When it comes to adult fiction in translation, I know what I like and tend to seek those types of books—basically, mystery and suspense along the lines of Arnaldur Indriðason, Deon Meyer, Miyuki Miyabe and Jo Nesbø.
Bookshelves of Doom tackles steampunk romance.
With YA fiction in translation, however, I like reading across genres. This is true for me with YA fiction in general, but there is an enjoyable variety among the few translated books published stateside. Take Damned Strong Love by Lutz Van Dijk (Holt, 1995), about the romantic relationship between a Polish teen and a Nazi soldier during World War II; the action-packed Moribito fantasies by Nahoko Uehashi, whose academic background in anthropology is evident in Guardian of the Spirit (Arthur A. Levine, 2008) and Guardian of the Darkness (Levine, 2009); or philosophical explorations like last year's Nothing by Janne Teller (Atheneum, 2010).
In the last month, two translated YA novels with less of a distinctly foreign sensibility than the aforementioned have been published: The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Little, Brown, May), translated from Spanish by Lucia Graves, and Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier (Holt, May), translated from German by Anthea Bell. Both are speculative fiction centered on 16-year-olds set outside the authors’ home countries, which is about all they have in common.
The Midnight Palace takes place in Calcutta, where, in 1916, a set of newborn twins are separated to protect them from an evil being, Jawahal. Ben ends up in an orphanage, where he forms a close bond with six other children, who swear to help and protect one another. Sixteen years later, Ben meets his twin sister and learns of Jawahal. Upholding their vows, Ben's friends do their best to aid the twins, which brings them into danger, too.
As a horror novel, The Midnight Palace is a mixed success. An air of foreboding and dread runs throughout the story, and Jawahal's powers are frightful; the story is truly eerie at times. But it's too easy to figure out the identity of Jawahal, and as we're told more about his history, his motivation and inception becomes muddied and the threat he poses lessens. Instead of the horror, what stood out most was the book’s profound and touching sense of melancholy.
Ruby Red is set in London and a lot of fun to read. A time-traveling gene runs in Gwen's family, manifesting when the carrier turns 16. Everyone thinks the gene was inherited by Gwen's cousin Charlotte, who has undergone years of lessons in preparation for her journeys back in time, but Gwen is actually the one with the ability to travel through time. A device called a chronograph was developed to precisely control the time-traveling, but can Gwen trust the Guardians in charge of the chronograph?
Gwen is an appealing heroine, lively, funny and completely unprepared for time travel. This is the first in a trilogy, and I'm looking forward to the next one, Sapphire Blue (Holt, 2012). I have to say, though, the love interest's characterization is so thin that I am totally not buying the romance that's being set up. I want to find out what the Secret is!
Trisha Murakami is a young adult librarian in Hawaii and blogs at The YA YA YAs.