Ten recent titles in translation that you must add to your TBR list
1. For Now, It Is Night by Hari Krishna Kaul, translated from Kashmiri by Kalpana Raina, Tanveer Ajsi, Gowhar Fazili and Gowhar Yaquoob (HarperCollins India): Hari Krishna Kaul, a celebrated modern Kashmiri writer, published most of his work between 1972 and 2000. His short stories, shaped by the social crisis and political instability in Kashmir, explore themes of isolation, individual and collective alienation, corruption, and the social mores of a community that experienced a loss of homeland, culture, and language. He does all this with an impressive eye for detail, biting wit, and deep empathy. The 17 lively short stories in For Now, It Is Night provide an irreverent examination of exile, opening a gateway to Kaul’s literary treasures to English readers for the very first time. These stories, set against the backdrop of political upheaval and societal transformation, are a mosaic of emotions —loneliness, displacement, camaraderie — that resonate across time and place.
2. Naulakhi Kothi by Ali Akbar Natiq, translated from Urdu by Naima Rashid (Penguin Random House India): Acclaimed Pakistani poet, novelist and short-story writer Ali Akbar Natiq’s epic saga, Naulakhi Kothi, set in canal colonies of the Punjab, is a compelling tale of enmity, revenge, social mobility, opportunism, past glory and lost grandeur — as enticingly rich and multi-faceted as the land that he is so unabashedly in love with. The sweeping narrative begins in the years leading up to Partition and goes on till the eighties. When William returns to Hindustan after eight long years in England as the newly appointed assistant commissioner of Jalalabad in pre-Partition Punjab, he dreams of returning to his ‘home’ in the idyllic Naulakhi Kothi, the titular bungalow built by his grandfather, but an irreversible turn of events awaits him, which changes not only his destiny, but that of the land forever. Natiq is among the foremost voices writing in Urdu today; he is the author of 15 books across the genres of fiction, poetry, biography and literary criticism. His collection of short stories, Qaim Din (Oxford University Press, 2012), was awarded the UBL-Jang Literary Excellence Award in 2013. In addition to being an author, Natiq is an accomplished architect.
3. Sandalwood Soap and Other Stories by Perumal Murugan, translated from Tamil by Kavitha Muralidharan (Juggernaut Books): Eminent Tamil writer Perumal Murugan (56) is a perennial presence on the longlists and shortlists of most awards, in India and abroad. His novel Pyre, translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan, was on the longlist of this year’s International Booker Prize. Fire Bird, another of his novels, translated by Janani Kannan, is on the longlist of the 2023 JCB Prize for Literature. Previously, he was twice longlisted for the National Book Award for Translated Literature, for One Part Woman and The Story of a Goat. In the stories in this collection, the author of 12 novels, six short story collections and five works of poetry in Tamil returns to his old themes of caste and the world of rural and semi-rural Tamil Nadu. Each story is a unique journey, weaving together vivid characters and landscapes, and providing a profound and immersive reading experience. The titular story is about a young boy whose job is to police the toilets in a mofussil bus stand and urge users to emerge sooner. In 'The Last Cloth' , a man who returns to his village after a city education is revolted seeing his mother walk about bare breasted. She, however, has never worn a blouse, not even in her prime, and is terrified at being asked to in her old age. ‘Neelaakka’ tells the story of a woman who is mocked for stains on her teeth.
4. Roman Stories by Jhumpa Lahiri, translated from Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri and Todd Portnowitz (Penguin): roman stories: The first short story collection by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and master of the form since her number one New York Times best seller Unaccustomed Earth (2008), Roman Stories, is a collection of nine stories, set in Rome — metropolis and monument, suspended between past and future, multi-faceted and metaphysical. In fact, the city, in these stories, is the protagonist, not the setting. In “The Boundary,” one family vacations in the Roman countryside, though we see their lives through the eyes of the caretaker’s daughter, who nurses a wound from her family’s immigrant past. In “P’s Parties,” a Roman couple, now empty nesters, finds comfort and community with foreigners at their friend’s yearly birthday gathering — until the husband crosses a line. And in “The Steps,” on a public staircase that connects two neighbourhoods and the residents who climb up and down it, we see Italy’s capital in all of its social and cultural variegations, filled with the tensions of a changing city: visibility and invisibility, random acts of aggression, the challenge of straddling worlds and cultures, and the meaning of home. These stories are steeped in the moods of Italian master Alberto Moravia and guided, in the concluding tale, by the ineluctable ghost of Dante Alighieri, whose words lead the protagonist toward a new way of life.
5. Sakina’s Kiss by Vivek Shanbhag, translated from Kannada by Srinath Perur (Penguin): Vivek Shanbhag, one of the most well-known Kannada writers, described by Suketu Mehta as the Indian Anton Chekhov, shot to international acclaim with the translation of his novel Ghachar, Ghochar, a ‘suspenseful, playful and ultimately menacing story about the shifting consequences of success,’ in 2016. Perur, who translated Shanbhag’s English language debut, is back with Sakina’s Kiss, a delicate, precise meditation on the persistence of old biases— and a rattled masculinity — in India’s changing social and political landscape. Shanbhag, author of nine works of fiction and three plays, interrogates the space between truth and perception in the novel, described by the publisher as ‘an unforgettable foray into the minefield of family life.’ When Venkat answers urgent knocks on the door to his flat one evening to find two insolent young men claiming to have business with his daughter Rekha, he deals with them shortly, only to find his quiet, middle-class life upended by a bewildering set of events over the next few days. Even as Venkat is hurled into a world of street gangs and murky journalism, we see a parallel narrative unfold of a betrayal and disappearance from long ago. Could there be a connection? Set over four mostly sleepless days, we see Venkat lose grasp of the narrative even as he loses grasp of his wife and daughter.
6. A Dictator Calls by Ismail Kadare, translated from Albanian by John Hodgson (Counterpoint): Albanian novelist and poet Ismail Kadare (87) first attracted attention as a poet, but it was his prose works that brought him international fame, largely due to Gjenerali i ushtrisë së vdekur (1963; The General of the Dead Army, which was made into a film in 1983, his best-known novel. In A Dictator Calls, he uses a literary version of the game of telephone to examine the relationship of writers with tyranny, reflecting on three particular minutes in a long moment of time when the dark shadow of Joseph Stalin passed over the world. In June 1934, Stalin allegedly called Boris Pasternak and they spoke about the arrest of Osip Mandelstam. Stalin wanted to know what Pasternak thought of the idea that Mandelstam had been arrested. Kadare explores the afterlife of this phone call, using accounts of witnesses, reporters, writers such as Isaiah Berlin and Anna Akhmatova, wives, mistresses, biographers, and even archivists of the KGB. The result is a meditation on power and political structure, and how literature and authoritarianism construct themselves in plain sight of one another.
7. Days at the Morisaki Bookshop by Satoshi Yagisawa, translated from the Japanese by Eric Ozawa (Manilla Press): The debut novel by Japanese writer Satoshi Yagisawa (46) was originally published in 2009 and won the Chiyoda Literature Prize. A tale of love, new beginnings, and the comfort that can be found between the pages of a good book, Days at the Morisaki Bookshop will appeal to readers of Before The Coffee Gets Cold, The Cat Who Saved Books, and anyone who has had to recover from a broken heart. When 25-year-old Takako’s boyfriend reveals he’s marrying someone else, she reluctantly accepts her eccentric uncle Satoru's offer to live rent-free in the tiny room above his shop. Hidden in Jimbocho, Tokyo, the Morisaki Bookshop is a booklover’s paradise. On a quiet corner in an old wooden building, the shop is filled with hundreds of second-hand books. It is Satoru’s pride and joy, and he has devoted his life to the bookshop since his wife left him five years earlier. Hoping to nurse her broken heart in peace, Takako is surprised to encounter new worlds within the stacks of books lining the shop. And as summer fades to autumn, Satoru and Takako discover they have more in common than they first thought. The Morisaki bookshop has something to teach them both about life, love, and the healing power of books.
8. Life Was Here Somewhere: Stories by Ajeet Cour, translated from the Punjabi by the author (Speaking Tiger Books): Sahitya Akademi Award-winning Punjabi writer Ajeet Cour (88) began her writing career as a romantic, and eventually matured into a realist. Her short stories portray the unequal situation of women in human relationships, suffering from under-privileged positions in relation with their husbands and lovers. Throughout her works she projects a woman's failure to find a home instead of merely a house. In the 14 short stories in Life Was Here Somewhere, which blur the lines between fiction and memoir, Cour paints rich vignettes of life in Delhi, Chandigarh and the villages of Punjab. Effortlessly translated from the original Punjabi by the author herself, these are unforgettable stories — searing, moving and always deeply human. Cour’s 22 books across genres — novels, novellas, short stories, biographical sketches and translations — include her novellas Dhup Wala Shehar and Post Mortem. Her novel, Gauri, was made into a film while her story ‘Na Maaro’ has been serialized for television. Her autobiography was first published in Punjabi in two parts, Koora Kabara and Khanabadosh.
9. Sacred Sins: Devadasis in Contemporary India by Arun Ezhuthachan, translated from Malayalam by Meera Gopinath (Hachette India): In 2008, Arun Ezhuthachan, Thrissur Chief Reporter at Malayala Manorama, decided to investigate whether the banned dance bars of Mangaluru would continue illegally. What he stumbled upon, however, was an intricate web of old beliefs and new-age oppression — the modern devadasi. Young girls were dedicated to temples, only to end up as mistresses of upper-caste men and abandoned once they were older. Speaking to locals, NGOs and the devadasis themselves, Arun began to follow the whispered clues to these forsaken women in all corners of India. In rural Karnataka, he meets devadasis clinging to their faith despite intense exploitation; in Kolkata, daughters sold into sex work by their families find no way out; in Vrindavan, ostracized widows congregate to serve God, only to encounter devious predators; and in Puri, the last surviving devadasi reminisces about her time serving Lord Jagannath. Revealing how the oppression of women continues to be veiled by religion, Sacred Sins, which received the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for the best travelogue in 2019m brings to light an India ridden with casteism, patriarchy and abject poverty.
10. The Man Who Walked Backwards and Other Stories by S. Ramakrishnan, translated from Tamil by Prabha Sridevan (Orient Blackswan): S. Ramakrishnan, an influential writer of modern Tamil literature, has written 10 novels, 20 collections of short stories, 60 collections of articles, 20 books for children, three books of translation and nine plays. The 18 short stories in this collection are a celebration of eccentricities: they feature characters who defy conventions, and who listen to their inner selves instead of conforming to familial and societal norms. We meet a mother who swims endlessly to escape domesticity and abuse; an exceptional father and husband who leaves on a quest for selfhood; the thief who heals dogs and trees; the government clerk who goes around town counting pigeons; the man who walks only backwards; the estate-owner who builds a house with a hundred windows on a hilltop, but not for anyone to live in; the father and the son who measure rain; the forgotten poet who is despised by his own family; and many others whom the world does not understand. In Ramakrishnan’s own words, ‘The people in my stories do not face big challenges, they do not seek big victories. They are the dice that Time plays with.’
(Curated by Nawaid Anjum. The information about the books have been culled from the publicity material provided to The Federal by the publishers.)