KTEP - El Paso, Texas

Lily Meyer

The author and translator Jennifer Croft recently wrote an op-ed setting out the reasons why translators should be named on book covers. I could not agree with Croft more; I agree so much, in fact, that reading the op-ed infuriated me, for the simple reason that Croft shouldn't have needed to write it at all.

In 2017, the odd and wonderful British novelist Jon McGregor told a Guardian interviewer he had an "antipathy towards 'big drama.'" His dislike of showiness seems coherent with the book he'd then just released, the unmissably good Reservoir 13, which takes place over the span of 13 years and is collectively narrated by the inhabitants of a rural English town, including the birds and animals living in its hedges.

In his breakout 2010 debut HHhH, the French novelist Laurent Binet expressed deep doubt about the validity of writing historical fiction — or, rather, his narrator did.

Early in Image Control: Art, Fascism, and the Right to Resist, novelist and cultural critic Patrick Nathan admits, "I never thought I'd write a book about photographs and fascism because I knew nothing, I thought, about photographs and fascism."

Late in Real Estate, the third installment of British writer Deborah Levy's excellent Living Autobiography, Levy discovers that an acquaintance of hers knew the late French novelist Marguerite Duras in childhood. On learning this, Levy instantly wishes that Duras would join them, "sit down and give me some tips on running my house and household."

Often while reading Real Estate, which is a playful, candid, and a supremely elegant exploration of Levy's concept of — and desire for — home, I found myself wishing that she would come sit down with me.

In November 1959, the CIA created a dedicated Africa division. According to British researcher Susan Williams, the CIA's brief in Africa was to, by any means imaginable, secure American power across the continent.

Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, I often have found myself using books — especially, but not only, books in translation — to satisfy my itch to travel. Increasingly, though, I find that tendency suspect. My favorite books may take me other places, but they also help me look more deeply into my own life and mind. Why should I give that opportunity up just because I feel stir-crazy? As a course-corrector, I have been seeking out books — again, translated and not — that serve desires other than wanderlust. All three of the ones below have made me very glad.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I've been suffering from a reading funk. My concentration is bad; my commitment, worse. I blame the world, not the books, but I do feel especially grateful to the writers whose novels broke through my mental clouds. First on that list is the Japanese novelist Mieko Kawakami, whose English-language debut, Breasts and Eggs, was one of my favorite books of 2020. I wasn't alone; Breasts and Eggs, in Sam Bett and David Boyd's seamless rendering, was a breakaway hit. No wonder Kawakami's U.S.

In a scene close to the end of the English poet and publisher Sam Riviere's debut novel Dead Souls, a twice-disgraced poetry plagiarist named Solomon Wiese explains that, before he got expelled from the literary establishment, he never listened when people complimented his work. In the sycophantic poetry community, Wiese declares, praise springs from "monstrous insincerity," and is, therefore, deadly. As a critic who strives to be completely honest, I can't help but take this proclamation as a bit of an insult — what am I, chopped liver? — but still, I know it holds truth.

Lucy Ives has a mind well-suited to short-story writing, though her recent collection, Cosmogony, is her first. She combines an experimental spirit with roving curiosity, which perhaps explains why her prior body of work is so wide-ranging: In the past 12 years, she's published two novels, several books of poetry, and a significant quantity of art criticism. All, I am pleased to report, are good. So is Cosmogony. Ives — this is a compliment — is a real literary weirdo, and her stories are strange without ever performing their strangeness.

In the first chapter of Patricia Engel's third novel, Infinite Country, a 15-year-old girl named Talia breaks free from a nun-managed reform school in the Colombian mountains. In only a few pages, Engel makes abundantly clear that Talia is more than equipped to escape the nuns and make her way back to Bogotá, where she has a plane to catch. Talia was born in the United States, but raised by her father and grandmother in Colombia. Her mother and siblings, Karina and Nando, live in New Jersey, where Talia is finally set to join them.

For me, and I imagine not me alone, this fall has been a season of creeping dread. The presidential election had something to do with it, as did the arrival of cold weather and the departure of Daylight Savings Time, and, now, the terrifying national spike in coronavirus cases, which seems worse every time I check the news. No wonder, then, that I have found myself attracted to fiction suffused with melancholy, dread, and low-level doom. Reading darkness-filled novels has proved a useful way for me to manage the darkness outside.

Artist and writer Lauren Redniss creates books like no one else's.

The writer Nicole Krauss has, in the last two decades, acquired an enormous, devoted, and deserved readership. Her novels, which tend to juxtapose the broad philosophic questions of how to be human with the narrower — though still large and perplexing — issues of how to be a contemporary Jew, work in the magic-adjacent tradition of Bruno Schulz and Franz Kafka, with a little Rothian earthiness mixed in.

In a recent issue of n+1, contributor Nausicaa Renner formally renounced reading essays about coronavirus. Until quarantine ends, she wrote, "I vow to only read fiction. For me, the well of individual experience has run dry." For me, though, reading fiction is no guarantee of release from my anxieties about health and country. Nor do I always want that release. But when I do, I turn to fiction that lives at least a little bit outside the realm of the possible.

In a moment not too long ago, I realized that the coronavirus pandemic was turning me into a bad girlfriend. I was taking out far too much stress on my boyfriend, forgetting that he, too, was frayed by months of social-distancing and fear.

The New Wave musician and former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne cannot have known a pandemic was en route when he decided to convert his 2019 Broadway show, American Utopia, into an impressionistic, sweetly illustrated adult picture book — created in collaboration with the much-loved artist Maira Kalman.

In 2014, Phil Klay released Redeployment, a collection of swift-talking stories emerging from — though not based on — his service in the Iraq War, to rapturous acclaim. He won the National Book Award, received uniformly glowing reviews, and earned frequent claims that Redeployment would be to Iraq what Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried has become to Vietnam. No small amount of pressure to put on an emerging writer, excellent though that writer may be.

Marilynne Robinson created the Boughton and Ames families of Gilead, Iowa in her 2004 Gilead, a lingeringly beautiful epistolary novel in which the aging Reverend John Ames reflects on his life in a letter to his son. Robinson's three subsequent novels — Home, Lila, and, most recently, Jack, all as transcendently lovely as the first — return to Gilead's world, characters, and plot points, retelling and re-examining each one with lapidary care.

The culture writer Anne Helen Petersen's third book, Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, is, strictly speaking, the intellectual outgrowth of a much-discussed BuzzFeed essay that she released in January 2019.

The writer and video artist Akwaeke Emezi, who was born in Nigeria and lives in New Orleans, burst into the literary world with their 2018 debut Freshwater, which mixes Igbo ontology, perspective-shifting narration, and fearless, swaggering prose to bring a coming-of-age tale radically alive. In Freshwater, Emezi prioritizes voice above all else. Their propulsive writing blasts through the familiar plot beats of literary fiction. Abandoning structure is a risky choice, but Emezi pulls it off: Freshwater is a tough book to look up from.

Five years ago, I decided, essentially on a whim, to teach myself to translate fiction. Before then, I had neither sought nor avoided translated books, but as part of my — very steep! — learning curve, I made a habit of reading translations from across the globe. Of all my habits, good and bad, this is the one that has served me best in quarantine. I may not be able to leave Cincinnati, but, in my reading life, I can go all over the world. Translated literature has helped me wholly, if briefly, escape my surroundings. Here are the three novels that transported me most so far this year.

Like many Algerians and Franco-Algerians, the novelist Kaouther Adimi has spent much of her life moving between Algiers, where she was born, and Paris, where she now lives. Thanks to France's 132-year colonization of Algeria, the two countries are thoroughly intertwined — a relationship Adimi explores with nuance and determination in her third novel, Our Riches, newly translated by the excellent Chris Andrews.

Rebecca Dinerstein Knight's strange and delightful second novel, Hex, opens with its protagonist in crisis. Nell Barber is an ex-doctoral student at Columbia; her lab, which studied toxins, has been disbanded after a student accidentally poisons herself, and now Nell is floating through New York, grief-stricken and in need of work. She's also profoundly lovesick for her dissertation advisor, a magnetic young botanist named Dr. Joan Kallas. Without Joan's "absolutely necessary nearness," Nell is undone.

The writer Elizabeth Tallent released her first story collection in 1983. Over the following decade, she joined Stanford's prestigious creative writing faculty and published a novel and two story collections, all well-received.

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