This week, PEN Atlas asks a selection of writers, scouts, literary festival directors, translators and publishers to recommend some great literature in translation to tuck into over the festive break. Peter Florence, Damian Barr and Koukla MacLehose are amongst our contributors…


Peter Florence, Hay Festival Director

‘I loved the quiet desperation of Valeria Luiselli’s Mexican/NY novel Faces in The Crowd (Granta, £12.99) and it’s exploration of translations and disappearances. It’s wonderfully translated by Christina MacSweeney. Andres Neuman’s Traveller of the Century – translated by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia (Pushkin Press, £12.99) – sends a stranger into post-Napoleonic Mitteleuropa in a fabulous whirl of sex and philosophy and history. The other book that just astounded me is the Norwegian phenomenon A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard and translated by Don Bartlett (Harvill Secker, £17.99).  It’s an incomparably naked and familiar portrait of a family that’s been, not unreasonably, likened to Proust. Elif Shafak’s masterpiece Honour (Viking, £12.99) travels back generations from a Kurdish family in 70s London to the banks of the Euphrates. This novel is written in English though her other novels are often written in Turkish. A perfect partner for the Knausgaard and the Shafak is Angharad Price’s The Life of Rebecca Jones (MacLehose Press, £10) which she has worked with Lloyd Jones to translate from the Welsh original.  It’s a quiet masterpiece about 20th century technology impacting on Welsh rural life.’


Damian Barr, Shoreditch and Soho House, Literary Host, writer

‘I recommend Valeria Luiselli’s Faces in the Crowd, translated by Christina MacSweeney, (Granta, £12.99), definitely not magical realist yet definitely magical, this is the story of a contemporary novelist haunted by a 1920s poet. Haunting, vibrant, and often funny.’


Jonathan Ruppin, Web Editor, Foyles

‘The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura, translated by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates, (Corsair, £9.99) – winner of the 2009 Oe Kenzaburo Prize. As well as being a sharp alternative thriller with some sinister political overtones, this story of a pickpocket drawn into a plot that spirals out of control offers a fascinating outsider’s perspective on Tokyo life and some deliciously uncomfortable moral ambiguity. This is perfect for anyone who likes their crime on the noir side and their criminals brooding and enigmatic.’


Geoff Mulligan, Publisher Clerkenwell Press

‘I would recommend HHhH by Laurent Binet, translated by Sam Taylor (Harvill Secker, £16.99). It deals with weighty matters – the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia and the plan to kill Heydrich – with a light touch, and it asks interesting questions about the interpretation of history. It’s a novel for anyone interested in literature or history.’


Bill Swainson, Senior Commissioning Editor, Bloomsbury

 ‘Three completely different but outstanding books I (re)discovered this year were: the controversial Louis Ferdinand Céline’s brilliant, dark modernist classic Journey to the End of the Night, first translated by Ralph Mannheim in the 1970s for John Calder, published in 1991 and now reissued with introduction and notes on the excellent Alma Classics list (£9.99); Michael Politycki’s unnerving Next World Novella about man slowly facing up to the reality of who he is, translated by Anthea Bell for Peirene Press (£8.99); and Carlos Gemmero’s  fascinating investigative novel about the legacy of the Falklands war in the Argentina of the 1990s, The Islands (£10), translated by Ian Barnett, published by And Other Stories, who, like Alma and Peirene, have brought a fresh burst of energy into UK publishing.’


Philip Gwyn Jones, Publisher, Granta

‘Karl Ove Knausgaard is not Norway’s Proust, as some claim, but like all the great writers entirely and only himself in all his troubling originality. He is a great storyteller who dislikes happy endings, a great biographer who dislikes simplifications, and a great analyst who dislikes theories. His first volume of My Struggle, A Death in the Family translated by Don Bartlett (Harvill Secker, £17.99) is for whichever member of your family has been to purgatory and survived.’


Stefan Tobler, Publisher, And Other Stories, translator

‘I’ve got a soft spot for novels set in villages with odd characters and odd goings-on. Mr Weston’s Good Wine by T. F. Powys, for example. This novel hit that spot for me. Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s Sátántangó (Tuskar Rock, £12) with its luxurious sentences and his translator George Szirtes’ brilliance are pleasures to be savoured. Give it to someone who wants to read a future Nobel Prize winner before everyone else – as long as they don’t mind a leisurely pace.’


Koukla MacLehose, Literary Scout

‘For 2012 I’d like to recommend Where I Left my Soul by Jerôme Ferrari, translated by Geoffrey Strachan (MacLehose Press, £12). It is really an astonishing piece of writing. Very disturbing; it goes deep deep inside the human soul. A lieutenant writes to his captain long after they have gone separate ways. They had met in Indochina, the disaster of Dien Bien Phu. The former with immense admiration for the latter. They find each other again in the horrors of the Algerian war. Everything one reads about any war sounds like it. Think of Abu Graib, Al Qaida, Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia… any situation which involves tracking down informers and using whatever  means to get the ones in charge thinking it will then stop all the others. When Babchenko was writing his book about the Russians in Chechnya, he was not saying different things. ‘You got me but that is nothing, for we will go on and on until you will have to leave’  says the Algerian prisoner. Have we not seen this over and over again?  It concerns all of us because it tries to get to the core of what it is to be human, to try – and fail most of the time – to keep one’s dignity in extraordinary circumstances, to live with the shame, the fear, the violence it engenders… I think it’s a great book.’


Philip Cowell, Head of Programmes, English PEN

I wholeheartedly recommend The World Record: International Voices from Southbank Centre’s Poetry Parnassus (Bloodaxe Books, £10) a magical book of poems representing poets from every country that took part in the Olympic and Paralympic Games, supported by English PEN’s Writers in Translation programme. Put together by editors Neil Astley and Anna Selby, this is a book full of the sounds and shapes of things the world can make. I loved it so much I forgot to go to sleep one night.

Here’s Bryan Thao Worra of Laos: “Night arrives, then day. The moon, the sun, the rain and waves./ A few other things, maybe something someone will write down./ Maybe not”. And here’s Kārlis Vērdiņš of Latvia: “I was bringing you a little cheese sandwich.”  This book is full of that kind of leap, that kind of surprise. It’s in many ways a book of surprises, a book of the philosophy of the possibility of surprise, and being surprised, of still being able to be surprised. Poetry reminds us we’re alive. The World Record, most importantly, knows what it’s doing – knows that the best poetry celebrates both the whole world and our tiny corner of it. This book knows the poet is our local world hero. The poems draw lines in every sense: “we’re waiting for the wind/ like two flags on a border” (Nikola Madzirov Shadows Pass Us By). The whole enterprise questions where we draw the line when it comes to the imagination. How far can you go with a poem that has come so far?’