For me this year has been shaped by upheaval, and – as always – I’ve turned to books for solace. I’ve been reading voraciously, but also with uncharacteristic restlessness; putting aside anything that doesn’t swiftly pull me in. I was mesmerized by Ian Mackenzie’s Feast Days (Fourth Estate, 2018), set in Brazil, where I lived from 2013 to 2017, and found in it so many resonating depictions of the stark contrasts in that unforgettable country. This heady tale is told in the incisive, utterly convincing female voice of a young American who moves with her husband to São Paulo for his work. I was gripped by the scenes of simmering political and social unrest, seen through the eyes of an expat, and by the explorations of privilege, class, race, and marriage. It also contains beautiful meditations on language: I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Towards the end of this year’s long winter, I read Katharina Adler’s debut novel Ida (Rowohlt, 2018) whilst on a translation residency in Vienna, walking the same streets as its protagonist. I had been commissioned to do the sample translation, and couldn’t stop reading once I’d finished that chapter. It’s a captivating fictionalisation of the life of Ida Bauer, the author’s real-life great-grandmother, more widely known as Freud’s ‘Dora’. This complex and strong-willed woman is torn around by the upheavals of the first half of the 20th century, and the trauma inflicted by exile sadly feels as topical today as in the era it depicts.
Another tale of exile (now that I’m looking back, I see the theme!) which won my heart is the lighter but equally absorbing Estoril by Dejan Tiago-Stanković (translated from the Serbian by Christina Pribichevich-Zoric, Head of Zeus, 2018). Told from the perspective of a young Jewish boy, this is a touching WWII story set in the Hotel Palácio Estoril on the Portuguese Riviera, when the hotel was a refuge for spies, writers and ex-Kings. The fast-paced, highly entertaining narrative is interlaced with letters exchanged between its many exuberant characters.
Ian Mackenzie, Feast Days (Fourth Estate, 2018)
Katharina Adler, Ida (Rowohlt, 2018)
Dejan Tiago-Stanković, Estoril, translated from the Serbian by Christina Pribichevich-Zoric (Head of Zeus, 2018)
Jamie Lee Searle is a translator from German, and one of the co-founders of the Emerging Translators Network. Her translation of Anna Kim’s The Great Homecoming is forthcoming with Granta Books.