Foyles Top 10: The Best Translated Fiction of 2023
When it comes to translated fiction, 2023 has offered up a feast of unmissable novels, making choosing just 10 something of a challenge. Nevertheless, our fiction experts have whittled down our favourites from the year to an eclectic, unmissable list. Ranging from a Korean historical epic to a Nobel Prize-winning novella of just 48 pages and featuring voices from around the world covering topics as varied as new love, undercover desire, family rifts and musical odysseys it’s a selection that packs a punch.
Forbidden Notebook by Alba de Céspedes
Translated by Ann Goldstein
A rediscovered classic from the Italian feminist icon Alba de Céspedes—first published in 1952 and freshly translated into English by Ann Goldstein—The Forbidden Notebook is astounding in its freshness and power. From a family of radical anti-Fascist dissenters—herself the subject of censorship during her lifetime—Alba de Céspedes brings a revolutionary’s eye to her subversive novel of an Italian housewife who finds her inner life, in all its desire and dissatisfaction, pouring out on to the secret pages of her diary. A compelling, heart-in-mouth read that deserves to bring de Céspedes to a wider audience.
Love me Tender by Constance Debré
Translated by Holly James
Opening the first pages of French author Constance Debré’s lauded debut it is easy to see why comparisons have been drawn between her work and that of Camus. Yet, there is something absolutely unique and uniquely compulsive to Debré’s story of a lesbian woman who—after losing custody of her young son to her ex-husband’s embittered act of revenge—adopts a life of almost nihilistic autonomy and emotionless erotic adventure. Daring and unputdownable, this is fiction at its most transgressive and transcendent.
The Annual Banquet of the Gravediggers’ Guild by Mathias Enard
Translated by Frank Wynne
Gaudy, bawdy, irreverent and unapologetically good fun, The Annual Banquet of the Gravediggers’ Guild transports its hapless anti-hero David Mazon from Paris to rural France for a supernaturally charged romp into Death’s domain. Fuelled by copious quantities of cheap French wine, Mazon upturns the underbelly of a backwater community for a bacchanalian dance with the devil in a novel that is both a bow to mortality and a toast to the best of life’s brevity from one of France’s finest authors.
Whites Can Dance Too by Kalaf Epalanga
Translated by Daniel Hahn
Angolan author Kalaf Epalanga achieves the enviable feat of bringing all the foot-tapping, blood-pulsing rhythm of the techno-inspired music of Angola to the pages of his masterful debut novel. Framed by the story of a musician, also named Kalaf Epalanga, detained as an illegal immigrant at European customs, Whites Can Dance Too shifts through other voices to create a polyphonic symphony of selfhood, identity and belonging. An astonishing achievement from a startlingly talented new voice.
A Shining by Jon Fosse
Translated by Damion Searls
From the winner of 2023’s Nobel Prize in Literature, A Shining does as much in the brevity of just 48 pages as many novelists do in more than 200. Norwegian author Jon Fosse has been compared variously with Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, and his style shares some of its allegorical simplicity with Biblical storytelling. Dreamlike and utterly captivating, telling the story of a man who meets a luminous presence on a lonely road after getting lost, A Shining is an ideal introduction to an author the Nobel judges praised for ‘giving voice to the unsayable’.
Love of Singular Men by Victor Heringer
Translated by James Young
Published posthumously in English translation for the first time this year, this—the second published novel from Brazilian author Victor Heringer—is a masterpiece of memory, early love and burgeoning sexual awakening. Drawn from Heringer’s own memories of growing up in the North Zone Del Castilho neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, this is a novel that is as celebratory as it is tragic, with James Young’s excellent translation allowing Heringer’s vivid descriptions to sing from the page.
Greek Lessons by Han Kang
Translated by Deborah Smith & Emily Yae Won
Originally published in 2011, the latest translated work from the Booker International Prize-winning South Korean author Han Kang is a novel of selfhood and experience understood through silence. Rendered mute after the death of her mother and loss of custody of her son, the narrator starts to uncover new sides to herself through learning ancient Greek. A multi-layered novel about translation, collaboration, grief and reawakening—itself (in translation) a result of the combined powers of Kang and translators Deborah Smith and Emily Yae Won—this is a powerful book with a lot to say.
Of Cattle and Men by Ana Paula Maia
Translated by Zoë Perry
The second of Brazilian author Ana Paula Maia’s novels to be translated into English, Of Cattle and Men is an uncompromising portrait of meat, murder and madness set against a dirt-poor, McCarthyesque Brazilian landscape. As animals and men both mysteriously begin to die and succumb to a mysterious insanity at an abattoir, a reader is taken on a macabre journey into mankind’s darkest instincts. A poetic slice of noirish thriller that is utterly unforgettable.
End of August by Yu Miri
Translated by Morgan Giles
Catapulted to international notice after her 2020 novel Tokyo Ueno Station won the National Book Award for Translated Literature, Korean author Yu Miri has rightly cultivated a reputation as an insightful chronicler of historical moments and their intersection with everyday lives. The End of August juxtaposes the conflicted experience of an Olympic hopeful in Japanese-occupied Korea in 1930 and his granddaughter who, a century later, summons his and other family ghosts in a shamanic ritual to free the souls of the restless dead. An epic novel of intergenerational sorrow and survival that brings to life a history of national oppression.
My Work by Olga Ravn
Translated by Sophia Hersi Smith & Jennifer Russell
Shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker prize for her first translated work The Employees, Danish author Olga Ravn’s impressively concise work of autofiction, My Work, condenses the lived experience of early motherhood into a vivid—by turns shocking, funny and insightful—combination of poetry, prose, essay and memoir. The ‘work’ in question is both the protagonist, Anna’s, work as a writer, but also the unseen work of being a mother, especially behind closed doors. This is well-trodden ground, and it is to Ravn’s credit that she draws out something genuinely new in bringing the ineffable and unreal quality of the sleepless haze of early motherhood startlingly to life.
Coming SoonSee All
A look ahead to the most anticipated translations coming in 2024.