December can be a tricky month for publishing; year-end lists are coming in and the small presses that are the lifeblood of translated fiction are gearing up for the new year. That’s not to say that there isn’t an amazing spread of new international fiction to read over the Christmas break. New Directions is publishing a new translation of Euripides’ The Bacchae — here stylized as Bakkai — by Anne Carson as well as a newly discovered title by Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata. A new novel by the acclaimed Turkish writer Elif Shafak is out from Bloomsbury, while acclaimed English novel Elmet by Fiona Mozley comes to America. Below, find nine of the best international fiction titles of December 2017.
Dandelions by Yasunari Kawabata
In a true publishing coup, New Directions is releasing the newly discovered Dandelions by Yasunari Kawabata, the first Japanese writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize. Cut short by the author’s suicide, Dandelions is both romantic and gut-wrenchingly tragic, concerning Ineko, a woman who has been admitted to a mental hospital with a rare condition that causes her lover Kuno to become invisible to her.
The Vanishing Princess by Jenny Diski
The English novelist and critic Jenny Diski passed away in 2016, making her sole short story collection The Vanishing Princess that more precious. Introduced by Heidi Julavits, there’s a retelling of “Rumpelstiltskin,” a story concerning a woman’s attempts to build a miraculous bathtub, and tales drawn from the author’s struggles with mental illness. The result is a beautiful reminder of how much we have lost in the acclaimed and brilliant Diski.
Earthly Signs: Moscow Diaries, 1917-1922 by Marina Tsevetaeva
An ideal gift for history buffs, Earthly Signs is the journal of the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva leading up to her years of exile after the Bolshevik Revolution. Here readers will find often-sardonic firsthand accounts of turbulent civil strife; as her husband disappears, the life of her fellow poets becomes endangered and fights for food become frequent. All of this makes for a crucial autobiography of social upheaval in the early 20th Century.
Her Mother’s Mother’s Mother and Her Daughters by Maria José Silveira
An epic of Brazil, Her Mother’s Mother’s Mother and Her Daughters is Maria José Silveira’s chronicle of 500 years of women, beginning with the daughter of a Tupiniquim warrior and ending in 2001 with a distant descendent who fights her own battles. A rejoinder to machismo and male domination, the novel depicts how the history of a country is shaped by mothers and daughters.
Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak
A contemporary novel of Istanbul that delves into the lives of women in the Middle East, feminism, and terror, Three Daughters of Eve may prove Turkish writer Elif Shafak’s best book yet. Beginning with a wealthy woman’s recollection of her tortured past and the three female friends, each from a different background, who shaped her youth. It is a sublime entry-point to Shafak’s defiant and extremely contemporary output.
Bakkhai by Euripides
Any new translation from the Canadian author of Autobiography of Red is bound to be an event, and Anne Carson’s new translation of Bakkhai is sure to astound, especially given her unique perspective on the classic play, writing, “Euripides was a playwright of the fifth century B.C. who reinvented Greek tragedy, setting it on a path that leads straight to reality TV.”
A Record of a Night Too Brief by Hiromi Kawakami
The three stories from Japanese author Hiromi Kawakami collected in Record of a Night Too Brief are dreamlike journeys into the private lives of snakes, misty environs filled with evil monkeys, and invisible lovers. Certain to appeal to fans of Kobe Abe and Haruki Murakami, these stories are an excellent introduction to one of Japan’s leading writers.
An Uncommon Reader: A Life of Edward Garnett, Mentor and Editor of Literary Genius by Helen Smith
A truly unique kind of biography, An Uncommon Reader illuminates the life of an editor whose tastes shaped the history of 20th Century English writing. Edward Garnett was responsible for ushering in the careers of Joseph Conrad, Henry Green, and D.H. Lawrence, to name just a few. Smith’s biography explores a life in letters and doubles as an intellectual history of the British novel in the age of modernism.
Elmet by Fiona Mozley
A sensation in England and a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, Americans will have their chance to experience Elmet by Fiona Mozley this December. A dark tale of a threatened family in a quiet corner of Yorkshire, it traces the shattering of a peaceful idyll in the wake of exposed secrets and cumulates with a shocking act of bloody violence.