The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen

keeper of lost causesShortly after a violent attack leaves one of his colleagues dead and another permanently paralyzed, detective Carl Mørck is shocked to be put in charge of a brand-new department at Copenhagen’s police headquarters.  However, he soon discovers that the newly formed Department Q consists only of Mørck himself, an enthusiastic assistant named Assad, and a towering stack of old, unsolved crimes.  Their first case is the disappearance of Merete Lynggaard, a well-known politician who vanished five years earlier.  Told in alternating narratives that show Mørck’s progress on the case and the days following Merete’s abduction, The Keeper of Lost Causes is a suspenseful, finely crafted detective novel.

Quote:
“She’d been lying on the floor thinking about books.  That was something she often did in order not to think about the life she might have had, if only she’d made different choices.  When she thought about books, she could move into a whole different world.  Just remembering the feeling of the dry surface and inexplicable roughness of the paper could ignite a blaze of yearning inside of her.  The scent of evaporated cellulose and printer’s ink.  Thousands of times now she’d sent her thoughts into her imaginary library and selected the only book in the world that she knew she could recall without embellishing it.”

Author:
Jussi Adler-Olsen is a Danish author, editor, and publisher.  His books have been translated into more than 40 languages, and he has published six novels in his acclaimed Department Q series.

Published:  2007; 2011 in English
Length:  395 pages
Set in:  Copenhagen, Denmark

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The Vegetarian by Han Kang

vegetarianSet in Seoul, South Korea, The Vegetarian begins when a woman named Yeong-hye begins having disturbing dreams filled with blood and rotting meat.  Soon, her decision to adopt a vegetarian diet — and her refusal to cook meat for her husband — begins disrupting her family’s daily lives.  Told through the perspectives of Yeong-hye’s husband, brother-in-law, and sister, this short novel explores themes of personal agency, gender, marriage, art, and mental illness.

Quote:
“She was no longer able to cope with all that her sister reminded her of. She’d been unable to forgive her for soaring alone over a boundary she herself could never bring herself to cross, unable to forgive that magnificent irresponsibility that had enabled Yeong-hye to shuck off social constraints and leave her behind, still a prisoner. And before Yeong-hye had broken those bars, she’d never even known they were there.”

Author:
Han Kang is a South Korean novelist, poet, and professor.  She has won the Yi Sang Literary Award, the Young Artist Award, and the Manhae Literary Prize, and The Vegetarian received the Man Booker International Prize in 2016.

Published:  216
Length:  188 pages
Set in:  Seoul, South Korea
Translated by:  Deborah Smith

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The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

imageOn June 12, 1942, Anne Frank celebrated her birthday by writing the first entry in a new diary.  Soon after, her family went into hiding from the Nazis occupying Amsterdam, living in a secret annex within the building where her father, Otto Frank, had worked.  For the duration of their stay, Anne faithfully recorded her daily life in her diary, expressing her innermost ambitions, frustrations, and desires.  By turns humorous and haunting, her diary has become one of the most important and widely read historical documents from World War II.

Quote:
“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”

Author:
Anne Frank was born in Germany in 1929 and moved with her family to Amsterdam in the early 1930s.  In 1942, she went into hiding and began writing her now-famous diary, which has been translated into more than 60 languages and read by millions of people around the world.

Published:  first published in 1947, definitive edition in 1991
Length:  340 pages
Set in:  Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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Perfect Days by Raphael Montes

perfect daysTeo Avelar lives in Rio de Janiero, where he spends his days caring for his paraplegic mother and studying medicine.  His only true friend is Gertrude, the cadaver they dissect in his classes.  One day, at a party his mother has forced him to attend, he meets Clarice, an aspiring screenwriter.  Teo becomes instantly obsessed, tracking her around the city and imagining their future together — a future he begins by kidnapping her and taking her on a roadtrip that follows the path of the characters in her screenplay.  As the days pass and Teo becomes more desperate for Clarice’s unconditional love, their trip spirals into chaos.

Quote:
“He felt like a monster.  He didn’t like anyone, have feelings for anyone, or miss anyone: he just lived.  People would come along, and he’d be forced to tolerate their presence in his life.  Worse: he was supposed to like them, to demonstrate affection.  He learned that if his play acting seemed real, it was all a lot easier.”

Author:
Raphael Montes is a Brazilian lawyer and novelist.  His books include Suicidas, Dias Perfeitos and O Vilarejo.  In 2016, Dias Perfeitos was translated to English as Perfect Days.

Published:  2014 in Portuguese; 2016 in English
Length:  272 pages
Set in:  Rio de Janiero, Teresópolis, and Ilha Grande, Brazil
Translated by:  Alison Entrekin

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Don’t Look Back by Karin Fossum

dont look backDon’t Look Back opens with the abduction of a young girl by a stranger in a rundown van.  When Inspector Konrad Sejer is called in to find the missing child, the search leads to an even more shocking discovery: the body of a murdered teenage girl at the edge of a mountain lake.  She is soon identified as Annie Holland, an athletic and universally well-liked girl who babysat for many families in her neighborhood.  With few leads, Inspector Sejer must delve into the small town’s secrets and tragedies to root out the killer.

Quote:
“She met no one on the hill, but as she approached the intersection she heard a car.  So she stopped, squeezed over to the side, and waited as a van with its paint peeling off wobbled over a speed bumpIt slowed even more when the girl in the red outfit came into view.  Ragnhild wanted to cross the street.  There was a sidewalk on the other side, and her mother had told her to always walk on the sidewalk.  She waited for the van to pass, but it stopped instead, and the driver rolled down his window.”

Author:
Karin Fossum is a Norwegian crime novelist.  She is best-known for her Inspector Sejer series, which have now been translated into more than 20 languages.

Published:  1996
Length:  324 pages
Set in:  Norway
Translated by:  Felicity David

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Mrs. Sartoris by Elke Schmitter

mrs sartorisMargarethe lives in a quiet German town with her mother-in-law, teenage daughter, and dependable but unexciting husband.  When she begins an affair with a married man, she envisions an entirely new, more passionate future for herself.  Narrated in two alternating timelines that center around one thrilling, criminal act, Mrs. Sartoris is a startling portrait of a complex female character.

Quote:
“As he looked up at me, utterly thunderstruck but also as if dragged back out of every pain and every disappointment, the thought flashed through my head that I could dismiss the whole thing as madness, a whim, just more extravagant than any other whims, a sudden nocturnal excursion, a hormonal disturbance, something absurd that had already played itself out in the first gray of dawn.  He didn’t have much imagination, almost none apparently, but even he knew that there were truths that were only valid for an hour or two, that one was capable of things in the night that one not only rued in the daylight but no longer even understood.”

Author:
Elke Schmitter is a German novelist and journalist.  Her books include Mrs. Sartoris and Minor Misdemeanors.

Published:  2000
Length:  143 pages
Set in:  Germany
Translated by:  Carol Brown Janeway

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Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera

signs precedingSigns Preceding the End of the World opens in a small Mexican mining town, where Makina works as a switchboard operator and occasional messenger for underworld power brokers.  Her newest assignment is to deliver a package across the border, which necessitates a harrowing journey but also provides the opportunity to search for her missing brother.  Written in haunting, poetic prose and without the use of quotation marks, Herrera’s novel is a hard look at the realities and horrors of cross-border migration.

Quote:
“Their gestures and tastes reveal both ancient memory and the wonderment of new people.  And then they speak.  They speak an intermediary tongue that Makina instantly warms to because it’s like her: malleable, erasable, permeable; a hinge pivoting between two like but distant souls, and then two more, and then two more, never exactly the same ones; something that serves as a link.”

Author:
Yuri Herrera is the author of several works of fiction, including Signs Preceding the End of the World and The Transmigration of Bodies (to be published in English in 2016).  Born in Mexico, he currently teaches at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Published:  2015
Length:  114 pages
Set in:  Mexico
Translated by:  Lisa Dillman

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Ru by Kim Thúy

imageRu is a short novel composed of first-person vignettes detailing the life of a young woman whose family fled Vietnam for Canada when she was a child.  From their terrifying escape by boat to a squalid refugee camp to the cultural confusion of Quebec, Ru is a lyrical portrayal of the immigrant experience.

Quote:
“Like Canada, Vietnam had its own two solitudes. The language of North Vietnam had developed in accordance with its political, social and economic situation at the time, with words to describe how to shoot down an airplane with a machine gun set up on a roof, how to use monosodium glutamate to make blood clot more quickly, how to spot the shelters when the sirens go off. Meanwhile, the language of the South had created words to express the sensation of Coca-Cola bubbles on the tongue, terms for naming spies, rebels, Communist sympathizers on the streets of the South, names to designate the children born from wild nights with GIs.”

Author:
Kim Thúy is the author of Ru and Mãn.  Born in Saigon, Vietnam, her family fled their country by boat when she was 10.  They settled in Montreal, Canada, where Thúy still lives today.

Published:  2012
Length: 133 pages
Set in:  Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam; Quebec, Canada
Translated by:  Sheila Fischman

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

girl dragon tattooThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is twist on the classic locked-room mystery setup, with a teenage girl vanishing on a Swedish island accessible by a single bridge.  Decades later, disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist is asked to investigate the cold case in exchange for information that will clear his professional reputation.  When he enlists the help of the ingenious hacker Lisbeth Salander, their investigation will lead them into a web of dark family secrets.

Quote:
“Her voice was as rough as sandpaper.  As long as Blomkvist lived, he would never forget her face as she went on the attack.  Her teeth were bared like a beast of prey.  Her eyes were glittering, black as coal.  She moved with the lightning speed of a tarantula and seemed totally focused on her prey as she swung the club again.”

Author:
Stieg Larsson (1954-2004) was a Swedish journalist, crime novelist, and the author of several non-fiction works.  The books in his Millennium Trilogy, which begins with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, were published posthumously and became international bestsellers.

Published:  2005 in Swedish; 2008 in English
Length:  465 pages
Set in:  Sweden

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The Property by Rutu Modan

imageThe Property follows Regina Segal and her granddaughter Mica as they travel to Warsaw, Poland to claim a property that their family owned before World War II.  Yet all is not what it seems — Regina’s past contains deep secrets, and Mica is dismayed to find that she is being followed.  The Property succeeds with a well-plotted story; compelling characters; and straightforward, lovely illustrations.

Author:
Rutu Modan is an Israeli illustrator and graphic novelist. Her most well-known works include The Property, Exit Wounds, and The Murder of the Terminal Patient.  She lives in Tel Aviv.

Excerpt:
The Property
Published:  2013
Length:  222 pages
Set in:  Warsaw, Poland
Translation by:  Jessica Cohen

Image © Rutu Modan and Drawn & Quarterly.

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