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Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming

László Krasznahorkai, trans. from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet (New Directions)

The ruined Baron Bela Wenckheim is returning to his small Hungarian hometown, where schemers, con men, and a biker gang await, setting off a chain of chaotic events. Krasznahorkai establishes his own rules and rides a wave of exhilarating energy in this apocalyptic, visionary novel.

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Black Forest

Valérie Mréjen, trans. from the French by Katie Shireen Assef (Deep Vellum)

Mréjen’s extraordinary meditation on mortality is the story of a daughter moving through life after her mother overdoses, interspersed with fragmentary stories of other Parisians’ encounters with death. This meticulous, humane, and powerful volume unforgettably depicts the way the dead experience life after death in the traces they leave in the minds of the living.

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Bowlaway

Elizabeth McCracken (Ecco)

At the turn of the 20th century, Bertha Truitt is discovered unconscious in a cemetery in Salford, Mass., seemingly having fallen from the sky. Bertha establishes a bowling alley and starts a family, while other townspeople she comes in contact with find themselves in love. This funny, twisty novel is one readers will sink into and savor.

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Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead

Olga Tokarczuk, trans. from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Riverhead)

This astounding mystical detective novel is narrated by Janina Duszejko, a loner who lives in an isolated Polish hamlet near the Czech border where bodies start turning up. Nobel laureate Tokarczuk’s novel succeeds as both a suspenseful murder mystery and a profound meditation on human existence and how a life fits into the world around it. Novels this thrilling don’t come along very often.

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Ducks, Newburyport

Lucy Ellmann (Biblioasis)

Ellmann’s momentous stream-of-consciousness novel is narrated by an unnamed Ohio wife and mother who, mostly in a single sentence, thinks about, among many other things, UFOs, her intimacy with her husband, the opioid crisis, Cincinnati chili parlors, her children, the barbers of murderers, and the mechanics of wiggling. This cascade of thoughts provides a marvelous portrait of a woman in contemporary America contemplating her own life and society’s storm clouds.

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Exposed

Jean-Philippe Blondel, trans. from the French by Alison Anderson (New Vessel)

Louis Claret is approaching 60, living alone in a small apartment, when Alexandre, his former student and now a famous painter, reenters his life and makes him an unusual offer: he’d like Claret to pose. Each time Claret is painted, Blondel reveals more of his past. This irresistible novel flies by with gentle humor, but also poses complex questions about the meaning of art and sexuality.

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The Factory

Hiroko Oyamada, trans. from the Japanese by David Boyd (New Directions)

Three employees at a monolithic factory in an unnamed Japanese city—a document shredder, a studier of moss, and a proofreader of opaque documents—begin to see reality itself seem to mutate in Oyamada’s wonderful, mind-bending debut. By refusing to give answers (Who is the Forest Pantser? What’s with all those birds?) and instead letting the mundane and the uncanny blend together, Oyamada maximizes her puzzle, leaving readers reeling.

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The Far Field

Madhuri Vijay (Grove)

Unmoored by her mother’s death, 24-year-old Shalini leaves her native Bangalore to search for Bashir Ahmed, her mother’s only friend, whom she hasn’t seen in years, eventually leading her to a Himalayan village. There, her actions have dangerous consequences. Vijay exceptionally depicts individual angst against the political turmoil in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state in the late 2000s.

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Frankissstein

Jeanette Winterson (Grove)

Winterson reimagines Frankenstein—both the story and the genesis of it—in her magnificent, gorgeously constructed novel. The story shuttles back and forth between 1816, when a challenge leads Mary Shelley to write her indelible classic, and the present day, when a transgender man named Ry Shelley delves deeper into the burgeoning world and industry surrounding robotics and AI.

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From the Shadows

Juan José Millás, trans. from the Spanish by Thomas Bunstead and Daniel Hahn (Bellevue)

A page-turner of the strangest order, Millás takes readers on an absurdist ride into the psyche of Damián Lobo, a man who hides from a cop in a massive antique wardrobe, only to be transported inside to the home of a family. There, Damián becomes a ghostlike butler for the family during their daytime absences, only to slip back into the wardrobe at night.

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Ghost Wall

Sarah Moss (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The narrator of Moss’s potent, haunting novel, 17-year-old Silvie, is forced by her domineering, history buff father to join three college students and their experimental archaeology professor for a stay on a relatively isolated spot of land in the English countryside to gain insight into what it was like to live day-to-day in the Iron Age. What starts as a reenactment steadily morphs into something sinister.

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Grand Union

Zadie Smith (Penguin Press)

Smith exercises her range while maintaining her wry humor in this bewitching collection. A New York drag queen who misses the “fabled city of the past” goes shopping for a new corset and gets into an argument with the shop owner; a married woman thinks about her boyfriend at university, where they were among the few black students; a child’s school worksheet spurs a humorous reassessment of storytelling itself.

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The Man Who Saw Everything

Deborah Levy (Bloomsbury)

This playful, consistently surprising novel begins with young historian Saul Adler, who is preparing to write a paper about East Germany’s economic miracle, getting hit by a car on London’s Abbey Road in 1988, altering his entire life. Levy brilliantly plumbs the divide between the self and others, as Saul reluctantly acknowledges both his culpability in his own life’s tragedies and his insignificance in others’ narratives.

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Mars

Asja Bakić, trans. from the Croatian by Jennifer Zoble (Feminist Press)

This genre-bending, psychologically acute collection thrums with eerie, oddball energy. A writer in purgatory isn’t allowed to leave until she composes her masterpiece; a woman senses something is off with her husband, who keeps feeding her shellfish; a writer contends with loneliness on Mars, where all literature has been banished. Bakić’s straightforward prose effortlessly transports the speculative stories into almost realist territory, making for an arresting, uncanny collection.

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Mouthful of Birds

Samanta Schweblin, trans. from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (Riverhead)

Schweblin deploys a heavy dose of nightmare fuel in this frightening, addictive collection. A just-married woman whose husband has abandoned her by the side of the road senses an approaching swarm of jilted women; two parents try to figure out what to do about their young daughter, who has started eating live birds; the children in a mining town suddenly disappear.

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The Need

Helen Phillips (Simon & Schuster)

Danger arrives for Molly, mother of two young children, in the form of a black-clad, deer-mask-wearing intruder who knows intimate details of Molly’s life. Phillips grounds her cerebral themes in a sharply observed evocation of motherhood, all while crafting an agonizingly suspenseful story.

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The Nickel Boys

Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)

In Jim Crow–era Florida, high school student Elwood Curtis is erroneously detained by police before being sent to Nickel Academy, a juvenile reform school where the boys—especially the black boys—suffer from near-constant physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Elwood befriends the cynical Turner, and their struggles to survive are interspersed with glimpses of Elwood’s adult life in Whitehead’s unforgettable examination of America’s history of violence.

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Olive, Again

Elizabeth Strout (Random House)

With humor and compassion, Strout’s follow-up to Olive Kitteridge portrays the cantankerous retired math teacher in old age. Across 13 linked stories, Olive is wooed by a 74-year-old widower, awkwardly admires gifts at a baby shower and then efficiently delivers another guest’s baby, and offers characteristic brusque empathy to her own two home nurses—one a Trump supporter, one the daughter of a Somali refugee.

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Optic Nerve

María Gainza, trans. from the Spanish by Thomas Bunstead (Catapult)

This phenomenal novel provides a portrait of a Buenos Aires woman named María by connecting episodes in her life to works of art she observes. Gainza explores the spaces between others, art, and the self, and how what one sees and knows forms the ineffable hodgepodge of the human soul.

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An Orchestra of Minorities

Chigozie Obioma (Little, Brown)

Obioma’s electrifying novel follows doomed Nigerian poultry farmer Chinoso, who falls in love with Ndali, the daughter of a prominent local family—it’s his attempt to win their approval that begins his downfall. Obioma combines Igbo folklore (the story is narrated by Chinonso’s chi, or guardian spirit) and Greek tragedy in the context of modern Nigeria, creating a meticulously crafted and emotionally intense character drama.

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Stalingrad

Vasily Grossman, trans. from the Russian by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler (New York Review Books)

Grossman’s epic, sprawling saga about the Battle of Stalingrad, a prequel to Life and Fate, is a masterpiece of intertwined plots told from dozens of perspectives, including those of Jewish scientist Viktor Shtrum, whose mother is lost to the Germans; the valorous Shaposhnikov family, who refuse to leave Stalingrad before the Nazi invasion; tank commanders; lowly foot soldiers; and even Hitler himself.

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The Sweetest Fruits

Monique Truong (Viking)

Truong remarkably gives voice to three women in the life of 19th-century writer Lafcadio Hearn. On the island of Cythera in the 1840s, Lafcadio’s mother, Rosa, meets Charles Hearn; in 1872 Cincinnati, Alethea Foley, a young woman born enslaved in the U.S. but now free, meets Lafcadio and they marry; in 1890s Japan, Koizumi Setsu becomes Hearn’s translator, wife, and the mother of his children.

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Trust Exercise

Susan Choi (Holt)

Fifteen-year-old classmates Sarah and David have an intense sexual relationship at their performing arts high school. Then, after a string of decisive events, they become estranged. The novel shifts dramatically in its second part, casting most of what readers thought they knew into doubt. Choi boldly and ambitiously explores the long reverberations of adolescent experience, the complexities of consent and coercion, and the inherent unreliability of narratives.

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Women Talking

Miriam Toews (Bloomsbury)

After more than 300 women in the Mennonite colony of Molotschna were attacked by men from their community between 2005 and 2009, eight of the settlement’s women, from the Loewen and Friesen families, gather secretly to discuss their plan of action. Toews’s inspiring, stellar novel tracks every conversation leading to the women’s final, life-changing decision.

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The World Doesn’t Require You

Rion Amilcar Scott (Liveright)

In this collection, the last—and least exalted—son of God tries to redeem himself by leading a gospel band at his elder brother’s church, and an English professor plots the downfall of his departmental colleague, whose course syllabus grows increasingly entangled with his personal life. Scott’s bold and often outlandish imagination combines with an emotional authenticity that’s never once in doubt.

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