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Camanchaca

Zúñiga, DiegoZuniga Photo

Trans. by Megan McDowell

Spain: 2012 | Random House Mondadori

U.S.: March 7, 2017 | Coffee House Press

A young aspiring journalist, addicted to fast food, overweight, and fearful that his teeth are about to fall out, is travelling by car through the Atacama Desert with the father he rarely sees. In this slim, economical novel by a young Chilean writer who has won two major prizes in his home country, the strangely detached narrator details his father’s suppressed guilt and inability to communicate and his mother’s disturbing neediness through fragments of reality, both present and past. These emerge like moments of visibility in a dense, windblown fog—the title of the novel refers to banks of clouds that form where the Chilean coast meets the Atacama. Though passive and docile, the narrator tries to make sense of an opaque, troubling family history by piecing these patches of clarity together.

 

Compass

Énard, Mathias

Trans. by Charlotte Mandell

France: 2015 | Éditions Actes SudMathia Enard Photo

U.S.: March 28, 2017 | New Directions

The winner of France’s prestigious Prix Goncourt in 2015, Compass recounts a night of insomnia in the life of Franz Ritter, an Austrian musicologist. Memories and history combine in this esoteric exploration of the relationship between the West and the Orient. Ritter takes the reader from Vienna to Damascus and from Paris to Tehran in the company of Balzac, Beethoven, Kafka, Freud, and a host of prominent and lesser-known characters, both historical and from his own life. A recurring figure who haunts Ritter’s sleeplessness is Sarah, a red-haired scholar with whom he is passionately in love but cannot hold on to: her erudite letters reach him from as far afield as Darjeeling and Sarawak.

 

The Dark Flood Rises

Drabble, MargaretMargaret Drabble

U.K.: Nov. 3, 2016 | Canongate
U.S.: Feb. 14, 2017 | FSG

Drabble’s 20th novel takes a line from D.H. Lawrence’s poem The Ship of Death as its title and is preoccupied with old age and the approach of death. Her main character, Francesca, is a 70-something who is still working for an NGO that provides housing for the elderly. One of her friends has already moved into sheltered accommodation, while her ex-husband, Claude, is a retired surgeon who survives old age on his obsessions with Maria Callas and his beautiful career. Ominous rumblings darken the backdrop of this melancholic but relevant book: the ship of death becomes a metaphor for desperate refugees reaching an inhospitable Europe, the Azores are hit by volcanic eruptions, and Francesca’s daughter, Poppet, monitors the rising water levels in flood-stricken southwest England.

 

Waking Lions

Gundar-Goshen, AyeletGundar-Goshen Photo

Trans.: Sondra Silverston

Israel: 2014 | Kinneret, Zmora-Bitan

U.S.: Feb. 28, 2017 | Little, Brown

Eitan Green, an Israeli neurosurgeon, hits and kills an Eritrean man while driving at top speed on a desert racetrack. The victim’s widow shows up on Eitan’s doorstep with his wallet. In return for her silence, the doctor agrees to run a nightly clinic for an endless procession of illegal immigrants. Then Eitan’s wife, a police inspector, is assigned to investigate the Eritrean’s death. As Eitan’s secrecy distances him from his wife, his relationship with the Eritrean’s widow deepens. Gundar-Goshen uses this dramatic plot to explore the ways humans deal with difference and the topical issue of refugees. The Guardian hailed Gundar-Goshen, whose debut, One Night, Markovitch, was published in English in 2012, as an exceptional new writer, while the Financial Times calls the novel “brave and startling.”

Catherine Hickley is a Berlin-based arts journalist.