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Seeing proof of my foreign fiction fixation

It started this year and I’ve commented on it a few times. For whatever reason, I’ve become more and more intrigued with fictional works by non-U.S. authors. I realized the extent to which I’ve indulged in and enjoyed that fixation preparing the ballot I submitted during the weekend for this year’s NBCC Book Awards.

Of my five fiction votes, three went to works not originally written in English. While the other two come from English-speaking authors, there’s also a touch of the international in them.

Two of the three translated works were reviewed here together: Antonia Arslan’s Skylark Farm and Christian Jungersen’s The Exception. The third was the inimitable Literature from the “Axis of Evil” compilation from Words Without Borders. All three not only kept me immersed while reading them, they’ve stuck with me in one sense or another since then. It’s also only fair to note that the same is true for a work that just missed my fiction vote list: The SFWA European Hall of Fame: Sixteen Contemporary Masterpieces of Science Fiction from the Continent, a collection of translated stories edited by James and Kathryn Morrow. It may rank as the best SF I read this year.

As noted, the English language works on my ballot also have an international flavor. One was British author Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, set on the British coast in 1962. The other was Laila Halaby’s Once in a Promised Land. Although born in Lebanon, Halaby grew up mostly in Arizona, givng her the perspective necessary for a story detailing how the lives of a couple born and raised in Jordan fall apart while working and residing in Tucson.

Perhaps this new interest skewed my views. Undoubtedly, part of the reason most of these stuck with me is that in addition to being well-written, they provide new and different perspectives. For me, that’s one of the things good books do — expose you to ideas, lives and places you may never encounter firsthand.

Will any of these receive the NBCC fiction award? Probably not. But whether they do is irrelevant to their worth in my reading life.


Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.

Jessamyn West, To See the Dream

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