Let's be honest, there are few things better than kicking back in the sunshine with a good book! So here at English PEN we've put together a selection of Summer Reads from our World Bookshelf collection for you to get stuck into...
I'll Sell You A Dog
Recommended by Cat Lucas, Writers at Risk Programme Manager
Another pitch perfect translation by Rosalind Harvey of the latest offering from the inimitable Juan Pablo Villalobos. Warm and witty, drunken yet sobering, I'll Sell You A Dog (And Other Stories) is an ideal read for a hot summer day with a cold beer in hand. (Tacos not recommended).
Recommended by Hannah Trevarthan, Events and Development Manager
My summer read is Basma Abdel Aziz’s The Queue (Melville House) translated by Elisabeth Jaquette. I saw Basma give an incredible talk at Shubbak Festival on Egypt, activism, life after the Arab Spring and how humour in fiction can draw light on the darkest of situations. I’ve been inspired to pick up her novel which imagines an authoritarian state that makes its citizens wait for permission from the Gate for the most basic and banal of things. The Gate never opens and the queue gets longer and longer, and you learn more about those waiting in line and the sinister forces in power.
The End of Eddy
Recommended by Antonia Byatt, Interim Director
Edouard Louis’ The End of Eddy became a bestseller in France. A compelling and reflective autobiographical novel, it’s a stark account of living on the outside, both economically and sexually. His account of family life in tough rural northern France moves between anger and understanding, guilt and the joy of escape. It’s about crossing borders – sexual, cultural, economic. Louis’ insight into his own experience has produced an incredibly pertinent book for our times, translated by Michael Lucey (Harvill Secker).
Epitaphios, The Return, and The Proof
Recommended by Theodora Danek, Writers in Translation Programme Manager
This summer I want to go back to my roots and finally (finally!) read Yannis Ritsos' Epitaphios, translated by Rick M. Newton (Smokestack Books). Ritsos wrote this long poem in response to a photograph of a woman crying over the body of her dead son, who had been killed by the police during a strike. It’s a Greek classic that I’ve been meaning to read for ages. Smokestack Books have published the translation alongside the original, which will make it especially joyful to read.
I’m also keen to read The Return by Dulce Maria Cardoso, translated by Angel Gurria-Quintana (Maclehose Press). It’s a novel about one teenage boy’s arrival in Portugal during the Angolan War of Independence. Give me a good novel about children and teenagers, and I will probably want to read it – and this one’s no different. While we’re on the subject of teenagers, I recently read The Proof by Cesar Aira, translated by Nick Caistor (And Other Stories), and it was a delight: a very short novel about a girl who runs into two queer punks – with extreme consequences. This one’s great for a holiday – or even just for a Sunday in a café.
Can you hear me?
Recommended by Alice Frecknall, Administrative Assistant
For the summer, I’m picking up Can you hear me? by Elena Varvello, translated by Alex Valente (Two Roads). This is the first fiction title in translation from Two Roads so I’m excited to see what they’re bringing to the bookshelf – a coming of age novel filled with mystery and intrigue feels like the perfect way to occupy a summer day or two! Only a handful of pages in but I’m already absorbed (I hardly noticed a fellow commuter reading over my shoulder on my way to the office – which is saying something!)
The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea
Recommended by Grace Larkin, Intern
I’m looking forward to reading The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea translated by Deborah Smith (Serpent's Tail). Under the pseudonym Bandi, meaning ‘firefly’, the author got his manuscript smuggled out of North Korea after writing in secret from 1989-1995. I think the wide range of characters and stories will provide a fascinating look into life in North Korea.
All for Nothing
Recommended by Jo Glanville, Director
All for Nothing, written by Walter Kempowski and translated by Anthea Bell (Granta Books), is set in the last months of the Second World War, on the estate of an aristocratic German family who are fatally detached from the events around them. The sense of expectation creates a gripping narrative tension, as life begins to disintegrate. Kempowski shows, through a fateful decision in the story, that it is not only evil acts that we are capable of committing without intention, but good ones too. This is not something that I’ve seen an author, or even a philosopher, explore before. A wholly original and haunting insight into human nature.
The World Bookshelf is home to over 200 brilliant books from around the globe which English PEN has supported through its Writers in Translation programme. This is a unique showcase of the most exciting contemporary literature available in English translation and is essential reading for everyone who cares about international writing.