for all of the characters shines through.

Book cover for The Corrections

Sometimes we have a totemic connection to a book that deepens our appreciation. I had Jonathan Franzen's brand-new doorstop of a hardcover with me when I was trapped in an office park hotel outside Denver after 9/11. The marvelous, moving, often very funny novel kept me company when I needed company most. As Franzen himself wrote, “Fiction is a solution, the best solution, to the problem of existential solitude.” — Chris Bohjalian, author of “The Flight Attendant”

Liked it? Try “ Middlesex ,” by Jeffrey Eugenides, “ Commonwealth ,” by Ann Patchett or “ The Bee Sting ,” by Paul Murray.

Book cover for The Known World

The Known World

Edward P. Jones 2003

This novel, about a Black farmer, bootmaker and former slave named Henry Townsend, is a humane epic and a staggering feat of wily American storytelling. Set in Virginia during the antebellum era, the milieu — politics, moods, manners — is starkly and intensely realized. When Henry becomes the proprietor of a plantation, with slaves of his own, the moral sands shift under the reader’s feet. Grief piles upon grief. But there is a glowing humanity at work here as well. Moments of humor and unlikely good will bubble up organically. Jones is a confident storyteller, and in “The Known World” that confidence casts a spell. This is a large novel that moves nimbly, and stays with the reader for a long time. — Dwight Garner

Liked it? Try “ The Water Dancer ,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates or “ A Mercy ,” by Toni Morrison.

Book cover for Wolf Hall

Hilary Mantel 2009

It was hard choosing the books for my list, but the first and easiest choice I made was “Wolf Hall.” (“The Mirror and the Light,” the third book in Mantel’s trilogy, was the second easiest.)

We see the past the way we see the stars, dimly, through a dull blurry scrim of atmosphere, but Mantel was like an orbital telescope: She saw history with cold, hard, absolute clarity. In “Wolf Hall” she took a starchy historical personage, Thomas Cromwell, and saw the vivid, relentless, blind-spotted, memory-haunted, grandly alive human being he must have been. Then she used him as a lens to show us the age he lived in, the vast, intricate spider web of power and money and love and need — right up until the moment the spider got him. — Lev Grossman, author of “The Bright Sword”

Liked it? Try “ The Lion House: The Coming of a King ,” by Christopher de Bellaigue or “ The Books of Jacob ,” by Olga Tokarczuk; translated by Jennifer Croft.

Book cover for The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

The Warmth of Other Suns

Isabel Wilkerson 2010

Wilkerson’s intimate, stirring, meticulously researched and myth-dispelling book, which details the Great Migration of Black Americans from South to North and West from 1915 to 1970, is the most vital and compulsively readable work of history in recent memory. This migration, she writes, “would become perhaps the biggest underreported story of the 20th century. It was vast. It was leaderless. It crept along so many thousands of currents over so long a stretch of time as to be difficult for the press truly to capture while it was under way.” Wilkerson blends the stories of individual men and women with a masterful grasp of the big picture, and a great deal of literary finesse. “The Warmth of Other Suns” reads like a novel. It bears down on the reader like a locomotive. — Dwight Garner

Liked it? Try “ The Twelve Tribes of Hattie ,” by Ayana Mathis, “ All Aunt Hagar’s Children ,” by Edward P. Jones or “ Traveling Black: A Story of Race and Resistance ,” by Mia Bay.

Book cover for My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend

Elena Ferrante; translated by Ann Goldstein 2012

The first volume of what would become Ferrante’s riveting four-book series of Neapolitan novels introduced readers to two girls growing up in a poor, violent neighborhood in Naples, Italy: the diligent, dutiful Elena and her charismatic, wilder friend Lila, who despite her fierce intelligence is seemingly constrained by her family’s meager means. From there the book (like the series as a whole) expands as propulsively as the early universe, encompassing ideas about art and politics, class and gender, philosophy and fate, all through a dedicated focus on the conflicted, competitive friendship between Elena and Lila as they grow into complicated adults. It’s impossible to say how closely the series tracks the author’s life — Ferrante writes under a pseudonym — but no matter: “My Brilliant Friend” is entrenched as one of the premier examples of so-called autofiction, a category that has dominated the literature of the 21st century. Reading this uncompromising, unforgettable novel is like riding a bike on gravel: It’s gritty and slippery and nerve-racking, all at the same time.

Liked it? Try “ The Book of Goose ,” by Yiyun Li, “ Cold Enough for Snow ,” by Jessica Au or “ Lies and Sorcery ,” by Elsa Morante; translated by Jenny McPhee.

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In collaboration with the Upshot — the department at The Times focused on data and analytical journalism — the Book Review sent a survey to hundreds of novelists, nonfiction writers, academics, book editors, journalists, critics, publishers, poets, translators, booksellers, librarians and other literary luminaries, asking them to pick their 10 best books of the 21st century.

We let them each define “best” in their own way. For some, this simply meant “favorite.” For others, it meant books that would endure for generations.

The only rules: Any book chosen had to be published in the United States, in English, on or after Jan. 1, 2000. (Yes, translations counted!)

After casting their ballots, respondents were given the option to answer a series of prompts where they chose their preferred book between two randomly selected titles. We combined data from these prompts with the vote tallies to create the list of the top 100 books.

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Published on 17 July 2019

Updated: 21 March 2024

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from Evening Street by Aya Kanbar

In her explosive second poetry collection, Aya Kanbar offers a heady, romantic and often dark exploration of love, loneliness, destruction and the search for identity. Translated by Elizabeth Clark Wessel.

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from Hang City by Mikael Yvesand

In his debut novel, which won the 2023 Borås Tidning 's Debut Prize, Yvesand has perfectly captured the dreaminess not only of bright, long summers but also the voice and energy of a thirteen-year-old. Translated by Sophie Ruthven.

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In this short story, a disagreement between a clergyman and his wife in a rural parish serves as a prelude to an incisive exploration of the clashes that inevitably occur between tradition and innovation, faith, superstition and reason. Translated by Sarah Death.

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from Descartes’ Daughter by Magnus Florin

Magnus Florin's latest novel plays out during the philosopher René Descartes’ last journey, a month-long voyage from Holland to Stockholm in the autumn of 1649. Translated by Harry D. Watson.

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from My Book World by Kerstin Ekman

One of the most prominent voices in twentieth and twenty-first century Swedish literature, Kerstin Ekman enters into dialogue with her own literary heroes, detailing the works that have influenced her own reading and writing life. Translated by Linda Schenck.

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Swedish Folk Tales – An Evolving Tradition

Anna Maria Hellberg Moberg delves into the changing landscape of folk tales and storytelling traditions across Sweden.

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‘There’s nothing like the act of translation to reveal the magic of how and why a piece of writing gets under your skin.’

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In Annika Norlin’s debut novel The Ant Hill , An alternative lifestyle brings rewards and challenges for a group of people who reject mainstream society.

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In Sissy , Jonas Gardell writes another collective literary testimony from Stockholm’s gay community. This time, the sissies – said to be the most despised even by the gay community – take centre stage.

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Fattigt Skryt

With its appealingly coloured tales of a group of twenty-something friends that shun strict realism for a more psychological take, Cecilia Vårhed’s graphic novel Empty Boasting has fun with the genre.

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Mitt stora vackra hat. En biografi över Victoria Benedictsson.

Elisabeth Åsbrink's My Big, Beautiful Hatred portrays a gifted writer torn apart by the conflicting demands that late nineteenth-century society placed on female authors and intellectuals.

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The 10 Best Translated Novels of the Decade

Tr. tr. tr..

Friends, it’s true: the end of the decade approaches. It’s been a difficult, anxiety-provoking, morally compromised decade, but at least it’s been populated by some damn fine literature. We’ll take our silver linings where we can.

So, as is our hallowed duty as a literary and culture website—though with full awareness of the potentially fruitless and endlessly contestable nature of the task—in the coming weeks, we’ll be taking a look at the best and most important (these being not always the same) books of the decade that was. We will do this, of course, by means of a variety of lists. We began with the  best debut novels , the  best short story collections , the  best poetry collections , the best memoirs , the best essay collections , and the best (other) nonfiction of the decade . We have now reached the seventh list in our series: the best novels translated into and published in English between 2010 and 2019.

Each of these lists has presented its own set of problems; with this one we worried about whether it was somehow condescending to books in translation to give them their own list (especially considering they do appear on many of the linked lists above). But in the end, considering that books in translation still make up only a tiny percentage of the books published in English every year, we figured it was worth highlighting some of our favorites. (We stuck to novels because that was the biggest group.)

The following books were chosen after much debate (and several rounds of voting) by the Literary Hub staff. Tears were spilled, feelings were hurt, books were re-read. And as you’ll shortly see, we had a hard time choosing just ten—so we’ve also included a list of dissenting opinions, and an even longer list of also-rans. As ever, free to add any of your own favorites that we’ve missed in the comments below.

The Top Ten

Jenny erpenbeck, tr. susan bernofsky, visitation (2010).

At the center of this extraordinary novel is a house on a lake, surrounded by woods. The house and the lake and the woods are in Brandenburg, outside of Berlin. People move in, through, and around the house, and time moves in these ways too—the novel is set during the second World War, and before, and after. The realities and their attendant characters—the gardener, the architect, the cloth manufacturer, the red army officer, the girl—are layered elegantly on top of one another, creating a sense of pattern, of fugue, more than of traditional narrative. As in Woolf’s To the Lighthouse , the house itself becomes the central, if mute, figure of the novel, and time itself its essential subject: what it does to us and to the world, how we remember, and how we don’t. And also like To the Lighthouse , there are little human dramas within this grander and colder scheme, ones that secretly hook us in, however minor they seem, so that we are devastated when time passes, so that we mourn the ones we barely knew, for their fixations, their tragedies, their trying. Elegiac, often astoundingly gorgeous, sometimes strikingly brutal, this is one of the most wonderful novels of any sort that you could hope to read. P.S. this novel edged out Erpenbeck’s more recent novel, Go, Went, Gone , also translated by Susan Bernofsky, for this list, but we also very much recommend that one. Really you can’t go wrong by immersing yourself in the work of these two masterful artists.    –Emily Temple, Senior Editor

Elena Ferrante, tr. Ann Goldstein, My Brilliant Friend (2012)

Before I read My Brilliant Friend , the first of Elena Ferrante’s four Neapolitan novels, I was told by several colleagues that the books were written pseudonymously. All I knew was that they are autobiographical, chronicling the lives and friendships of two young women, Lila and Elena. This conversation took place before the 2016 press attempt to expose Ferrante’s real name, and so someone in the group mentioned that they wondered if the real author of those female-centric stories were a man. Another colleague (a woman) responded quickly, “Absolutely not,” and added “they are written by a woman. You can just tell. They understand women in a way only a woman can.”

Translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein in 2013, the Neapolitan novels (and My Brilliant Friend , particularly, since it broke the ground) are so perfectly, beautifully intuitive. They are about women’s voices—what it means to be a woman and to have a voice as a woman—but also the ways women speak and not speak and who they sound like when they do or don’t. My Brilliant Friend introduces Lila and Elena, childhood friends, as the two bright starts in a depressed Italian neighborhood—precocious readers and writers. They each are beautiful and compelling, but they take different paths. Elena becomes a writer. Lila should have become a writer. My Brilliant Friend is wise, it is nostalgic, it is wistful. But more importantly, it is a love story—between the two central friends, yes, but also between each woman and herself.  –Olivia Rutigliano, CrimeReads Editorial Fellow

Marie NDiaye, tr. John Fletcher, Three Strong Women (2012)

Published in France in 2009, Three Strong Women won the Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary award, making Marie NDiaye the first black woman to have ever won the prize. Having already written Self-Portrait in Green , a wonderful, experimental memoir, and later to publish Ladivine , which was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, NDiaye has by now established herself as a significant, international literary prose stylist and playwright. One can look to NDiaye not only for well-rounded, complicated portraits of characters but for her “fantastical narratives,” as The New York Times writes, in which “the destabilization and even duplication of the self occurs frequently, particularly in families.” Three Strong Women is structured in three parts and moves between France and Senegal to accommodate the stories of Norah, Fanta, and Khady, three women whose resilience and self-worth is called upon to deal with the men of the world who are trying to control and subjugate them. Norah, a lawyer born in France goes to Senegal to deal with another of her father’s offspring; Fanta must leave the teaching job she loves behind to move to France with her husband, where she will not be able to teach; and Khady, a penniless widow, must take to France, where she has one distant cousin, to save herself. Told with incisive wit and deep dives into her characters, NDiaye’s narrative is completely immersive and invokes empathy, and humanity juxtaposed against the toxic masculinity that often plagues families; fathers and daughters, husbands and wives are often at odds in NDiaye’s works, meanwhile the matrilineal line reigns as a force of strength, unending support, and guidance. NDiaye’s ability to invite the reader into the lives of her characters is peerless, and for me, her symbolism and imagery—that verges on surreal or hallucinatory at times—deepens and complicates the layers of the themes of identity, womanhood, lineage, inheritance, and responsibility which she explores with utmost elegance and force.  –Eleni Theodoropoulos, Editorial Fellow

Juan Gabriel Vásquez, tr. Anne McLean, The Sound of Things Falling (2013)

Gabriel Vásquez has long since established himself as one of the leading voices in Latin American fiction, with a career now spanning two decades and including the 2004 breakout  Los informantes , but it was the release of  El ruido de las cosas al caer in 2011, brought out two years later in the US as The Sound of Things Falling , that cemented his reputation as a giant of international letters. The novel’s aims were at once ambitious in scope and intensely particular, even intimate. Gabriel Vásquez summarized the project in The Guardian after winning the International Impac Dublin award: “We had all grown up used to the public side of the drug wars, to the images and killings … but there wasn’t a place to go to think about the private side … How did it change the way we behaved as fathers and sons and friends and lovers, how did it change our private behavior?” The narrator and ostensible protagonist of  The Sound of Things Falling is Antonio Yammara, a Bogotá law professor whose proclivities make a mess of his current circumstances and drive him to look back on his own and Colombia’s recent past. It’s a life whose texture is often distorted by the effects of narco-trafficking and an increasingly chaotic and violent culture. The story splits out through several time strands, conundrums, and characters, including most notably an ex-con in a pool hall who leads Yammara down a mysterious path and sees both men gunned down on the city streets. The nature of memory, identity, and time become Yamarra’s obsessions, but in classic noir fashion he only seems to wade deeper and deeper into the abyss. Obsession takes over life, as Gabriel Vásquez subtly brings out the devastating effects of a society under the extreme tension of decades of corruption.  –Dwyer Murphy, CrimeReads Managing Editor

Eka Kurniawan, tr. Annie Tucker, Beauty is a Wound (2015)

Beauty is a Wound —Eka Kurniawan’s epic, polyphonic, multi-genre novel—is the story of the prostitute Dewi Ayu (who returns from the dead in the first sentence of the novel) and her four daughters. Set against the backdrop of Indonesia’s history of colonialism, its independence struggles, and its depredations under Suharto’s despotic rule, Beauty is a violent family saga flooded with incest, murder, bestiality, and rape (a lot of rape). Dewi Ayu, a mixed race descendant of a Dutch East India Company trader (her parents are half siblings), is taken to a Japanese internment camp reserved for Dutch colonists at the start of World War II; there she survives by becoming a whore—the most beautiful, most sought after prostitute ever. She gives birth to three beautiful daughters who marry important, political men. It’s her fourth daughter, Beauty, who is born (as per Dewi Ayu’s wish) “so hideous that the midwife assisting her couldn’t be sure whether it really was a baby and thought that maybe it was a pile” of excrement. The novel’s evocation of fairy tale and fondness for the tropes (and sexual politics) of magical realism are reminiscent of Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and, at times, Rushdie—there are lovers whose kisses create flames and man who, despite many efforts, cannot be shot or stabbed. But the hyperbolic, maximalist voice brought to rapturous life by Annie Tucker’s 2015 English translation for New Directions is thoroughly Kurniawan’s own. Sometimes maddening in its scope and innumerable characters, it’s an exhilarating novel, and one of the best in translation published this decade.  –Emily Firetog, Deputy Editor

Magda Szabó, tr. Len Rix, The Door (2015)

Magda Szabó’s The Door was first published in Hungary in 1987; it wasn’t published in America until 1995, and I didn’t discover it until 2015, almost a decade after Szabó’s death, when it was reissued by the New York Review of Books. I can’t remember why I picked it up, but I remember the feeling I had only a few pages in: that this was a voice unlike any I’d ever read—elevated, almost cold, but bristling with passion beneath the surface—and that the book was very, very good. And I know I’m not alone. “I’ve been haunted by this novel,” Claire Messud wrote in The New York Times Book Review. “Szabó’s lines and images come to my mind unexpectedly, and with them powerful emotions. It has altered the way I understand my own life.”

The plot is simple, even boring. (More and more, I find that my favorite novels defy snappy summation; there’s no clever, alluring way to describe a quality of mind that can only be understood by reading.) Our narrator tells us a story from years before, when she, a writer whose career had been until recently held up for political reasons, hired a woman to help around the house. But she is no ordinary woman, and the novel is the story of their relationship, one which culminates in a truly extraordinary set piece. “It won’t do to say much more about the plot of the book,” Deborah Eisenberg wrote in her NYRB review, “first because the rather white-knuckled experience of reading it depends largely on Szabó’s finely calibrated parceling out of information, and second (though this might be something that could be said of most good fiction) because the plot, although it conveys the essence of the book, is a conveyance only, to which the essence—in this case a penumbra of reflections, questions, and sensations—clings.”

You see—all that’s left to explain is where you can buy a copy, and I figure, if you’re reading this space, you know that already.  –Emily Temple, Senior Editor

Han Kang, tr. Deborah Smith, The Vegetarian (2016)

The Vegetarian is the most beautiful work of body horror I’ve ever ingested. It makes sense—what is a body if not a beautiful horror? (Too on the nose? Fine.) Han Kang’s first novel to be translated into English, The Vegetarian is divided into three sections and centers around a woman, Yeonge-hye, described by her husband as “completely unremarkable in any way.” Yeonge-hye is the catalyst for the story’s action—in the novel’s first section, her husband wakes up to find her throwing away all the meat in their kitchen because of a dream she had—but the story, which shifts perspective in each section, is never told in her voice. Yeonge-hye doesn’t rebel against erasures of her person. Instead, she leans further into unpersoning. She stops eating meat, which infuriates her family, then stops eating altogether. In the book’s second section, “Mongolian Mark,” Yeonge-hye’s brother-in-law becomes obsessed with her, specifically a birthmark on her backside, and paints flowers all over her body as part of an art project. Even his desiring of her unpersons her. The scene is horrific and beautiful at once, like so much of the novel. Its language is spare and matter-of-fact, which makes the violence all the more unsettling. Porochista Khakpour describes The Vegetarian as “magnificently death-affirming,” and I’m at a loss to do better than that.  –Jessie Gaynor, Social Media Editor

Olga Tokarczuk, Flights, tr. Jennifer Croft (Riverhead Books)

Olga Tokarczuk, tr. Jennifer Croft, Flights (2018)

The book that established Olga Tokarczuk’s name in the Anglophone world could’ve easily been structured and marketed as a book of short stories, perhaps some of them interconnected. But the fact that  Flights  is a novel seems somehow more true-to-life in the way that our lives, yours and mine, are discontinuous, fragmented, full of returns and departures, progress and regression. When your eulogy is read, who will describe your singular life in terms of chapter breaks and clean divisions?  Flights , an apt title wonderfully rendered by translator Jennifer Croft, felt almost like it was eschewing novelty for novelty’s sake. Rather, it pushed against the edges of the novel’s form to make us second-guess whether the form was somehow actually “exhausted.” Tokarczuk’s stories encompass different epochs, locations, lengths, perspectives and tonal registers: a Polish man on vacation searches for his missing wife and kid; a classics professor experiences a fatal fall aboard a boat heading to Athens; a nameless narrator marvels at the potential of a floating plastic bag; a German doctor obsesses over body parts and their preservation. Tokarczuk is working in a similar vein as Italo Calvino in  If on a winter’s night a traveler , Georges Perec in  Life: A User’s Manual ,and Jorge Luis Borges in his short story, “The Library of Babel.” That is, she has an eye for the paradox of the encyclopedic project, which seeks at once to encompass a significant range of information and possibilities while also leaving room for expansion. As James Wood wrote in his  New Yorker  review,  Flights  is “a work both modish and antique, apparently postmodern in emphasis but fed by the exploratory energies of the Renaissance.”   –Aaron Robertson, Assistant Editor

Ahmed Saadawi, tr. Jonathan Wright, Frankenstein in Baghdad (2018)

Full, potentially compromising disclosure: I’m here for most, if not all,  Frankenstein  adaptations and/or reimaginings, from the highs of Danny Boyle’s  theatrical production  to the alleged lows of the 2014 Aaron Eckhart-fronted sci-fi action horror flick  I, Frankenstein . Shelly’s novel is, for me, the greatest horror tale in literary history, and I welcome all acolytes, regardless of how clumsy their tributes may be. Saadawi’s unabashedly political, blackly funny contemporary take on the mythos (superb translated by Jonathan Wright, who captures the wry humor and brooding, ominous rhythms of Saadawi’s dark tale) is, however, a true standout in a very crowded field. Set within the tumult and devastation of U.S.-occupied Baghdad, it’s the tale of Hadi—a scavenger and local eccentric—who collects human body parts, stumbled upon or sought out in the wake of suicide bombings, and stitches them together to create a corpse. When his creation disappears, and a wave of gruesome murders sweeps the Iraqi capital, Hadi realizes that he has, ahem, created a monster. What’s so fascinating about  Frankenstein in Baghdad —an ingenious tonal blending of conflict reportage, mordent satire, gruesome horror, and tender travelogue—is that, like its malevolent star, the book’s effectiveness lies in its patchwork nature. There’s something awesome and terrifying about watching this abomination’s unlikely rise from the operating table, its ability to wreak havoc with a conjured power far greater than the sum of its disparate parts. As Dwight Garner wrote in his  New York Times review of the book: “What happened in Iraq was a spiritual disaster, and this brave and ingenious novel takes that idea and uncorks all its possible meanings.”  –Dan Sheehan, Book Marks Editor

Can Xue, tr. Annelise Finegan Wasmoen, Love in the New Millennium (2018)

We quickly learn that nothing is as it seems in  Love in the New Millennium , a book by experimental Chinese author Deng Xiaohua, known by her pseudonym Can Xue. This is a work ostensibly about love stories. Not much “happens” in the sense of a through line from points A to Z, which is the draw of this perplexing book. Translator Annelise Finegan Wasmoen conveys a remarkable linguistic simplicity while maintaining the weirdness of Xue’s descriptive passages and dialogues, which are rather like non-sequiturs, fragments of barely connected thought that make us think they are meant to follow from one another because they are framed a certain way on the page. There’s a little passage in a chapter about an antique store owner named Mr. You that sums Xue’s book up well. Speaking of Mr. You: “His personal life was hardly smooth sailing, but there were no life-or-death crises. His nature quietly settled into shape apart from anyone’s notice […] A stranger looking at Mr. You would have seen no trace of time’s passage on that face—he looked too much, in fact, like someone a little over thirty.” If there is a crisis at all in the book, it’s that minute changes are often happening quietly, such that characters and readers might easily miss them. Each of the book’s chapters are often narrated by one or two new characters, one being at least tangentially connected to the next. Movements of time are questionable, and just about every encounter in some way minor. This is a challenging but worthy path into Xue’s body of work.   –Aaron Robertson, Assistant Editor

Dissenting Opinions

The following books were just barely nudged out of the top ten, but we (or at least one of us) couldn’t let them pass without comment.

Karl Ove Knausgaard, tr. Don Bartlett, My Struggle: Book 1 (2012)

In retrospect, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle saga is perhaps best understood as a literary phenomenon of the internet age. The sense of selfhood that obsesses it is so monomaniacally focused, so deeply confessional, premised on a disclosure so radical (the author’s father’s abuse, alcoholism, death; his wife’s nervous breakdown) it infamously cost Knausgaard some of his closest personal relationships even as it won him international acclaim. Added to that, the suspense and anticipation on which the series’ rising acclaim in the English-speaking world depended was a pleasure its readership had almost forgotten it could feel. Somewhere, out there, were very large books—very large caches if information, of personal data—bound and in physical form but inaccessible to you, the next volume unavailable for another year! And when the work did become available, there was the sheer superabundance if it, the excruciating detail its author expected you to be interested in—or maybe what he expected you to be was bored. And why would someone want to bore you like that; who was this guy? And what was with the title? What kind of “novel” was My Struggle—or what could it be, a book that so undid the notions of the form (plot, characters, development) as to seem at once to portend the total destruction of the novel and the next stage in its next evolution. In the end, seven years, five more volumes, and one 400-page not-okay digression on Hitler (Book Six) later, the sum of Knausgard’s achievement feels less than what this first volume promised it could be. But what a promise it was.  –Emily Firetog, Deputy Editor

Fuminori Nakamura, tr. Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates, The Thief (2012)

Fuminori Nakamura is one of the most intriguing crime writers around, and in 2012, SoHo Press began a decade of bringing his spare, minimalist prose and intellectual noir aesthetic to American audiences. The Thief is a perfect noir—we follow an unnamed protagonist as he wends his way around the cityscape, thieving and thinking, until he encounters a shoplifting child and saves him from arrest. When the titular thief meets the child’s mother, he finds his hard edges softening, and in the process, finds himself less and less suited to the life of a desperado, and increasingly vulnerable to the dangers of the streets. Japanese noir, with its frequent emphasis on alienated cityscapes and the difficulty of human connections, has always appealed to me, but The Thief is the ultimate example of noir distilled to its essence. Nakamura writes harsh poetry for the modern world, and his works are essential reading for fans of translated works and just plain literature alike.    –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Associate Editor

Valeria Luiselli, tr. Christina MacSweeney, The Story of My Teeth (2013)

Valeria Luiselli’s short novel  The Story of My Teeth , written in Spanish and translated by Christina MacSweeny, was produced in collaboration workers at the Jumex Juice Factory in Mexico. She would send chapters of the novel to the juice factory workers, who would read, discuss, and provide feedback on the story in a kind of book-club format. Then the writing project was commissioned in conjunction with an art exhibit, called “The Hunter and the Factory,” which was installed in the juice factory, itself.  The Story of My Teeth was originally included in the exhibition catalog—Luiselli eventually expanded it into the full novel later. This background, which she presents in the novel, makes perfect sense, given that The Story of My Teeth is about the incredible meaning of objects—not merely as symbols, but as transformative, personal, material things, whose very materiality has the most significance.

Told in seven parts, it tells the story of Gustavo (“Highway”) Sánchez Sánchez, a compulsive liar, flamboyant auctioneer, and a collector of teeth from famous people (including Plato, Petrarch, G.K. Chesterton, and Virginia Woolf). He trades all these in to buy a pair of teeth that purportedly belonged to Marilyn Monroe, which he then has implanted into his own mouth. He is kicked out of his son’s house and set adrift, and wanders. That’s all there is to the story, except it’s also not—while the narrative concludes, the book picks up in a series of photographs and a “Chronologic” (this one drawn by Christina MacSweeney, the novel’s translator—additionally emphasizing the true collaborative spirit of the project). The book is about relics—the morsels of things that last throughout time, and are imbued with great significance specifically for being lasting material things. The book itself plays with its being an object—there are marbled paper pages printed into it, whole pages which are devoted to reproducing fortune cookie fortunes, photographs, illustrations, a map. In this way, it reads much like Laurence Sterne’s  The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman , which also experiments with a book’s ability to be an object, as well as a character’s own awareness that he is literally writing a book (Sterne, a printer who published his own book, also formatted it creatively, slipping in blank and marbled pages on purpose, among other things). It’s a clever, delightful, expanding-center of a book, one which draws on centuries of inquiry about what books are and what they can do.  –Olivia Rutigliano, CrimeReads Editorial Fellow

Kamel Daoud, tr. John Cullen, The Meursault Investigation (2015)

I’m a huge believer in culture as an ongoing conversation, and many of the most beloved works in history are also intensely problematic; so much so that in order to continue loving what’s good about the original, we first need to see a response to its ugliest parts. Kamel Daoud does this in spades with his lyrical reworking of Camus’ The Stranger; told from the perspective the unnamed Arab’s brother, Daoud takes us long past the events of the stranger to take on a sweeping tale of identity and vengeance against the backdrop of the Algerian Revolution. By focusing on the story of Meursault’s victim and his family, Daoud restores humanity to a character used as racially insensitive plot device in Camus’ original, and helps us to understand that Camus’ pretension at distance and invention of “existentialism” was merely another version of colonialist prejudice. Here’s hoping that future schoolteachers take heed from Daoud’s text and change up the way they talk about The Stranger!  –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Associate Editor

Yuri Herrera, tr. Lisa Dillman, Signs Preceding the End of the World (2015)

Signs Preceding the End of the World is a slim novel, barely over 100 pages, and it is almost fable-like, both in length and tone: when you begin reading it, you’re not sure (or at least I wasn’t) whether you’re in our world or another—it begins with a sinkhole, a curse, and a quest. Soon it becomes clear that this is our world, or almost, sliced by the border between Mexico and the United States. Borders in this novel—between worlds, between words, between people—are both dangerous and porous, messages meaningless and profound in equal measure. It is an intense, indelible book, an instant myth of love and violence.

Most of the time, when reading books in translation, I do not stop to wonder what the text was like in its original form; I simply accept the book whole, as it is, while knowing it is in some sense inexact. With this novel, however, I found myself pausing, turning sentences over, wondering how their texture had possibly been transposed from the Spanish, wondering what had been lost, what gained. This should not be taken as a slight against the translator, Lisa Dillman, but rather a compliment: the language is so beautiful and strange and precise, such a perfect balance of high and low, that it seems absolutely native to the book, which is of course about translation in some essential sense itself. I suppose I simply need to learn Spanish, so I can read it anew again.  –Emily Temple, Senior Editor

Fiston Mwanza Mujila, tr. Roland Glasser, Tram 83 (2015)

I would love to have an en face version of this book, to figure out how, exactly, translator Roland Glasser managed to transpose Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s profane and teeming portrait of a semi-fictional Congolese mining town into the roiling, musical English of Tram 83 . The novel takes its name from the café-bar-club-brothel at its center, a true demi-monde populated by miners, musicians, malcontents, pimps, gamblers, adventurers, freedom fighters… and, in but a fraction of Mujila’s accounting:

…organized fraudsters and archeologists and would-be bounty hunters and… human organ dealers and farmyard philosophers and hawkers of fresh water and hairdressers and shoeshine boys and repairers of spare parts and…

Bearing witness to this endless stream of characters is Lucien, a writer not infrequently found adrift at the corner table, and the closest thing the novel has to a moral compass. As civil war rages at the indistinct edges of the map, Lucien reenters the atmosphere of his old friend Requiem, a lapsed communist turned black market realist who plays foil to Lucien’s delusions of conscience. It is hard to say who has the clearer picture of the fallen world within which they dwell, the storyteller or the smuggler, but conjured as it is in Glasser’s translation, Mujila’s world will stay with me for years to come.  –Jonny Diamond, Editor in Chief

Álvaro Enrigue, tr. Natasha Wimmer,  Sudden Death   (2016)

I have, from time to time, been accused of only liking “cold” literature. Writers like Tom McCarthy, W. G. Sebald, Rachel Cusk, David Markson, whose primary pleasures (one could argue) are intellectual, not emotional. I will not deny it.  (Well, I’ll deny the “only,” maybe downshift it to a “primarily.”) I’d personally much rather be dazzled by prose and form than fully convinced of a fictional character’s personhood and traumatized by their love affairs over a few hundred pages. And those who feel the opposite may not go in for Álvaro Enrigue’s amusing, ramshackle, hyper-intellectual, mischievous tennis match of a novel, Sudden Death , but those with similar proclivities should pick it up immediately.

It is more or less half about an imaginary game of tennis played between Caravaggio (yes, the painter) and Quevedo (the poet), who are using a tennis ball made out of Anne Boleyn’s hair (why not), and half a smattering of other historical musings and anecdotes (one of the most striking is the story of Cortés and La Malinche), with all the timelines thrown together, including some of our current ones (this novel includes emails written between Enrigue and his editor).

None of it makes any overarching sense, exactly, and the many moving parts don’t quite fit together, but they don’t need to. Each one is sheer delight and obvious brilliance, which makes the experience of reading this novel something of an intellectual thrill, and that is more than enough for me.  –Emily Temple, Senior Editor

Andrés Barba, tr. Lisa Dillman, Such Small Hands (2017)

Andrés Barba’s Such Small Hands will haunt you. It begins, “Her father died instantly, her mother in the hospital.” This is how we are introduced to seven-year-old Marina, left parentless after a horrible car accident. But the story isn’t so much about the tragedy as it is about the ways she copes with it, starting with language. The first section has her repeat that horrible first line many times, like a refrain. From the concerned paramedics: “But the girl doesn’t cry, doesn’t erupt, doesn’t react. The girl still inhabits the suburbs of the words.” The suburbs of the words!! In Lisa Dillman’s beautiful and biting translation, Andrés Barba gives a physicality to miscommunication and the feeling of dislocation in such a powerful and surprising way. (I read this slender gem of a novel months ago, and I still think of this phrasing often.) Another shiny turn of phrase: “A second later it broke. What did? Logic. Like a melon dropped on the ground, split in one go. It started like a crack in the seat she sat on, its contact was no longer the same contact: the seatbelt had become severe.”

All of Such Small Hands reads like logic breaking, like a melon dropping on the ground. It is the unexpected word choice (the seatbelt had become severe !) that makes this work simultaneously sinister and a joy to read. After the car accident, we follow Marina to an orphanage, where she struggles to find her place amongst the other girls there. In this section, another unexpected turn: the narration starts to switch off, and the reader is met by the collective “we” of the girls who came before her. We (the readers) are brought gracefully into that special realm of make-believe that they have created for themselves, where there exists the real world and the world they all agree on: “We used to touch the fig tree in the garden and say, ‘This is the castle.’ And then we walked to the black sculpture and said, ‘This is the devil.’” Marina eventually finds her place by introducing a menacing game to the orphanage. At only 94 pages, Such Small Hands is a cruelly quick read that makes you feel, in the best way, like the walls of language are closing in on you.  –Katie Yee, Book Marks Assistant Editor

Samanta Schweblin, tr. Megan McDowell, Fever Dream (2017)

While  Fever Dream , Argentine writer Samanta Schweblin’s mesmerizingly eerie debut novel (novella, really, but who cares), isn’t what you’d call an enjoyable read, it is a remarkably intense and compelling work of existential and environmental dread. A hallucinatory eco-parable clocking in at less than 200 pages, it tells the story of a young woman, Amanda, dying in a hospital bed in rural Argentina, and of the creepy young boy, David, with whom she is carrying on a surreal and fragmented dialogue. Both David and Amanda, as well as Amanda’s missing daughter and the rest of the town’s children, have been poisoned by toxic agricultural chemicals, and while a mysterious local healer saved David’s life, he also replaced half of the boy’s soul with that of a stranger. As you do. And so David and Amanda excavate distressing memories of the recent past together—he the interrogator, uttering the same “That is not important” when displeased, and she the delirious subject, grasping at disintegrating images to stave off nonexistence. As Jia Tolentino wrote in the New Yorker: “The reader begins to feel as if she is Amanda, tethered to a conversation that thrums with malevolence but which provides the only alternative to the void.” The cursed offspring of Waiting for Godot and Pedro Páramo (Juan Ruflo’s iconic 1955 novella about a man returning to his dead mother’s hometown in search of his father, only to find it peopled entirely by ghosts),  Fever Dream is a literary haunting of the highest order.    –Dan Sheehan, Book Marks Editor

Yan Lianke, tr. Carlos Rojas, The Years, Months, Days (2017)

Okay, I know picking The Years, Months, Days is sort of cheating because technically it’s two novellas, but I had to champion them somehow because they’ve really stuck with me.

The eponymous novella follows an old man known only as the Elder in his last days of the abandoned village he calls home. A terrible drought has forced the rest of the residents to flee, leaving the Elder and his vision-impaired dog, Blindy, as the sole inhabitants. They become obsessed with salvaging seeds and attempting to grow a new crop for the next season. The bond between the two, the way the dog becomes a way for the Elder to project his thoughts and feelings, is part of what makes this such an interesting story. It is very much a tale about survival, and it will stick its struggling claws in you, much like the second novella, “Marrow,” which tells the story of a widow who will do anything (anything!) to provide a more normal life for her disabled children. She discovers that soup made of bone marrow (especially that of kin) is the solution. She feeds her children soup made of the marrow of their deceased father. It is a chilling story of sacrifice and the lengths a mother will go to to help her children.

It is dark, yes, but there is also something sly and funny in it. It reads like a wink. It feels like a tale being told, like a fable. While the circumstances are dire and shocking, once you enter this surreal world, you might not be surprised at what happens to the characters in it. There is a beautiful, understated repetition to these pages that creates the eerie feeling that you’ve been here before, that you know what’s coming. The prose cradles you in dread. Yan Lianke was the recipient of China’s Lu Xun Literary Prize and the Franz Kafka Award, in addition to being a Man Booker International Prize finalist. His writing, wonderfully translated from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas, feels like a very old, very magical folktale being passed on to you.   –Katie Yee, Book Marks Assistant Editor

Sayaka Murata, tr. Ginny Tapley Takemori, Convenience Store Woman (2018)

A number of the reviews of Sayaka Murata’s slim, dry, and very funny novel about a 30-something convenience store worker use the word “weird” to describe it. “It’s the novel’s cumulative, idiosyncratic poetry that lingers, attaining a weird, fluorescent kind of beauty all of its own,” writes Julie Myerson in The Guardian . I agree— Convenience Store Woman is weird, in a deeply enjoyable way. Its narrator and protagonist, Keiko, is weird, too—she has been aware, since childhood, of her strangeness, and has taken some pains to cloak her differences (peeking at the labels on a coworker’s clothing in order to imitate her manner of dress, for instance). But Keiko isn’t tormented by her strangeness, and her efforts to conform are mostly so she can live her life unharassed, doing what she loves: working at a convenience store.  Keiko’s—and by extension, the novel’s—voice is a clipped deadpan. It’s simple and even repetitive, like the tasks Keiko performs at her job each day, but not monotonous. It reads, by turns, like a love story (woman meets store), an unusually charming employee handbook, and a psychological thriller—but somehow, it never feels disjointed. It was interesting to read this novel in the midst of a glut of English books about the dehumanizing nature of underemployment. Convenience Store Woman doesn’t, in my reading, take a stance on the Value of Work. Instead, it presents Keiko in all her glorious strangeness, and invites the reader to delight in it.  –Jessie Gaynor, Social Media Editor

Negar Djavadi, tr. Tina Kover, Disoriental (2018)

I am the lover of a certain kind of story, where geographic and interior movement shape one another across various countries and times. This is often explicitly a story about migration and the multiple generations of a family that such movement influences. French-Iranian screenwriter Négar Djavadi’s debut novel ticks these boxes, though it is also a somewhat comic epic about familial fate, sexual awakenings, traditional and unorthodox gender roles, political dissent, and the modern history of Iran. At least one event in Djavadi’s own childhood mirrors something that happens to her protagonist, Kimiâ. Like Kimiâ, Djavadi was born in Tehran shortly before the Iranian Revolution and can remember when she and her family fled as exiles opposed to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. At one point in the book, Kimiâ and her mother are literally smuggled into their lives on horseback. Kimiâ is the daughter of Sara and journalist-activist Darius Sadr, the man who occupies much of the novel as a loving but aloof figure who has decided that the fight for his country’s soul matters more than the preservation of his family. Kimiâ’s story is partly an attempt to understand Darius, and Darius’s effects on Sara, but also the patriarchal norms that were being upended in a modernizing Iran. Djavadi isn’t content exploring only the disorientation caused by cultural and political revolution; the novel’s transition to Paris brings with it a shift in self-awareness, too. Kimiâ came from an upper-class Iranian family that was something of intellectual royalty, though in France the notion of such stability and assurance begins to seem a silly thing.  Disoriental  plays with various genres, from magical to social realism, and in its wonderful English translation by Tina Kover, did so at a time when borders between totalitarianism and democracy; Europe and the Middle East; and men and women were being questioned anew.  –Aaron Robertson, Assistant Editor

Scholastique Mukasonga, tr. Jordan Stump, The Barefoot Woman (2019)

Set in Rwanda, before the genocide, The Barefoot Woman defies categorization—it sometimes is described as memoir, others as fiction, but no matter the label it is a tribute of a daughter, Scholastique, to her loving mother, Stefania. The first time Stefania speaks, she says, “When I die, when you see me lying dead before you, you’ll have to cover my body.” These words haunt the rest of the book’s pages, and signify just one of the many recurring instances when Stefania will tell her three daughters stories foreshadowing her death. Though Scholastique is just a young girl and admits she does not always comprehend her mother’s warnings, her mother’s “land of stories” “impregnated the slow drift of [her] reveries.” Bearing in mind the impending genocide while reading, imbues each page with an additional sonorous depth, and as contraries fuel each other, the monstrousness and tragedy of the genocide fortify the mother’s love.

Scholastique Mukasonga reveals, throughout the book, the daily life, customs, and labor that bound mother and daughter and the rest of the Tutsi women to each other and to their land. Each chapter represents a different window into their entwined lives: on “Bread,” on “Sorghum,” on “Beauty and Marriage.” The encroaching violence against Rwanda is felt from the first pages but is anchored by the mother whose worry for her children drives her fastidious efforts to save them; she teaches them the path to the border, she hides food, she listens like a hawk to any sounds of approaching militia. A Finalist for the National Book Award for Translated Literature, The Barefoot Woman is described by Zadie Smith as a “simultaneously a powerful work of witness and memorial, a loving act of reconstruction, and an unflinching reckoning with the Rwandan Civil War.” The memories of childhood, a lost home, a mother who sacrificed herself are the pounding heart of the book, and Mukasonga has produced a work that anyone who might read it will remember.  –Eleni Theodoropoulos, Editorial Fellow

Honorable Mentions

A selection of other books that we seriously considered for both lists—just to be extra about it (and because decisions are hard).

Haruki Murakami, tr. Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel, 1Q84 (2011)  · Peter Nadas, tr. Imre Goldstein, Parallel Stories (2011)  · Alina Bronsky, tr. Tim Mohr, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine (2011)  · Peter Stamm, tr. Michael Hofmann, Seven Years (2011)  ·  Santiago Gamboa, tr. Howard Curtis, Night Prayers (2012)  · Laurent Binet, tr. Sam Taylor, HHhH (2012)  · Javier Marías, tr. Margaret Jull Costa, The Infatuations (2013)  · Herman Koch, tr. Sam Garrett, The Dinner (2013)  · Patrick Modiano, tr. Euan Cameron, So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood (2015)  · Daniel Galera, tr. Alison Entrekin, Blood Drenched Beard (2015)  · Juan Gabriel Vásquez, tr. Anne McLean, Reputations (2016)  · Stefan Hertmans, tr. David McKay, War and Turpentine (2016)  · Johanna Sinisalo, tr. Lola Rogers, The Core of the Sun (2016)  · Yoko Tawada, tr. Susan Bernofsky, Memoirs of a Polar Bear (2016)  · Edouard Louis, tr. Michael Lucey, The End of Eddy (2017)  · Domenico Starnone, tr. Jhumpa Lahiri, Ties (2017)  · Cristina Rivera Garza, tr. Sarah Booker, The Iliac Crest (2017) · Elvira Navarro, tr. Christina MacSweeney, A Working Woman (2017) · Mathias Enard, tr. Charlotte Mandell, Compass (2017)  · Pola Oloixarac, tr. Roy Kesey, Savage Theories (2017)  · Hideo Yokoyama, tr. Jonathan Lloyd-Davies, Six Four (2017)  · Anne Serre, tr. Mark Hutchinson, The Governesses (2018) ·  Jenny Erpenbeck, tr. Susan Bernofsky, Go, Went, Gone (2018)  · Patrick Chamoiseau, tr. Linda Coverdale, Slave Old Man (2018)  · Dubravka Ugrešić, tr. Ellen Elias-Bursać and David Williams, Fox (2018) ·  Leila Slimani, tr. Sam Taylor, The Perfect Nanny (2018)  · Roque Larraquy, tr. Heather Cleary, Comemadre (2018) ·  Jose Revueltas, tr. Amanda Hopkinson and Sophie Hughes, The Hole (2018)  · Henne Orstavik, tr. Martin Aitken, Love (2018)  · Yukio Mishima, tr. Andrew Clare, The Frolic of the Beasts (2018) ·  Yoko Tawada, tr. Margaret Mitsutani, The Emissary (2018)  · Khaled Khalifa, tr. Leri Price, Death Is Hard Work (2019)  · Yoko Ogawa, tr. Stephen Snyder, The Memory Police (2019), Valérie Mréjen, tr. Katie Shireen Assef, Black Forest (2019) · Olga Tokarczuk, tr. Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (2019) · María Gainza, tr. Thomas Bunstead, Optic Nerve (2019).

Emily Temple

Emily Temple

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