Like most of you who read lots and lots of books for work, I am overjoyed when I actually enjoy them! 2018 has been a good literary-translation year so to choose only three ‘best books’ is pure cruelty. I like spare, beautiful writing; I like a good story; I love novels, so here goes: first up is Istanbul Istanbul by Burhan Sönmez, translated from the Turkish by Ümit Hussein – no wonder we chose it as the winner of the first ever EBRD Literature Prize. It’s colourful characters pass the time by telling each other stories Decameron-like about their lives ‘above ground’ in Istanbul; they are however all prisoners ‘below ground’ in Istanbul, awaiting fate and torture. Heartbreakingly human stories. Then there was Leila Slimani’s Lullaby (translated from French by Sam Taylor), my page-turning deeply engrossing summer-psychological thriller (a nightmare nanny scenario; a middle class, modern couple not quite as perfect as they’d like to be). And finally, as I read more German language authors than any other, I must tell you about Swiss-German writer Peter Stamm’s To The Back of Beyond (translated by Michael Hoffman): I interviewed him about his novel early in 2018 as part of our new Literally Swiss activities to promote Swiss literatures in the UK. I loved it for its elegant and unsettling restraint: one day a man leaves his home and family for no apparent reason. He walks and walks across Switzerland, across its alps and mountains, to find – what? I have read and loved nearly everything Peter Stamm has written, including his latest Swiss-Book-Prize-winning novel, The Gentle Indifference of The World (English title) which will be published here in autumn 2019 – and if you’re impatient you can read an extract in our December Swiss Riveter magazine in print or online.
Burhan Sönmez, Istanbul, Istanbul (Telegram Books, 2016)
Leila Slimani, Lullaby (Faber & Faber, 2018)
Peter Stamm, To the Back of Beyond (Granta Books, 2017)
Rosie Goldsmith is a former BBC journalist, these days busy promoting European literature and languages, director of the European Literature Network www.eurolitnetwork.com, Chair of the EBRD Literature Prize and presenter of The Words Podcast.