The OF Blog: Final four foreign language 2014 releases reviewed

Monday, December 22, 2014

Final four foreign language 2014 releases reviewed

I have reviewed more current foreign language works this year (17; not counting pre-2014 releases) than I have in any previous year.  These works, published in Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian, have included some nominees and winners for major literary awards (Premio Alfaguara, Premio Strega, Prix Médicis).  In the next few days, I'll list my favorites for the year.  But for now, here are capsule reviews of the final four 2014 releases that I read in French, Spanish, and Portuguese:

Christine Montalbetti, Plus rien que les vagues et le vent (longlisted for the 2014 Prix Médicis)

In her latest novel, Montalbetti continues exploring facets of American life that she conducted in earlier novels such as Western.  Here, the setting is the West Coast and as the title suggests (Nothing More than the Waves and Wind), the locale plays a substantial role in shaping the narrative.  Montalbetti's prose is evocative and the narrative sustains a steady flow throughout. While the characters at times take a backseat to the scenes in which they operate, for the most part the characterizations are well-realized as well.  Plus rien que les vagues et le vent was one of the longlisted titles that I had hopes for selection for the finalist round of the Prix Médicis and it certainly is one of the better French-language novels that I have read this year.

Valérie Zenatti, Jacob, Jacob (finalist for the 2014 Prix Médicis)

Set in French Algeria during World War II, Jacob, Jacob is the story of an Algerian Jew, Constantine, who is called to fight for his country in advance of the 1944 invasion of Provence.  It is a short, sharp tale of an innocent who will be forced to confront the terrible realities of a war in which ideologies play a role in shaping an understanding just what the stakes are.  Zenatti does an outstanding job in establishing her characters and the effects that the war will have on them.  Her prose is exquisite, eloquent without ever descending into maudlin melodrama.  The plot flows smoothly from beginning to end, with no longeurs.  Jacob, Jacob was one of my favorite non-English-language reads this year.   Hopefully, there will be an English translation of this excellent work in the years to come.

Fábio Fernandes and Romeu Martins (eds.), Vaporpunk:  Novos documentos de uma pitoresca época steampunk

This second volume in the Brazilian steampunk anthology series Vaporpunk contains nine stories that explore various elements of Brazilian and world cultures in relation to the notion of replacing current technological developments with those derived from an alternate, steam-based technology.  I enjoyed the majority of these stories, finding them to be inventive looks at our own contemporary societies and how certain historical developments shape our understandings of the world around us.  My only quibble about this otherwise very good anthology is that it's shorter than I expected, with only nine (albeit for the most part good) tales.  Despite this, this second volume manages to sustain the energy and momentum established in the first volume.

Mariano Villarreal (ed.), Terra Nova 3

This third installment in the Spanish SF anthology series perhaps may be the best in a series that has already garnered some of Spain's most prestigious SF awards.  Like the previous two volumes, Terra Nova 3 mixes in Spanish originals with translations.  This time, however, instead of the foreign stories being from Anglophone countries, there is a direct translation from Chinese to Spanish of a story by Cixin Liu, which happens to be one of the strongest stories in an anthology full of interesting takes on SF issues.  At nearly 350 pages on my iPad, Terra Nova 3 is one of the larger foreign language anthologies I've read this year and it is among the best.  My only complaint is that there could have been even more Spanish-language originals, as I am curious about SF being produced in Hispanophone countries, but this is a minor complaint in what was otherwise a very enjoyable anthology.

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