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The Wall

H.G. Adler, trans. from the German by Peter Filkins (Random)

The third and final book in his Shoah trilogy, The Wall, a towering meditation on the self and spirit, follows a survivor of the Holocaust living in London, where he has “ceased to exist, called it quits.”

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Stone Mattress

Margaret Atwood (Doubleday/Talese)

A keen ear and eye have set Atwood apart for all of her illustrious career, and she shines again in this collection, which begins with a woman conversing with her dead husband. His presence in their house sets her to remembering her youthful, often subservient relationships with men and how, ultimately, she’s triumphed.

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A Little Lumpen Novelita

Roberto Bolaño, trans. from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer (New Directions)

In just over 100 pages, Bolaño stuffs trademark dread and mystery into the story of Bianca, an aimless young woman who befriends an old, blind movie actor in order to rob him.

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Pushkin Hills

Sergei Dovlatov, trans. from the Russian by Katherine Dovlatov (Counterpoint)

Broke and divorced, Boris has taken a job as a tour-guide at the Pushkin Hills Preserve, where he immediately goes about hilariously ridiculing the visitors and staff who so revere Pushkin. Dovlatov’s short novel begins as a comedy but, rife with pathos, progresses toward a moving final act.

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The Blazing World

Siri Hustvedt (Simon & Schuster)

Newly widowed Harriet “Harry” Burden pulls a fast one on the New York art scene by creating three art installations and presenting them as the works of three different men. Hustvedt’s writing is always sharp, but never before has it felt so alive.

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Euphoria

Lily King (Atlantic Monthly)

Bringing to mind Margaret Mead and her reputation-making South Seas sojourn, King’s novel, a thought-provoking story with a barrelful of surprises, is about a trio of anthropologists living in a primitive society as observers.

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Summer House with Swimming Pool

Herman Koch, trans. from the Dutch by Sam Garrett (Random/Hogarth)

In his signature blend of page-turner and exploration of the dark side of human nature, Koch follows The Dinner with a doctor and his famous patient (whom he doesn’t like much), as well as their two families, in a summer house. Bad things happen, and not always to good people.

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On Such a Full Sea

Chang-Rae Lee (Riverhead)

Sixteen-year-old Fan abandons the city of B-Mor (a dystopic Baltimore, whose residents also supply the collective narrative voice) to search for her missing boyfriend, and the result is a series of wildly imaginative set pieces that shows Lee as a world-builder of the first order.

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A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing

Eimear McBride (Coffee House)

The fragmented voice of McBride’s narrator, growing up in rural Ireland under her mother’s religious mania, her brother’s brain tumor, and her sexual abuse, is overwhelming and unforgettable. McBride’s debut deconstructs and reconstructs language to great effect.

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The Corpse Exhibition

Hassan Blasim, trans. from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright (Penguin)

Powerful and disturbing, these stories of the war in Iraq from an Iraqi perspective combine the grit of reality with the surreal. Wise and terrifying, comic and gripping, Blasim, in exile from his native Iraq, is an original voice whose writing is justifiably compared to Gogol, Bolaño, and Borges.

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Thunderstruck & Other Stories

Elizabeth McCracken (Dial)

McCracken’s stories are often macabre, but always precise: plots in this collection include a librarian living with a disastrous memory and a grieving mother finding companionship in a neighbor’s child. With her askew perspective of the world and great psychological depth, McCracken proves she’s one of our finest practitioners of the form.

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The Other Language

Francesca Marciano (Pantheon)

This first collection by an accomplished novelist moves across continents to explore relationships between men and women, the lure of fame, and the desire to escape one’s life. It’s both telling and amusing, peopled with charming protagonists and set in enticing places.

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All Our Names

Dinaw Mengestu (Knopf)

The dual narrators of Mengestu’s novel tell two sides of the same story: a 25-year-old aspiring writer leaves his village in Uganda and becomes a revolutionary; an American social worker falls in love with an African refugee in the Midwest. Mengestu depicts the immigrant experience with unsettling perception, in a story of shifting and renewed identity.

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Our Lady of the Nile

Scholastique Mukasonga, trans. from the French by Melanie Mauthner (Archipelago)

Mukasonga’s debut novel uses the titular girls boarding school, perched on a ridge near the source of the Nile, as a lens through which to examine the Hutu and Tutsi conflict in Rwanda. Mainly setting her story 15 years before the 1994 genocide, Mukasonga, through the girls’ daily experiences at the school, sheds light on the growing political, ethnic, and social hostility of a country moving toward disaster.

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This Is the Water

Yannick Murphy (Harper)

The second-person narrator of Murphy’s novel faces the fear, hysteria, and mundane suburban problems of a middle-aged woman whose daughters are on the swim team, which happens to be the target of a serial killer. Murphy brilliantly inverts the “whodunit” into a “whogotit”: by revealing the killer early, the question becomes who will uncover him.

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Karate Chop

Dorthe Nors, trans. from the Danish by Martin Aitken (Graywolf)

The cutting, destructive stories in Nors’s slim book tackle violence, sex, daydreams, obsessions, delusions, and compulsions. At three or four pages each, there’s just enough time to catch your breath before the next one hits.

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Boy, Snow, Bird

Helen Oyeyemi (Riverhead)

Oyeyemi continues to weave fairy tales, myth, and folklore together in this stellar reimagining of the Snow White tale, which also deftly handles themes of race, “otherness,” and beauty. Boy, a woman who flees her abusive father and ends up in 1950s Massachusetts, becomes stepmother to her husband’s daughter, Snow, then has a child of her own, Bird.

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The Antiquarian

Gustavo Faverón Patriau, trans. from the Spanish by Joseph Mulligan (Grove/Black Cat)

This deviously dark and fun literary mystery finds a buttoned-up psycholinguist following clues fed to him by an old friend who has been locked up for murdering his fiancée. A rare-book-dealer network that’s actually a front for human organ traffickers, as well as some grotesque and macabre fables, complete this stellar debut.

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Lila

Marilynne Robinson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

In her third novel set in Gilead, Iowa, Robinson focuses on Lila and her husband, the elderly Reverend Ames. The courtship and subsequent marriage of Lila and Ames is destined to be a classic—but who would expect anything less from Robinson?

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We Are Not Ourselves

Matthew Thomas (Simon & Schuster)

Six decades in the life of Eileen Tumulty begins in Woodside, Queens, in the 1940s and traces her lifelong pursuit of a better social station. She marries, becomes a mother, has a career—the life portrayed by Thomas is not spectacular, and that’s what makes it so memorable.

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The Wallcreeper

Nell Zink (Dorothy, a Publishing Project)

A young couple hits a bird while driving; the wife miscarries. This is the first page of Zink’s weird, funny, and sad debut. What follows is the on-and-off again marriage between Tiffany and Stephen, a dazzling depiction of the slippery nature of human intimacy.

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Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

Elena Ferrante, trans. from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa)

Ferrante’s series of Neapolitan novels has cemented its place as one of the greatest in modern fiction. This third installment, which follows the evolving and complicated relationship between girlhood friends Elena and Lila, is the best so far.

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A Brief History of Seven Killings

Marlon James (Riverhead)

A virtuosic performance detailing three turbulent decades in Jamaican history, centering on the attempted assassination of Bob Marley. The voices of government agents, gang members, ex-girlfriends, and ghosts all contribute, and the result is shocking, cerebral, and exhilarating.

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Bark

Lorrie Moore (Knopf)

In Moore’s fourth story collection, her characters seem to have caught up to her sly, sharp voice. The young women are gone, replaced by divorcées. The sadness may outweigh the humor, but the balance here may be Moore’s ideal combination, authentic and wise. No one captures what it’s like to live in today’s world quite like Lorrie Moore.

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The Dog

Joseph O’Neill (Pantheon)

The unnamed narrator of O’Neill’s novel is an American adrift in Dubai, where he works as an “officer” for a wealthy Lebanese family, turning a blind eye to ethically questionable activity and knowingly pursuing his own dead end. It’s a devastating story of a man circling the drain, lost in the last society that will have him.

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