The Last Lover by Can Xue

Our final choice for our series of translated works is The Last Lover by Can Xue, translated by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen and was longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2015.

thelastloverSince the previous year Joe had been envisioning a magnificent plan: to reread all the novels and stories he’d ever read in his life, so that the stories would be connected together. That way, he could simply pick up any book and move without interruption from one story to another. And he himself would be drawn into it, until the outer world wouldn’t be able to disturb him. Joe had put this pan into action, and after two months of persistence it was already producing results. For example, he could even talk business with a customer (he is, after all, the manager of a clothing company’s sales department) and at the same time remain immersed in his stories.

The characters of The Last Lover are searching for love. There’s Joe, who spends every spare minute reading, and his wife Maria who weaves tapestries and tends the mysterious rose garden, along with her two sinister cats. There’s also Vincent, Joe’s boss, haunted with visions of an Arab woman all in black, and his wife Lisa, and finally Reagan, a farmer who farms a nightmarish estate infested with snakes, and who is following his lover, the immigrant Ida.

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Cassandra by Christa Wolf

The next book in our series of translated speculative fiction is Cassandra, a retelling of the events of the Trojan War, by Christa Wolf and translated from German by Jan Van Heurk.

cassandraIf Clytemnestra was the woman I thought she was, she could not share the throne with this nonentity. She is the woman I thought she was. Besides that, she is racked with hatred. Most likely the weakling treated her vilely while he still controlled her, the way they all do. I not only know men but women as well, which is more difficult; and so I know that the queen cannot spare my life.

Cassandra, the legendary prophetess given the gift to foretell the future, but cursed so that she is never believed, waits for her murder. She’s been taken back to Greece as a Trojan prisoner-of-war by Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks, where they will both be killed by his furious queen Clytemnestra. As Cassandra awaits her fate, she reminisces about the events that led her here — from her early life as a princess of Troy, through the development of her dreams and visions, and finally to the story of the Trojan war itself.

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The Threads of the Heart by Carole Martinez

Our next example of translated speculative fiction is The Threads of the Heart by Carole Martinez, a magical realism novel translated from French by Howard Curtis.

threadsoftheheart“Go on, open it!”
Her fingers numb with cold, Frasquita lifted the lid.
The box was full of reels of thread of all colors and hundreds of pins stuck in one of those small cushions that seamstresses carry on their wrists instead of bracelets. Fixed to the lid with thin leather straps were a pair of finely worked scissors in a little red velvet casket, a simple thimble and, carefully lined up along a wide blue ribbon, needles of different sizes.
“It’s just a sewing box,” her mother murmured. “Nothing but a sewing box!”

When Frasquita reaches puberty, her mother tells her a secret — the women in her family pass down to each other a black box, and if they can resist the temptation to open it for nine months, they are given a gift. Frasquita receives a magical sewing kit, which gives her the power to sew anything back together. As she works to support her family, people say she’s a sorcerer, and it’s certainly true that the dresses she creates make the wearer instantly beautiful, and can hide any deformity (or pregnancy!).

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Kalpa Imperial by Angelica Gorodischer

I bought this book about ten years ago, both because I was intrigued by the premise, but also because it is translated from Spanish by one of my favourite authors — Ursula K. Le Guin. I’d never got round to reading it, but this season of translated speculative fiction has given me the perfect excuse!


Long is the history of the Empire, very long, so long that a whole life dedicated to study and research isn’t enough to know it wholly. There are names, events, years, centuries that remain dark, that are recorded in some folio of some archive waiting for some memory to rescue them or some storyteller to bring them back to life., in a tent like this, for people like you, who’ll go back home thinking about what you heard and look at your children with pride and a little sadness. As well as being long, the history of the Empire is complex: it’s not a simple tale in which one thing happens after another and the causes explain the effects and the effects are in proportion to the causes. Nothing of the kind.

The subtitle to Kalpa Imperial is ‘The Greatest Empire that Never Was’, and this describes a premise with ambitious scope: stories from a long history of a fantasy empire. There are eleven stories, starting with the humble beginnings of the Empire from the ruins of an old one, and taking in a dazzling array of emperors and empresses, cities and wars, golden ages and almost total destruction. The sheer scale of what is on offer is breathtaking (it must be many tens of thousands of years), but eventually you have to stop worrying about the history and just go along for the ride.

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Transit by Johanna Sinisalo


I don’t know what they’re going to try and pin on me, but the only thing I can be charged with is destroying public property or something, not manslaughter. I’m not a murderer, definitely not that kind of murderer. I know you can’t make head or tail of what I’m saying, so there’s no reason I should start talking now either, but I’ve got to get it into your thick skulls that I’m not a fucking murderer. Everything was sweet right up to the end, every second of it.

I was very pleased to receive The Dedalus Book of Finnish Fantasy as a Christmas present this year. Finnish fantasy is not something that was on my radar before, but this book, compiled by Johanna Sinisalo and translated by David Hackston, comprises more than 20 stories published between the end of the 19th Century and the present day.

I say Finnish fantasy has not been on my radar at all, but of course I’ve read (and loved) the Moomin books by Tove Jansson for ages, and Jansson features here too, with a post-apocalyptic short story for adults. It’s confusing because Jansson was Finnish and yet wrote in Swedish — I was fascinated by the introduction to the book which explained that Finnish secular literature has only existed for a little over 100 years, and before then most respectable Finnish writers wrote in Swedish.

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The Days of the Deer by Liliana Bodoc

Welcome to the first post in a new seasonal theme — Speculative Fiction in TranslationThe Days of the Deer by Lilana Bodoc is translated from Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lucia Caistor Arendar.

daysofthedeerThe Magic of the Open Air has learnt beyond a shadow of doubt that there will soon be a fleet from the Ancient Lands coming to our continent. All out predictions and sacred books clearly say the same thing. The rest is all shadows. Shadows in the stars and our books. Shadows that prevent us from seeing the faces of those who are coming. Who are they? Why are they travelling here? The answers to these questions will decide the fate of everyone living in the fertile lands.

For centuries, the Husihuilke people have lived in the forest at the Ends of the Earth. Taciturn and warlike, they have had barely any contact with the other peoples of the Fertile lands as they are self-sufficient and live at one with nature. However, all this is about to change — visitors are coming, from over the sea. Are they the Northmen who came before, 500 years ago? Or will it be the Northmen’s greatest enemy, the son of Death herself? To decide how to face the intruders, the Astronomers call one representative from each people to a council, where these matters will be debated, and Dulkancellin is the Husihuilke delegate. He must travel hundreds of miles to the city of Beleram, to discuss how best to protect the Fertile Lands.

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