Wait, no, you HAVE to read these.
We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen
Even better, it's a gorgeous novel on the inside as well. Originally published in Danish in 2006, it won the highest literary prize in Denmark and was picked as the best Danish novel of the last 25 years by the readers of the country's largest newspaper. Spanning the years & generations from 1848 to 1945, We follows the sailors of Marstal - a tiny island town & the center of Danish seafaring pride - as they travel the oceans of the world - from Samoa to Newfoundland, Australia to London, Casablanca to Dakar, Murmansk to Greenland, and back home to Marstal. Always back to Marstal, where the women wait, worry, and grieve.
Through the years, as Marstal's place in the world evolves, a different narrator escorts us across the globe and back to Denmark again. As each narrative voice moves on, another from their life picks up the tale & makes it their own. When on dry land, the people of Marstal tell the story in a collective “we” – a narrative device that Jensen wields with majestic clarity & grace. Funny & poignant, heartwarming & powerful, yet dark & foreboding in a way that only the events of our own world can actually be. After 674 pages, I was still blown away by the final, heart-rending page. One of the best books I've ever read.
The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht
New Yorker's 20 Under 40 and this is her subsequent stellar debut novel. She had this to say to the New York Times this week about her new fame:
"I still haven’t taken it all in. It already seems like such a long time from the moment when I said to myself, ‘Somebody likes it, somebody bought it, and it’s going to have a cover!’ The other evening I gave a reading, and someone came up to me afterwards and said, ‘The Deathless Man is my favorite character.’ My immediate reaction was: how do you know about the Deathless Man? When you’re writing, you’re working on this private world that becomes more and more real to you, but it’s still your own. And then to discover that suddenly other people can access it - in a way that really shocks me."The rundown: Natalia is a young doctor on a diplomatic mission across the border of her war torn Balkan homeland to deliver vaccines to an orphanage. While there, she learns that her beloved grandfather has died in a remote village far from his home. Knowing that he was gravely ill & never would never have travelled without a reason, she becomes convinced that he was in search of "the deathless man" - a longstanding, mysterious figure from the stories he told her as a child. As Natalia sets out to uncover the mystery of her grandfather's final days, she learns more about herself, her family's past, and her country than she ever though possible and finds that all the answers she seeks lie within the stories of her grandfather.
Obreht mixes together Natalia's contemporary story of life in her ravaged homeland (she was born in the former Yugoslavia, herself) with her grandfather's incredible stories of "the deathless man" and "the tiger's wife," to create a fantastical world grounded in the harsh reality of a region recovering from decades of war. Foreign, yet familiar; impossible, yet true; unsentimental, yet emotional - the elements that she has managed to cull together here are melded absolutely perfectly. A stunning, stunning debut, and one that will stick in your head for long after you've turned that final page, I guarantee it.