On Monday I hosted Around the World in 10 Books, an event celebrating world literature at the Bath Festival. A number of people who attended and a fair few who couldn't make it have asked me to publish a list of the titles we talked about.
So that's what I am doing.
I was joined on stage by Maureen Freely and Sam Baker. We each chose three books about which to enthuse, and at the end we also pitched three wild cards and asked the audience to vote for the one they wanted to make our tenth selection.
Our epic journey began in India with Maureen's selection of A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. Technically not a translated book, Mistry is Canadian of Indian origin and wrote it in English, I allowed it in because, to be honest, I didn't notice in time and Maureen is a translator herself so I thought I could let her off. She was also passionate about the book, a passion shared by many audience members who had read it and that was sort of what the event was all about.
We then headed northwards to Russia for Sam's first choice of The Master & Margarita, the book she was reading when she met her husband. Or was it the other way round? It was a lovely story anyway.
And then I piped up to rave about The Makioka Sisters, Junichiro Tanizaki's beautiful portrait of Japan just before WW2. It is a comedy, with touches of tragedy, that centres around the need to marry off the third Makioka sister so that the fourth one can finally settle down with her true love (traditon dictating that daughters must marry in order of age). I compared it to Pride and Prejudice and saw a few appreciative nods in the audience.
Maureen then took us to Colombia and a book and author that were new to me: The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez. Set during the age of the big drug cartels it has picked up a bag of awards and was the one book on the list, that I hadn't read before, that I most wanted to buy. And I would have done had it not sold out in the festival bookshop within minutes of the event finishing.
Crossing continents we reached South Africa and The Book of Happenstance by Ingrid Winterbach, a book I have reviewed on this blog. I wanted to include an African novel but many of the classics of that continent were originally written in English. This is translated from the Afrikaans which made it an unusual choice, I think, but it was another that sold out in the shop.
The President's Hat by Antoine Laurain was Sam's selection. A magical fable about Mitterand's hat and the effect it has on the people who wear it after he leaves in behind in a Paris cafe. It is published by Gallic Books who are friends of this blog and I was delighted to see it included.
My final main selection was one of the only books to have been translated from Faroese, The Old Man and His Sons by Heðin Brú. A tale of an old man who gets drunk at an auction and buys far more whale meat than he can afford. He then spends the rest of the book trying to raise the money to pay off his debts. A dark comedy from a part of the world most of us know little about.
We know more about Denmark, especially given recent TV imports, but as Sam pointed out, Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow by Peter Høeg was one of the first cultural exports from that country to be a big hit over here.
And finally, at least for our initial choices, we ended up in Turkey with a book co-translated by Maureen. The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, an eccentric novel about a group of people tasked with ensuring that all Turkish clocks are set to Western time. This is the first English translation of the book, fifty years since it was first published in Turkey.
Not a bad selection, I hope you'll agree. We then pitched a favourite book from a country not already selected. Sam went for Embers by Sandor Marai from Hungary. I went for Krabat, also known as The Satanic Mill, from Germany. Maureen's choice was Castorp by Pawell Huelle from Poland.
The audience, clearly a heartless bunch, ignored my emotional story about Krabat and voted for Embers. I may never forgive them.
Apart from that snub it was a great, if somewhat frantic, hour of enthusing about world fiction. I think a fine time was had by most, perhaps even all.