Reading genre fiction can be like consuming fine international cuisine. A few years back, when I was reviewing a lot of mystery and crime fiction for BarnesandNoble.com’s Ransom Notes and The Chicago Tribune, I developed a taste for stark Scandinavian whodunits – by authors like Henning Mankell, Mari Jungstedt, Håkan Nesser and Arnaldur Indridason.
There’s something exhilarating about reading a novel that has been translated into English – I feel like an explorer who has stumbled across an invaluable foreign (literary) treasure. I mean, if a publisher has taken the time and effort to translate an entire novel into another language, it has to be exceptional, right?
And it can be incredibly insightful from a cultural perspective as well. Yevgeny Zamyatin’s 1920 dystopian classic We, for example, offered up profoundly moving allegorical glimpses into everyday life in Stalinist Russia. In the completely dehumanized world of We, there are no names, only designations. The protagonist, a mathematic philosopher identified as D-503, is nearing completion of the Integral, the great State machine’s most ambitious project yet, a spaceship that will carry the divinely ordered and rational message of the One State to those intelligent beings living amongst the stars still “living in the savage state of freedom.” But as the launch date approaches, D-503 meets, and falls in love with, a female revolutionary identified as I-330. Through a series of highly illegal encounters, I-330 introduces D-503 to a breathtaking new world, one completely hidden from the One State and filled with tolerance, individuality, imagination, love and humor. Will D-503 fulfill his civic duty by confessing to the Guardians his unlawful involvement with I-330 or will he become part of her revolutionary scheme to destroy the One State?
The number of exceptional foreign novels translated into English that have not only entertained me but also conveyed some kind of global consciousness or awareness are virtually endless – Andreas Eschbach’s science fiction masterwork The Carpet Makers (originally published in German in 1995), Miyuki Miyabe’s intense police procedural Shadow Family (translated from Japanese in 2005), the young adult medieval fantasy Grimpow by Rafael Ábalos (translated from Spanish), Olivier Pauvert’s Orwellian thriller Noir (translated from French), the list goes on and on…
So, for those of you discerning genre fiction fans who are interested in experiencing fantastical fiction works from other cultures, here is a list of some outstanding SF and fantasy releases that have recently been translated into English:
• Markus Heitz’s The Dwarves – Originally published in Germany in 2003 – this shelf-bending (730 pages), Tolkienesque international fantasy bestseller revolves around the proverbial outsider Tungdil, a dwarf brought up and living in the world of humans who suddenly finds himself in the middle of a potentially apocalyptic war that holds the fate of every living soul in the balance… (And be on the look-out for the sequel, The War of the Dwarves, due out this March!)
• Alexey Pehov’s Shadow Prowler – Although not many of us fantasy fans in the States have even heard of Pehov, he’s a big deal in Russia where he has published eight fantasy novels and a collection of short stories. Shadow Prowler, the first installment of his Chronicles of Siala trilogy, is his first book to be translated in English and will be released by Tor Books on February 16th!
• Also, British publisher Gollancz will be releasing Russian novelist Dmitry Glukhovsky’s debut novel, Metro 2033, in February. While this post-apocalyptic novel won’t be available in the States yet, I’m very interested in eventually getting hold of a copy. Glukhovsky evidently published this novel on his website and granted free access to all readers – with phenomenonal success. Here’s the teaser – it sounds like it could be fantastic!
“The year is 2033. The world has been reduced to rubble. Humanity is nearly extinct. The half-destroyed cities have become uninhabitable through radiation. Beyond their boundaries, they say, lie endless burned-out deserts and the remains of splintered forests. Survivors still remember the past greatness of humankind. But the last remains of civilisation have already become a distant memory, the stuff of myth and legend.
More than 20 years have passed since the last plane took off from the earth. Rusted railways lead into emptiness. The ether is void and the airwaves echo to a soulless howling where previously the frequencies were full of news from Tokyo, New York, Buenos Aires. Man has handed over stewardship of the earth to new life-forms. Mutated by radiation, they are better adapted to the new world. Man’s time is over.
A few score thousand survivors live on, not knowing whether they are the only ones left on earth. They live in the Moscow Metro – the biggest air-raid shelter ever built. It is humanity’s last refuge. Stations have become mini-statelets, their people uniting around ideas, religions, water-filters – or the simple need to repulse an enemy incursion. It is a world without a tomorrow, with no room for dreams, plans, hopes. Feelings have given way to instinct – the most important of which is survival. Survival at any price.
VDNKh is the northernmost inhabited station on its line. It was one of the Metro’s best stations and still remains secure. But now a new and terrible threat has appeared. Artyom, a young man living in VDNKh, is given the task of penetrating to the heart of the Metro, to the legendary Polis, to alert everyone to the awful danger and to get help. He holds the future of his native station in his hands, the whole Metro – and maybe the whole of humanity.”
Want to give your literary escapism an international flair? Feel free to seek out and read any of the aforementioned titles. Happy travels – and you don't even need a passport!