2014 In Review: My Favorite International Fiction

Last year I decided to do something a little different. So, in December I posted a list of my favorite international novels that I encountered over the course of the year. Although it was a short list of only five books, it was a fairly diverse collection representing the nations of Morocco, Albania, Israel, Austria and Hungary. Plots were equally as diverse, with the novels dealing with Islamic fundamentalism, romantic obsession, personal under achievement, the ravages of WW II and 30s noir-style corruption and murder. Lastly, diversity could also be found at the linguistic level, since each one of the five novels since was translated from a different language: French, Albanian, Hebrew, German and Hungarian.

Once again, I’ve compiled a short list of my five favorite international novels from 2014.

  1. Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov (Ukraine) –  Lemme see, a guy with a pet penguin gets in over his head getting paid to attend mobster funerals in Ukraine? Sign me up!
  2. Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Spain) – Many folks found this novel hard to label. Fantasy? Mystery? Magical Realism? Thriller? Modern Gothic? While it might have been hard for some to classify, I found it very, very easy to enjoy.
  3. The Beggar and the Hare by Tuomas Kyrö (Finland) – I have a soft spot for novels with loser protagonists who do well in spite of themselves. This was another one of those kind of books.
  4. The Ice-Cold Heaven by Mirko Bonné (Germany) – A well-written and probably equally well-translated fictionalized account of Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Shows how courage, determination and above all, superb leadership can overcome almost anything.
  5. All Russians Love Birch Trees by Olga Grjasnowa (Azerbaijan/Germany) – This time it’s a female protagonist who seems to do well in spite of herself. I found Grjasnowa’s debut novel direct, edgy and full of life.

Even though all five novels are European in origin, it’s still a diverse list. Linguistically, two of the novels have been translated from German and the others from Russian, Spanish and Finnish. Along with the differences, there”s also a few similarities. For instance, both The Beggar and the Hare and All Russians Love Birch Trees boast likable loser protagonists who are also immigrants. The Ice-Cold Heaven and Prisoner of Heaven (besides sharing the word heaven in their titles) are both historical fiction, while the other three novels are set in the present day. The Ice-Cold Heaven is set mostly in Antarctica, while the last third of All Russian Love Birch Trees takes place in Israel. The remaining three novels are set entirely in Europe.

It wasn’t easy to decide, but my favorite international novel of 2014 is Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Prisoner of Heaven. According to what I’ve read the novel is part of larger trilogy. So don’t be surprised if more of Ruiz Zafon’s novels are featured on my blog. Or even possibly show up on next year’s list of my favorite international novels.

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Filed under Current Affairs, Eastern Europe/Balkans, Europe, Fiction, History, Israel

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