The Center for Translation Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD), in partnership with the UTD Eugene McDermott Library and the UTD Bookstore, has launched a book club called the Reading the World Book Club in which we read and discuss international literature in translation. The book club is free and open to the entire university community (students, staff, and faculty), as well as the larger, local community. The books chosen are available for loan from the UTD library or purchase from the UTD bookstore and the meetings are being held in the conference room of the McDermott library’s administrative suites (MC 4.2, on the fourth floor).
Meetings of the Reading the World Book Club are typically announced a few weeks in advance, and may be seen on the School of Arts and Humanities' upcoming events page.
Dates below are approximated. Please see the School of Arts and Humanities' upcoming events page for precise dates and times.
Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from German by Susan Bernofsky (New Directions, September 2017), 978-0811225946, 320 pages.
Whenever the political psyche strains to find a signal within the noise, some novels seem perfectly timed to answer the call. Set smack in the middle of Europe’s refugee crisis in 2015, Erpenbeck’s novel explores what happens when a German pensioner’s life intersects with a group of African refugees. What could easily end in trite kumbaya idealism instead evades simple answers, preferring to linger in awkward spaces, amid unpleasant truths: How willing are we to upend our own comforts to help a stranger? Thanks in part to a superb translation, you don’t have to be freighted with German history to feel uneasy about these questions.
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori (Grove Atlantic, 2016), 978-0802129628, 163 pages.
Keiko Furukura had always been considered a strange child, and her parents always worried how she would get on in the real world, so when she takes on a job in a convenience store while at university, they are delighted for her. For her part, in the convenience store she finds a predictable world mandated by the store manual, which dictates how the workers should act and what they should say, and she copies her coworkers’ style of dress and speech patterns so that she can play the part of a normal person. However, eighteen years later, at age 36, she is still in the same job, has never had a boyfriend, and has only few friends. She feels comfortable in her life but is aware that she is not living up to society’s expectations and causing her family to worry about her. When a similarly alienated but cynical and bitter young man comes to work in the store, he will upset Keiko’s contented stasis—but will it be for the better?
Sayaka Murata brilliantly captures the atmosphere of the familiar convenience store that is so much part of life in Japan. With some laugh-out-loud moments prompted by the disconnect between Keiko’s thoughts and those of the people around her, she provides a sharp look at Japanese society and the pressure to conform, as well as penetrating insights into the female mind. Convenience Store Woman is a fresh, charming portrait of an unforgettable heroine that recalls Banana Yoshimoto, Han Kang, and Amélie.
Frontier, by Can Xue, translated from Chinese by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping (Open Letter Books, March 2017), 9781940953540, 361 pages.
Xue has inspired rapturous praise from the likes of Susan Sontag and Robert Coover for her bold, mercurial works, which grapple with identity and place. Frontier is set in a fictional municipality known as Pebble Town, the name of which is the first indication that we’re in a world more stylized than our own. The arrival of a young woman named Liujin provides the catalyst for a multifaceted look at the residents, encompassing various philosophical conundrums as well as some glorious weirdness. It’s among the most immersive fiction you’re ever likely to encounter.
Flights, by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from Polish by Jennifer Croft (Riverhead, August 2018), 9780525534198, 403 pages.
Flights, which won the Man Booker International Prize in 2018, is a distinctively structured book that eludes easy classification. Some of its fragmented chapters link up with sections elsewhere in the book, while others appear briefly, make their point, and vanish. Throughout, Tokarczuk deftly shifts perspectives from the intimate and memoir-esque to the sweeping and historical. This bold work of fiction is singular both among recent literary works and within Tokarczuk’s own oeuvre, which explores radically different literary styles in each book.
Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth (Sandstone Press, 2018), 9789386797568, 256 pages.
Winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2019, Celestial Bodies is set in the village of al-Awafi in Oman, where we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries Abdallah after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla who rejects all offers while waiting for her beloved, who has emigrated to Canada. These three women and their families witness Oman evolve from a traditional, slave-owning society slowly redefining itself after the colonial era, to the crossroads of its complex present. Elegantly structured and taut, Celestial Bodies is a coiled spring of a novel, telling of Oman’s coming-of-age through the prism of one family’s losses and loves.
Aetherial Worlds by Tatyana Tolstaya, translated from the Russian by Anya Migdal (Vintage, 2019), 978-0525434184, 256 pages.
From one of contemporary Russia’s finest writers, a spellbinding collection of eighteen stories, her first to be translated into English in more than twenty years. Tolstaya’s ecstatic, witty and witchy imagination is in full force in autobiographical stories of delivering telegrams in Soviet Russia, conducting an affair with a man who may or may not exist, imagining a world without Italy (‘Nothing, nothing exists – there is no pasta, no Fellini, no pizza…) and, in the central story, recounting memories of summers spent in the family dacha and a time lost forever. Beginning in Soviet Russia and setting off across the globe from Italy to France, Crete to America, this is a masterful collection by a brilliantly original writer.