By the book: 9 new titles to get in your literary calendar in 2020

By the book: 9 new titles to get in your literary calendar in 2020

9 January 2020

From Kraków to Krasnoyarsk, 2019 was the year of the epic novel. Many speculated that bestselling Russian author Lyudmila Ulitskaya’s 20th century-saga, Jacob’s Ladder, would be her last, while others were swooning over Georgian novelist Nino Haratishvili’s first, a 900-page story of seven generations in Georgia entitled The Eighth Life. Meanwhile, Hungarian literary master and 2015 International Man Booker Prize winner László Krasznahorkai had already proclaimed his novel Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming – a characteristically grammar-annihilating account of Mitteleuropa — as the final segment in his literary tetralogy and with it, the completion of his only novel. 2021 will see more novels of Tolstoyian proportions with recent Nobel Prize-winner Olga Tokarczuk publishing her own epic, the highly anticipated The Books of Jacob, in English, having already won Poland’s top literary prize with the text in 2015.

But what of 2020? It’s a new decade and a there’s a shiny new assortment of translations, ranging from authors born in the 1800s to those writing about the 21st century. Russian-Armenian author Narine Abgaryan gives us a rare snapshot into rural Armenia, while Russian modernist author (and, curiously, keen medieval calligraphist) Alexei Remizov’s short stories transport us into the dreamlike worlds of medieval Russian folklore. Montenegrin author Olja Knežević’s debut novel in English sits alongside a six-book celebration of the classic Polish science-fiction writer Stanisław Lem, while staple Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare offers a tender portrait of a mother-son relationship. All are stories of great seriousness, wit, and sensitivity, to usher us into a new decade.

The Doll by Ismail Kadare

Harvill Secker, out in January 2020

“Ismail Kadare’s readers are astonished every year when the Nobel committee overlooks him,” begins a 2018 New York Times book review for Kadare. Once again in 2019, readers were left bereft. However, 2020 may prove more auspicious for the Albanian writer, long heralded as the country’s preeminent modern literary figure. His new book, titled The Doll, and translated by John Hodgson, is thin in size but deep in psychological acuity, a nuanced depiction of a mother-son relationship, dedicated to the memory of the author’s mother.

His Master’s Voice, High Castle, The Invincible, Return from the Stars, Hospital of the Transfiguration, and Memoirs of a Space Traveller by Stanislaw Lem

MIT Press, out in February 2020

For such a polymath, it feels unjust that Stanisław Lem is remembered primarily — at least in the English-speaking world — for one thing: his 1961 novel Solaris. The series of Stanisław Lem works to be published by MIT press this year, however, remember the Polish writer as more than the science fiction heavyweight that he indisputably was. Among the six works to be published — with bold sci-fi technicolour covers — are an early realist novel set during the Second World War, Hospital of the Transfiguration, and a childhood autobiography, Highcastle, that reflect Lem’s omnivorous curiosity of worlds far beyond sentient oceans and space cruisers.

A Soviet Solaris film poster from 1972

Three Apples Fell from the Sky by Narine Abgaryan

Oneworld Publications, out in March 2020

After winning Russia’s prestigious Yasnaya Polyana award in 2016, Narine Abgaryan’s novel Three Apples Fell from the Sky is already a bestseller in Russia. Set in a remote village in the shadows of the Armenian mountains, the untouched traditions of rural life are illustrated by Abgaryan’s colloquial and highly-engaging prose, deftly translated by Lisa Hayden. One of only several books concerning the Caucasus region translated into English in the past few years, the loose-lipped characters of Abgaryan’s Three Apples Fell from the Sky offer a snapshot of the region’s unfaltering fondness for storytelling.

Temptation by János Székely

Pushkin Press, out in March 2020

János Székely’s rags to riches story of interwar Budapest was originally published in English in the 1940s under the adventurous nom de plume, John Pen. Now republished by the consistently archaeological Pushkin Press, and translated by Mark Baczoni, Székely’s 700-page epic, which sees an abandoned young boy from the country ascend into the world of Budapest’s rich and powerful, is once again available to English-speaking audiences under the author’s real name.

The Parasite by Ferenc Barnás

Seagull Books, out in May 2020

Ferenc Barnás’s tormenting story The Parasite revolves around an obsessive young man who descends into a Dostoevskian mania after a sexual encounter. There are clear allusions to the Russian writer as well as the psychoanalytic meditations of Herman Hesse, whose sexually fraught characters appear to also haunt Barnás’ world. The Parasite, translated by Paul Olchváry, is only the second novel of Barnas’ to be published in English, despite the author winning numerous prizes in Hungary, including the Sándor Márai prize in 2001.

Olja Knežević speaking about her debut book via Facebook

Catherine the Great and the Small by Olja Knežević

Istros Books, out in June 2020

Catherine the Great and the Small is Olja Knežević’s first novel to be translated into English. Born in Podgorica, Montenegro, Catherine the Great and the Small deals with the tail end of communism in the Balkans, as public and private instability fuse to create a complicated picture of identity and geography. Like Knežević’s title, her prose is witty, unembellished, and loaded with meaning.

Spadework for a Palace by László Krasznahorkai

W. W. Norton & Company, out in June 2020

In blistering contrast to his magnum opus of 2019, Krasznahorkai’s Spadework for a Palace is a single sentence work of a mere 64 pages. With Entering the Madness of Others as its subtitle, the book takes the structure of a diatribe from a “grey little librarian” named Mr Herman Melvill, whose name is one of several links to his American literary hero. In soaring, quicksilver prose translated by John Batki, Krasznahorkai offers meditations on consciousness, connection, and the impossibility of knowledge through only the narrowest of cracks.

The Round Dance of Water by Sergey Kuznetsov

Dalkey Archive Press, out in November 2020

Dalkey Archive Press will publish Sergey Kuznetsov’s The Round Dance of Water (translated by Valeriya Yermishova) — a 20th-century family saga spanning three generations in Russia — at the end of this year. Much like Kuznetsov’s wider writing portfolio, which comprises New York Times op-eds, detective novels, translations of Susan Sontag, and a monograph of Joseph Brodsky’s poetics, The Round Dance of Water shifts between eras, voices, and styles, creating a kaleidoscopic family portrait.

Alexei Remizov in 1909

The Little Devil and Other Stories by Alexei Remizov

Columbia University Press, out in December 2020

Loved by Joyce and loathed by Nabokov, Alexei Remizov occupies a contested position among Russia’s 20th century writers. With few of his works translated into English, Remizov’s collection The Little Devil and Other Stories — translated by Antonina W. Bouis — offers a window into his surreal creations that borrow as much from medieval folklore as they do from literary modernism. Preoccupied by the notion of pre-modern Russianness, Remizov paints a bewitching picture in his stories of the Russia of old, in all its stately and supernatural glory.

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