WCSU

Lily Meyer

The writer and video artist Akwaeke Emezi, who was born in Nigeria and lives in New Orleans, burst into the literary world with their 2018 debut Freshwater, which mixes Igbo ontology, perspective-shifting narration, and fearless, swaggering prose to bring a coming-of-age tale radically alive. In Freshwater, Emezi prioritizes voice above all else. Their propulsive writing blasts through the familiar plot beats of literary fiction. Abandoning structure is a risky choice, but Emezi pulls it off: Freshwater is a tough book to look up from.

Five years ago, I decided, essentially on a whim, to teach myself to translate fiction. Before then, I had neither sought nor avoided translated books, but as part of my — very steep! — learning curve, I made a habit of reading translations from across the globe. Of all my habits, good and bad, this is the one that has served me best in quarantine. I may not be able to leave Cincinnati, but, in my reading life, I can go all over the world. Translated literature has helped me wholly, if briefly, escape my surroundings. Here are the three novels that transported me most so far this year.

Like many Algerians and Franco-Algerians, the novelist Kaouther Adimi has spent much of her life moving between Algiers, where she was born, and Paris, where she now lives. Thanks to France's 132-year colonization of Algeria, the two countries are thoroughly intertwined — a relationship Adimi explores with nuance and determination in her third novel, Our Riches, newly translated by the excellent Chris Andrews.

Rebecca Dinerstein Knight's strange and delightful second novel, Hex, opens with its protagonist in crisis. Nell Barber is an ex-doctoral student at Columbia; her lab, which studied toxins, has been disbanded after a student accidentally poisons herself, and now Nell is floating through New York, grief-stricken and in need of work. She's also profoundly lovesick for her dissertation advisor, a magnetic young botanist named Dr. Joan Kallas. Without Joan's "absolutely necessary nearness," Nell is undone.

The writer Elizabeth Tallent released her first story collection in 1983. Over the following decade, she joined Stanford's prestigious creative writing faculty and published a novel and two story collections, all well-received.

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