Literary Fiction

Reading From A Different Perspective – Translated Foreign Books

Disclaimer: I received an eARC copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Why do I like reading translated or foreign books? If I’m honest, it comes from a desire to read from perspectives different from my own. Growing up in a Western country, but being of Indian heritage, I have a deep appreciation for different cultures. And it shows through my diverse taste in music and films. I wanted to delve into understanding different cultures through my literary tastes, too.

Here are some translated novels I’ve recently read:

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata: WTF Did I Just Read?

Earthlings book cover


by Sayaka Murata

Published July 31, 2018 by Granta Books
ISBN: 1783785675

Data from Goodreads

Natsuki isn’t like the other girls. She has a wand and a transformation mirror. She might be a witch, or an alien from another planet. Together with her cousin Yuu, Natsuki spends her summers in the wild mountains of Nagano, dreaming of other worlds. When a terrible sequence of events threatens to part the two children forever, they make a promise: survive, no matter what.

Now Natsuki is grown. She lives a quiet life with her asexual husband, surviving as best she can by pretending to be normal. But the demands of Natsuki’s family are increasing, her friends wonder why she’s still not pregnant, and dark shadows from Natsuki’s childhood are pursuing her. Fleeing the suburbs for the mountains of her childhood, Natsuki prepares herself with a reunion with Yuu. Will he still remember their promise? And will he help her keep it?

TW: murder, incest, molestation, sexual abuse, physical abuse, cannibalism

Rep: Japanese rep, asexuality

This is my first time reading anything by this author – and I think it might actually be my last. I had a lot of problems with this novel. There was a complete lack of a trigger warning in this book; this really concerned me because there is a lot of graphic and triggering content. It is shocking – but also unnecessary. I pushed through and read this book to try and understand the author’s intentions with this story. While I appreciate the author showing how restrictive Japanese society can be, the story showed another extreme that made me extremely uncomfortable. I also didn’t feel like the overall social message on “society being like a factory” was very interesting; it’s been done before – and done better. I didn’t like the characters, I didn’t like the plot, and I didn’t like the social message – so I’m giving it 1 star.

The Law of Lines by Hye-Young Pyun: Kind of a Thriller?

Rep: Korean

The Law of Lines book cover

The Law of Lines

by Hye-Young Pyun

Published April 7th 2020by Arcade Publishing
ISBN: 194892496X

Data from Goodreads

When Se-oh, a recluse still living with her father, returns from an errand to find their house in flames, wrecked by a gas explosion, she is forced back into the world she had tried to escape. The detective investigating the incident tells her that her father caused the explosion to kill himself because of overwhelming debt she knew nothing about, but Se-oh suspects foul play by an aggressive debt collector and sets out on her own investigation, seeking vengeance.

Ki-jeong, a beleaguered high school teacher, receives a phone call that the body of her younger half-sister has just been found. Her sister was a college student she had grown distant from. Though her death, by drowning, is considered a suicide by the police, that doesn’t satisfy Ki-jeong, and she goes to her sister’s university to find out what happened. Her sister’s cell phone reveals a thicket of lies and links to a company that lures students into a virtual pyramid scheme, preying on them and their relationships. One of the contacts in the call log is Se-oh.

In my opinion, this book is a blend of literary fiction and mystery/thriller. If you consider it from this latter genre, it is very unique in its vibe and story delivery as compared to its Western counterparts. The writing is beautiful and each perspective that is introduced keeps the reader interested. The author was great at creating tension from the get-go and I really wanted to see where things would go. However, the second half of the book lost its steam, and the ending, while not what I expected, wasn’t satisfactory for me. The one thing I appreciated, however, is that the author makes readers face ugly truths about human behaviour and society as a whole. This is not a story with a happy ending, with everything tied up nicely – and that’s a pretty good reflection of the messiness of life.

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha: Doing Too Much

Initially, this novel had me gripped. It had such a unique premise and I was intrigued by the 4 female perspectives. There are so many new concepts that the author introduces to Western readers; I loved understanding the beauty standards and the struggles of the younger generation in Korea. The writing and pacing was also very well done. However, not all of the characters had a complete story arc. I wanted to know more about Wonna and Ara, but most of the story was about Kyuri and Miho. There were also many themes introduced but not all of them were explored very well. By the end, the story had lost its wonderful depth. I still liked the story but I could see the potential for more here if the author had stuck to fewer characters and more concentrated themes.

Well, there you have it! 3 very different reads that take place in Japan or Korea! I’m looking forward to reading more non-English novels in the future… so if you have any to recommend, let me know in the comments below!

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