Many of the best books I’ve read this year are things I would never normally have come across. My favourite, unfortunately not yet translated into English, is Erich Kuby’s Mein Krieg (1940-45). It’s a book of (real) letters sent from the Eastern Front by a man who’s vain, cynical, witty – and uniquely able to stand apart from what’s happening around him. I also read Vivek Shanbagh’s Ghachar Ghochar (tr. Srinath Perur). It’s translated from a south Indian language and is not at all like the performative Indianness of many novels from the diaspora. Unfortunately, the plot is too perfectly and delicately constructed for me to say anything about what happens. My last pick of the year is Lesley Blanch’s The Sabres of Paradise. It’s the history of a powerful and expansionist Western empire (Russia) trying to crush a brutal fundamentalist Islamist insurgency in one of the ‘Stans. Except, in this telling, the Islamists are the good guys. Plus, a factoid: the book was apparently the inspiration for Frank Herbert’s Dune.
Erich Kuby, Mein Krieg (Aufbau, 1999)
Vivek Shanbagh, Ghachar Ghochar, translated by Srinath Perur (Faber, 2017)
Lesley Blanch, The Sabres of Paradise (John Murray, 1960)
Alex Starritt is an author and translator. His debut novel The Beast, a brilliant satire of the British tabloid press, was published this year by Head of Zeus. He has also translated books by Stefan Zweig and Arthur Schnitzler for Pushkin Press.