We asked Polly Barton, author of Fifty Sounds, to recommend her favourite books in translation.
In Fifty Sounds, winner of the 2019 Fitzcarraldo Editions Essay Prize, Polly Barton attempts to exhaust her obsession with the country she moved to at the age of 21, before eventually becoming a literary translator. From min-min, the sound of air screaming, to jin-jin, the sound of being touched for the very first time, from hi’sori, the sound of harbouring masochist tendencies, to mote-mote, the sound of becoming a small-town movie star, Fifty Sounds is a personal dictionary of the Japanese language, recounting her life as an outsider in Japan. Irreverent, humane, witty and wise, Fifty Sounds is an exceptional debut about the quietly revolutionary act of learning, speaking, and living in another language.
Yoko Ogawa£8.99 £8.36
It is a mystery to me how Ogawa does what she does: how you are there, immediately, bathing in its darkness. The Diving Pool is a firm favourite, but I read Hotel Iris recently and my head still feels swathed in its seascape. Bonus points for a translator protagonist. And on the translational note, If I could translate as well as Snyder I'd be a happy creature.
Margarita Garcia Robayo£9.99 £9.29
By the time I came to reading this book I'd heard so much good stuff about it that I thought it couldn't live up to my expectations but it still managed to shred them. Hilarious, heartbreaking, and wise.
Vigdis Hjorth£10.99 £10.22
A world that I never expected to be inhabiting, but once I was I didn't want to leave. A powerful cocktail of gloom, hope, and activism.
Selva Almada£9.99 £9.29
I can't get enough of books that bring elements of a fictional approach to non-fictional topics, and this seems like a masterclass in combining the two. A cool yet devastating portrait of femicide in Argentina. McDermott's translation is a joy. (Also, I banned myself from mentioning any Fitzcarraldo books, but I'm really interested in how the approach taken here sits next to Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor tr. Sophie Hughes, which was one of my best books of last year.)
Norman Erikson Pasaribu£9.99 £9.29
I knew that I would love this book after I saw a reading at London Book Fair and had tears streaming down my face, and I wasn't wrong. The way that Pasaribu and Tsao talk about their relationship as author-translator is profoundly inspiring.
Virginie Despentes£8.99 £8.36
A first-class romp served with ladles of cynicism, in a masterful translation by Wynne. Just so clever and so good and so utterly absorbing.