In this monthly feature, The Sunday Times picks out 10 books from around the world that have just hit shelves.
Top Of The Stack
1. The Woman In The Purple Skirt
By Natsuko Imamura, translated by Lucy North
Fiction/Faber & Faber/Paperback/224 pages/$25.68/Available here
4 out of 5
The Woman in the Purple Skirt is being watched.
She is being watched by the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan, the eccentric narrator of Natsuko Imamura's novel, who has wanted to be friends with her for a long time.
Hovering out of sight, she monitors what the Woman in the Purple Skirt eats, which buses she takes, and even tries - ever so subtly - to help her find a job, leaving shampoo outside her apartment so she can have a clean head of hair during interviews.
In 2019, the year it was first published, The Woman In The Purple Skirt won the Akutagawa Prize, Japan's most prestigious literary award.
This English translation by Lucy North sparkles with a style that is clean, understated and funny. The brand of humour - quirky, acerbic, absurd - has much in common with Sayaka Murata's Convenience Store Woman (2016).
2. The Comfort Book
By Matt Haig
Non-fiction/Canongate/Paperback/272 pages/$30.90/Available here
Haig, the best-selling author of Notes On A Nervous Planet (2018) and The Midnight Library (2020), has compiled this volume of thoughts and aphorisms he has found helpful in the past, with the aim of supplying readers with solace in these dark times.
3. We Could Not See The Stars
By Elizabeth Wong
Fiction/JM Originals/Paperback/544 pages/$27.95 /Available here
Han's peaceful existence in the fishing village of Kampung Seng is disrupted when a strange man shows up and starts asking questions about Han's mother. He tells tales of his travels and of a mysterious golden tower, which leave Han unimpressed but charm his cousin Chong Meng.
Meanwhile, across a peninsula and the ocean lies the forest of Suriyang, which is cursed.
Wong, a Malaysian geologist based in London, makes her debut with this strange, magical novel.
By Christy Lefteri
Fiction/ Manilla Press/Paperback/384 pages/$29.95/Available here
"One day, Nisha vanished and turned to gold." So begins the second novel by Lefteri, the daughter of Cypriot refugees who made her best-selling debut with The Beekeeper Of Aleppo (2019).
Set in Lefteri's native Cyprus, the story tracks the disappearance of Nisha, a Sri Lankan nanny, from the perspectives of Petra, whose daughter Aliki was Nisha's charge, and Nisha's lover Yiannis, a poacher who hunts tiny migrating songbirds.
5. Code Name Madeleine
By Arthur J. Magida
Non-fiction/W. W. Norton & Co/Paperback/324 pages/$26.95/Available here
During World War II, as the British pulled their spies out of Nazi-occupied France, one stayed behind: Noor Inayat Khan, 29.
Descended from Indian royalty and raised on Sufi principles of non-violence, she was a dreamy poet and gifted harpist who nevertheless volunteered to fight the Nazis.
The first female wireless operator sent from Britain into France to aid the resistance, she operated under the code name Madeleine.
Soon, she was the only Special Operations Executive agent in half of France, arranging for her fellow agents to be evacuated and sending messages that would be crucial to the Allied success on D-Day.
She was betrayed and captured by the Gestapo, interrogated and eventually executed at Dachau concentration camp just months before the war ended.
In this compelling thriller that draws on never-before-seen accounts and Inayat Khan's private papers, American journalist Magida tells the story of a war heroine who deserves more recognition.
6. Hard Like Water
By Yan Lianke, translated by Carlos Rojas
Fiction/Chatto & Windus/Paperback/432 pages/$34.94/Available here
"Hey, I want to establish a revolutionary organisation. Would you like to join?" As pick-up lines go, this is a memorable one from Chinese satirist Yan's latest novel to be translated into English.
In 1967, during the Cultural Revolution, soldier Gao Aijun starts an affair with party hard-liner Xia Hongmei.
They dig a "tunnel of love" in the name of the revolution, but also to connect their homes and facilitate their trysts. They lead up to sex by shouting Maoist slogans at each other. Together, they plot their way into party leadership.
7. Build Your House Around My Body
By Violet Kupersmith
Fiction/Oneworld/Paperback/400 pages/$29.77/Available here
In 1986 Vietnam, the teenage daughter of a wealthy family flees from her angry father into an abandoned rubber plantation.
In 2010, a young American, Winnie, moves to Saigon. Nine months later, she vanishes without a trace.
Kupersmith weaves together these two missing women across time and space in this twisting, haunting tale.
By Won-Pyung Sohn, translated by Sandy Joosun Lee
Young adult/HarperVia/Paperback/272 pages/$19.80/Available here
When Yun-jae is six, he watches another boy get beaten to death in an alley without expression.
Yun-jae was born with alexithymia, which means the almond-shaped amygdalae in his brain are not functioning. Unable to express emotions, he learns instead to mimic the expressions of others in order to appear normal - until a shocking act of violence on his 16th birthday changes everything.
Sohn's debut novel, translated from Korean, introduces young readers to an unusual narrator.
By Melody Razak
Fiction/Weidenfeld & Nicolson/Paperback/303 pages/$29.95/Available here
In 1940s Delhi, 14-year-old Alma looks forward to her marriage while entertaining her wild younger sister Roop with stories. Little do they or their liberal Brahmin parents know that Partition will soon rend their world asunder.
10. What You Can See From Here
By Mariana Leky, translated by Tess Lewis
Fiction/Bloomsbury/Paperback/336 pages/$19.94/Available here
When elderly Selma dreams of an okapi - an endangered striped African mammal - everyone in her small West German village knows that somebody is going to die.
Even so, the death hits Selma's 10-year-old granddaughter Luisa especially hard. As Luisa grows up, however, she meets a Buddhist monk and falls in love.
Leky's German bildungsroman, a bestseller, is translated into English for the first time.