Exploring books that have been translated from a different language can lead to a really special reading experience. The skill of a translator is of course key, they need to be able to truly feel the book in order to successfully and seamlessly translate it. A great translator has the ability to make you feel right at home, while also letting you experience the wonders of a different culture. These books all encourage you to discover the sense of a different place, so we invite you to step forward and broaden your horizons.
It has been 15 years since award-winning Finnish copywriter Tuomainen launched his career as an author and in that time he has delighted readers and critics with 6 books that have seen him hailed by The Times as “the funniest writer in Europe,” and “the King of Helsinki Noir” by the Finnish press. It’s hard to really capture and express just how brilliant this man’s writing is, but imagine, if you will, Ian Rankin’s gift for crime thrillers channelled through the skew-wiff comic genius of Christopher Brookmyre, or to put it another way, think of Carl Hiaasen in thermals, Mukluks and a big, down parka for, yes, he is that good. To even think that there might be a tale to be told of a staid insurance actuary inheriting a problematic adventure park takes courage. To then be able to grip readers' imaginations for three hundred pages, to make them laugh so hard they soak the pages of the book by squirting tea from their nose and then make them weep so fiercely that the tears trickle down their thighs, takes huge talent. But there is also nigh-on writing genius here as, woven into what is essentially a crime thriller, albeit a raucous, rip-roaring comic one, is a genuine sense of pathos, a real understanding and expression of human frailties, the random doubts and failures, that make The Rabbit Factor such a wonderfully engaging and enduringly humane read. Be in no doubt, this is quality, top drawer, writing and storytelling of the sort that makes you feel good to be alive and oh-so-grateful to be literate.
Anyone who has charted the progress of “Scandi Noir” and “Nordic Noir” will be aware that Iceland has inherited the cold crown of crime through the writing of Yrsa Sigurdardóttir, Ragnar Jón, Arnaldur Indridason and, of course, multi award winning, critically acclaimed and hugely bestselling Lilja Sigurdardóttir. Her well deserved success comes from an enviable ability to create truly credible, compelling situations, with such engaging characters and a strong sense of place that readers are drawn into her worlds from the opening line, and Cold as Hell marks a new high water mark in Lilja’s superb writing. Sisters Áróra and Ísafold aren’t on speaking terms and live in different countries. When their mother loses touch with Ísafold, Áróra returns to Iceland to realise that not only has her sister disappeared without trace, but that she has a life more complicated and much darker than Áróra could have imagined. So far, so noir, but what sets Lilja’s work apart is her ability to thread dark atmospheric tension throughout her writing and to keep the tale so taut that, once you’ve started reading and are drawn into her perfectly weighted web of intrigue and manipulation, putting Cold as Hell down is just not an option. Translated from the Icelandic by Quentin Bates, himself a crime writer of note, Sigurdardóttir’s crisp writing style – perhaps due in no small part to her second talent as a playwright – scintillates like sunlight on ice as the twists and turns of Áróra’s investigation reveal ever more darkness. Books two and three of this series have already been written and Sigurdardóttir’s very canny English publishers. Orenda, will doubtless be getting them translated for us. So my advice is this, if you haven’t discovered Sigurdardóttir’s books yet, get started now and read Cold as Hell. It’s a slick, refreshing, glacial blast of a thriller and there’s more great work coming down the line from this uber-cool Queen of ice-cold crime.
An absolute little treasure! After the death of his grandfather, Rintaro finds himself on an adventure with Tiger the talking cat, to help books that desperately need saving. This incredibly quirky and beautiful novel highlights the importance of books, friendship, and self-belief. The simplicity of the story highlights the warmth, the love, and the true power of books. It also encouraged me to explore my own relationship with books. Sosuke Natsukawa painted images straight into my thoughts, simple, clear, vividly bright, they still sit in my minds eye. A shout out to the translation by Louise Heal Kawai, as I felt as though I was reading the original Japanese version. If you, like me, think of books as being more than words on paper, if you talk to them and pat them, are moved by them and have thoughts altered by them, then I recommend The Cat Who Saved Books with my heart and soul. Chosen as one of my Liz Picks of the Month, it really would make the perfect gift, either for you, or another book-lover in your life.
An extraordinary and angry Russian novel about poisons of all kinds: physical, moral and political. Untraceable is a wonderful piece of fiction rooted in the recent history of Russia's state assassinations, especially the attempted poisoning of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury. Professor Kalitin is a ruthless, narcissistic chemist who has developed an untraceable, extremely lethal poison called Neophyte while working in a secret city on an island in the Russian far east. When the Soviet Union collapses, he defects and is given a new identity in Germany. After an unrelated Russian is murdered with Kalitin's poison, his cover is blown and he's drawn into the German investigation of the death. Two special forces killers with a lot of Chechen blood on their hands are sent to silence him - using his own undetectable poison. Their journey to their target is full of blunders, mishaps, holdups and accidents. Urgently topical and compellingly readable.
A secluded hut in the middle of the woods. A double life that could be his downfall. The Secret Life of Mr Roos is the third Inspector Barbarotti novel from the 'Godfather of Swedish crime' (Metro), Hakan Nesser. At fifty-nine years old, Valdemar Roos is tired of life. Working a job he hates, with a wife he barely talks to and two step-daughters he doesn't get on with, he doesn't have a lot to look forward to. Then, one day, a winning lottery ticket gives him an opportunity to start afresh. Without telling a soul, he quits his job and buys a hut in the remote Swedish countryside. Every day he travels down to this man-made oasis, returning each evening to his unsuspecting wife. Life couldn't be better, until a young woman arrives in paradise . . . Anna Gambowska is a twenty-one-year-old recovering drug addict. On the run from the rehab centre she hated and an abusive relationship she can't go back to, all Anna's prayers are answered when she comes across a seemingly vacant hut in the Swedish woodland. But it's not long before Anna's ex discovers her location, and an incident occurs that will mar the lives of both Anna and Valdemar forever. Inspector Barbarotti doesn't take much interest when a woman reports her husband as missing. That is, until a dead body is found near the missing man's newly bought hut, and Mr Roos becomes the number one murder suspect . . . The Secret Life of Mr Roos is the third novel in Hakan Nesser's Inspector Barbarotti quintet.
Faïza Guène’s Men Don’t Cry is an absolute triumph - wise, funny, enthralling, thought-provoking. At its heart, the novel explores the age-old (and sharply pertinent) pull between one’s land of heritage and one’s land of birth, in this case generational and family conflict between Algeria and France. It’s an incredibly powerful commentary on a very real conflict in contemporary France, perfectly summarised when the novel’s protagonist comments that “to be fully French you have to deny part of your heritage, part of your identity, part of your history, part of your beliefs, and yet when you succeed in achieving all that, you’re still reminded of your origins…So what’s the point?” Men Don’t Cry is also a superb coming-of-age story that sees an awkward young man, Mourad, find his feet, and his voice. He was born in Nice to Algerian parents, the youngest of three children. His eldest sister Dounia, a devoted feminist, leaves home without looking back, while his middle sister marries, has kids, and is happy. Mourad is between the two - neither desperate to leave home, nor especially looking to settle down. He’s insular, doesn’t have many friends, so he’s there when his dad has a hugely debilitating stroke. He’s there when his hypochondriac mum needs to vent (which she does a lot, about anything and everything, to comic and poignant effect). But then the time comes for Mourad to leave home too - he has a teaching job in Paris. A few weeks into his new post, he reconnects with Dounia, now a public figure feminist activist who’s stepped onto the political ladder. Her interviews in high profile publications and the book she writes about her upbringing and experiences rile Mourad. For example, she describes their dad as “authoritarian, change-averse, illiterate.” But, nevertheless, it’s Mourad who bridges the chasm between Dounia and the rest of the family, not least at the unexpected, heartrending end of this remarkable novel. Mourad’s voice is engrossing, and feels unfailingly authentic. On that note, deep appreciation must go to the novel’s award-winning translator, Sarah Ardizzone - rendering Mourad’s voice so dazzingly into English, is a tremendous achievement. The result is a novel that reads like a dream - vibrant, nuanced, thought-provoking, funny, and shot-through with Mourad’s wit.
Taking in the cultural complexities of the Ottoman Empire through the compelling, criss-crossing stories of Levantine, Greek, Turkish and Armenian characters, Defne Suman’s The Silence of Scheherazade is an astounding feat of historical fiction - tremendously ambitious, and dazzlingly realised through the author’s exquisitely-threaded plotting and lush storytelling. It’s September, 1905, and one moment seals the fates of four very different families. This is the moment Scheherazade is born in cosmopolitan Smyrna to a mother numbed by opium. Though her namesake is the legendary storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights, she’s mute. A silent girl who grows up to bear witness to the brutality that eventually besets her city - the death and destruction, the expulsion of communities, the impending outbreak of WWI, and the burning. The magic of the city is dazzlingly evoked and intertwined with both the socio-political context and the very moving, very personal stories of this novel’s vast cast of characters. This is a novel to savour, to be dazzled by, to learn from, and reflect on. It invites utter immersion. The LoveReading LitFest invited Defne to the festival to talk about The Silence of Scheherazade. You can view the event by subscribing to the LitFest programme for as little as £6 per month - or you can pay per view. For just £2, go, see Defne in conversation with Deborah Maclaren and find out why this is such a sumptuous tour de force of a book that everyone needs to read. Check out a preview of the event here.