It’s an established fact in the literary world that Americans just aren’t that motivated to read fiction in translation. Three Percent, a literary blog hosted by the University of Rochester, takes its title from the oft-cited statistic that only three percent of all books published in the States each year are in translation—and if narrowed down to fiction and poetry, the number is closer to 0.7 percent.
But while that number might be woefully low—in Germany, for some sobering perspective, it’s roughly 20 percent—there are a number of small publishers in the States working both to move the needle and to ensure that the 0.7 percent represents some of the most interesting fiction being published around the world.
Click through the gallery to view 21 of the most interesting, translated-into-English novels of the past (and upcoming) year.
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1. Affections by Rodrigo Hasbún
In Affections, Rodrigo Hasbún follows the Ertl family as they embark on a quixotic mission to find the lost Andean city of Paititi. This is no ordinary family, as revealed by the fact that the patriarch was once a cameraman for Leni Riefenstahl, the great Nazi filmmaker.
Translator: Sophie Hughes, who also translated Umami by Laia Jufresa on this list.
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2. Among Strange Victims by Daniel Saldaña París
Daniel Saldaña París' English-language debut is the funny and moving story of Rodrigo, a disaffected office worker who suddenly finds himself married to his boss' insufferable secretary. It's also the story of Marcelo, a Spanish academic who ends up in a hellish northern Mexican town and begins a relationship with Rodrigo's mother.
Translator: Christina MacSweeney, who also translated Valeria Luiselli's novels (including The Story of my Teeth on this list).
Coffee House Press
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3. Aracoeli by Elsa Morante
Manuel's journey through memory in search of his mother's grave is a disturbing tale that won't soon leave the reader's mind. This reissue from Open Letter—a nonprofit, literary translation publisher—reintroduces Elsa Morante's moving novel to the 21st century.
Translator: William Weaver, the master translator of post-World War II Italian fiction.
Open Letter Books
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4. Cabo de Gata by Eugen Ruge
An aspiring writer. A failed relationship. Unified Germany. A cat. This novel in miniatures tracks a narrator as he struggles to determine where home is...and maybe finds it in provincial Andalusia.
Translator: Anthea Bell
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5. Camanchaca by Diego Zúñiga
Diego Zúñiga is a Chilean wunderkind whose second novel, Camanchaca, is a noir-ish tale that unfolds in concentrated doses. The story follows a family trip across Chile's Atacama desert, exploring family drama in quiet moments.
Translator: Megan McDowell, who also translated Fever Dream and Multiple Choice on this list.
Coffee House Press
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6. The Clouds by Juan José Saer
This absurdist novel by the Argentine Juan José Saer follows a band of mentally ill patients as they travel from provincial Santa Fé to Buenos Aires in the company of the psychiatrist Doctor Real. This tragicomedy ending in disaster is sure to stick with you for years to come.
Translator: Hilary Vaughn Dobel
Open Letter Books
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7. A Cup of Rage by Raduan Nassar
Raduan Nassar burst onto the Brazilian literary scene in the 1970s with a pair of novels that launched a bitter grenade directly into the heart of the upper and middle classes. A Cup of Rage—long overdue in English—takes place over a few days on a remote farm, as a pair of lovers stormily interact.
Translator: Stefan Tobler
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8. Ema the Captive by César Aira
César Aira is the undisputed master of the short philosophical novel—and he manages to churn out a new one every few years. Like all of his books, Ema the Captive is an ideal place to start reading Aira. This story of an Argentinian woman's time as a captive concubine is a powerful novel worth reading ASAP.
Translator: Chris Andrews
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9. Ernesto by Umberto Saba
This unfinished novel by Umberto Saba, an Italian poet who died in 1957, follows a young boy as he begins to explore his budding sexuality with an older man and a female prostitute. This raw, autobiographical novel provides an honest look at romantic struggles and first loves.
Translator: Estelle Gibson
New York Review Books
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10. Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
Samanta Schweblin is one of Latin America's best young authors, and Fever Dream is her breathtaking English-language debut. The novel features a dying woman and a child in conversation as they try to unravel what has landed the woman in her terminal state.
Translator: Megan McDowell