A few reflections on the books I most enjoyed reading this year (in no particular order!)
Disoriental by Négar Djavadi (tr. Tina Kover)
One of the earliest novels I picked up for my project, Disoriental had me thoroughly gripped on a long bus journey through Slovenia in July. (I was so invested in what happened to Kimiâ that I didn’t even realise we had arrived at our destination.) Mirroring her main protagonist, the author is likewise the daughter of exiled Iranian intellectuals. The book’s themes in fact echoed through many other women writers’ works I’ve read since – ancestry, authority, liberty, identity – but there was something acutely searing about Kimiâ’s story. 100% recommend.
Brother in Ice by Alicia Kopf (tr. Mara Faye Letham)
It was around two hot chocolates in on an overcast August (!) afternoon that I realised how much of a personal connection I’d have with this novel-notes-autofiction-travelogue book (it really is as composite as all that). This came about in (i) the narrator’s recollections of moulding herself to fit with her brother’s autism (ii) her appetite for exploring the unknown (iii) her curiosity about language – Catalan to her felt reminiscent of what my Welsh language is to me. A unique, exquisite book.
Abandon by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay (tr. Arunava Sinha)
I was whisked through this dreamy blur of a novel in the midst of our late summer heatwave in September. So addicted was I that I finished it on just the second day of reading, on a slightly-too-long lunch break, and could hardly wait to flick back through to write my mini-review. I loved how Bandyopadhyay emphasised the tensions of being both mother and writer by playing with the narrative voice, and Sinha’s translation from the original Bengali was genuinely breathtaking at some points.
Fish Soup by Margarita García Robayo (tr. Charlotte Coombe)
Shortly after reading this sharp, entertaining story collection in October I had the thrill of meeting the author at the Free Word Centre. Robayo is as insightful (yet self-deprecating!) in person as her writing suggests. Fish Soup probes corners of society that remain largely impenetrable. It’s unapologetic, astute – as well as humorous and devastating in turn.
Flights by Olga Tokarczuk (tr. Jennifer Croft)
I knew as I was finishing this idiosyncratic book that I’d have to revisit the author’s writing after my project. I found Flights at times overwhelming (perhaps since I was reading it, unfittingly, on a sizzling beach on the Côte d’Azur) but dazzling in its seesawing between panoramic and microscopic outlooks. The union of Tokarczuk and Croft makes for prose that’s impossible to forget.