U.K.: Jan 12, 2017 | Faber & Faber
U.S.: April 18, 2017 | Knopf
Aslam portrays his native country, Pakistan, as a violent, cruel place where beatings, killings, and rapes are commonplace, injustice and sectarian rivalry reign, and suicide bombers seek vengeance for insults to Islam. His two central characters, Massud and Nargis, are both architects renowned for their beautiful buildings. Massud is killed in what appears to be a terrorist attack by an American in the fictional city of Zamana. Police and U.S. intelligence pursue and threaten Nargis to make her “forgive” the American. Together with the daughter of a neighbor, a Christian journalist who has angered Muslim extremists, Nargis seeks sanctuary on an island where she and Massud built a mosque. The darkness of Aslam’s world is mitigated by the visual beauty he evokes and his portrayal of love and humanity.
Trans. by Deborah Smith
South Korea: 2014 | Chogabje
U.S.: March 7, 2017 | Grove Press
This collection of short stories is by a North Korean author who risked his life to smuggle them out of the country to South Korea, where they were first published in 2014. Since then, translation rights have been snapped up around the world. The author—Bandi is a pseudonym—remains in the North and has been compared with Solzhenitsyn. The seven stories detail the terror and totalitarianism of the North Korean regime. “Stage” explores the life of a state security agent given the job of watching mourners at ceremonial altars set up after the death of Kim Il-Sung to identify who is showing true grief and who is faking it. In “City of Ghosts,” a mother whose toddler is frightened of posters of Karl Marx and Kim Il-Sung screens them from the child’s view.
Trans. by Anna Kushner
Spain: 2013 | Tusquets
U.S.: March 14, 2017 | FSG
Mario Conde, Padura’s Cuban detective and bookseller, returns in this latest installment in the series to track down a Rembrandt in a story that roams over several centuries and continents. The Kaminsky family, Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi regime, arrive in Havana on the Saint Louis in 1939 with a Rembrandt portrait of Christ. But, snarled up in immigration bureaucracy, the ship is forced to turn back to Europe. A corrupt Cuban immigration official seizes the Rembrandt that the Kaminskys hoped would buy them asylum. Nearly 70 years later, the painting is offered for auction in London, and with Conde’s assistance, Daniel Kaminsky tries to find out the story of his family and track down their painting to reclaim it and donate it to a museum. Though Padura was awarded Cuba’s National Literary Prize in 2012, his books are often published abroad before they make it into print in small quantities in his home country; this one was no exception.
The Impossible Fairy Tale
Trans. by Janet Hong
South Korea: Moonji Publishing | 2013
U.S.: March 7, 2017 | Graywolf
A little girl, apparently spoiled by her mother and two fathers, receives 72 German-made colored pencils at the beginning of this strange experimental novel which melds dreams and reality. Mia is tormented by the Child, a classmate who adds sinister threats and rumors to the notebooks of other pupils, unlocking a chain of events that ends in violence. Yujoo, a writer and translator who has lived in France, is influenced by French literary theory and philosophy, especially that of Maurice Blanchot. Her dark novel, described as “a new kind of literary horror,” addresses the materialism and dearth of values in modern Korea and the world in general.
Catherine Hickley is a Berlin-based arts journalist.