What books are you planning to pack in your suitcases for the holidays this summer? Whether at the beach, in your country house or at home, nothing is better than reading a good book during the summer. What are the best foreign novels of the last two years? We offer you, in this article, nine summer books to read in the original version… or in the French version, if you are not learning English, Swedish, Italian or Spanish simultaneously.
Here are the criteria we have chosen for this selection of summer books :
These are novels (neither essays, nor comics, nor biographies, etc.) foreign , that is to say written by non-French-speaking authors
They are recognized for their quality , without being “complicated” to read (like Ulysses by James Joyce or The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann)
They are therefore relatively entertaining while remaining intelligent : they are ” page turners “, which portray stories that make you want to know what happens next. They were recently released; except for the last
They are easy to find in bookstores and/or easy to order, in their original version, from your bookseller.
And, if you don’t like to read, you can always take a look at our selection of the best podcasts for learning a language !
What are the summer books?
- 🇩🇪 Glückskind mit Vater , by Christoph Hein ( The shadow of a father )
In 1945, a famous Nazi dignitary was executed by Polish troops. His son, whom he will not have time to see born, will carry all his life the weight of his numerous war crimes. Fleeing this heritage, going so far as to change his name and country, he nevertheless gets caught up in a past for which he is not responsible.
Glückskind mit Vater is as much an adventure novel, a learning novel, a historical novel, a family fresco, as an intense reflection on the work of memory . What place should be given to oblivion? What would Konstantin’s life have been like if he had been born in an Allied zone, rather than under Soviet occupation? Would he have succeeded in fleeing the shadow of his father, if he had joined the Foreign Legion? Crowned with the Prize for Best Foreign Book 2019 , the novel would have been written from authentic events: “the characters are not invented” writes the author.
- 🇪🇸 Ordesa , by Manuel Vilas
Manuel Vilas is 57 years old. When his parents died, the writer plunged into deep melancholy, a prelude to a work of mourning that he accomplished through prose, poetry, writing and memory. The description of the simple and happy life of this modest family is a portrait of Spanish history, from the fifties to the present day.
Spanish bestseller , Ordesa was voted “Best Book of the Year 2019” by the country’s two main newspapers, El País and El Mundo . This autobiography has met with immense success thanks to two main ingredients: the writing of Manuel Vilas, both poignant and poetic. Thus, the beauty of the story of his parents, the love they radiated, unconditional and unshakable despite the political vicissitudes of Franco’s Spain.
- 🇨🇦 The Testaments , by Margaret Atwood ( Les Testaments )
Co-winner of the 2019 Man Booker Prize ( the most prestigious literary prize in the English-speaking world), The Testaments is the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale ( La Servant écarlate ), a dystopia published in 1985 and adapted into a TV series since 2017 by the Hulu channel. Difficult to say more without spoiler but, we assure you: it is really worth reading. However, we advise you to start by reading The Handmaid’s Tale if you have not read it yet, even if you have seen all the episodes of the excellent TV series.
- 🇺🇸 Where the crawdads sing , by Delia Owens
Near a small town in North Carolina (USA), a ten-year-old girl, abandoned by her family, lives alone in a swamp. She only went to school one day in her life, but Tate, a cultured young man, teaches her to read and write. When he has to leave her to continue his studies, Kya finds herself alone, and must rely on her own strength to survive. One day, she finds herself accused of murder.
Where the crawdads sing is the first novel by Delia Owens, born in 1949, a graduate in biology and zoology. This did not prevent this book from being one of the biggest bestsellers of recent years: the novel spent a hundred consecutive weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list . Soon to be adapted to the cinema, the heartbreaking story of Kya has moved millions of readers with its strength, its beauty, its sensitivity and its attachment to nature. Certainly, one of the best books to (re)discover this summer .
- 🇸🇪 1793 , by Niklas Natt och Dag
In 1793, Europe was caught in the whirlwind of the French Revolution. Sweden is no exception to the phenomenon and, a year after the death of King Gustav III, the monarchy is wavering. The people conspire, the bourgeois plot, and a body is discovered in Lake Stockholm. The investigation is entrusted to Cecil Winge, a lawyer of a particular kind, who will have to cross all the strata of Swedish society in 1793 to reveal a dark reality.
This is another publishing phenomenon for a first novel. 1793 is a historical and detective thriller, a hybrid genre that allows for a hugely entertaining and intelligent immersion in 18th century Sweden . The novel has often been compared to Patrick Süskind’s Perfume ; but it would also be necessary to put bits of Millenium , Nordic thrillers, and thrillers of James Ellroy to really have a glimpse of what 1793 is.
- 🇲🇽 Las mutaciones , by Jorge Comensal ( The Mutations )
Fifty-year-old Ramón discovers that he has a unique cancer in the world. The only treatment that allows him to heal is the removal of the tongue. Now mute, he befriends a parrot who insults people for him. He meets Teresa, a psychoanalyst fond of cannabis cakes, and Aldama, a doctor convinced that Ramón’s cancer will bring him the Nobel Prize.
There is a lot of humor in Las mutaciones . A scathing humor, sometimes dark, and sometimes luminous, which transforms this tragicomedy into a waltz of contradictory feelings. An uneven, but very entertaining novel, narrated in Mexican Spanish that is very accessible if you ignore medical terms.
- 🇵🇱 Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych , by Olga Tokarczuk ( On the bones of the dead )
Janina Doucheyko is a retiree passionate about astrology, living in a small village in the Sudetes. One evening, his neighbour, a notorious poacher, dies in his kitchen, suffocated by the small bone of an animal. Janina thinks the animals have taken revenge and lets the villagers know, who think she’s crazy. But, when other suspicious deaths begin to appear, she decides to investigate… much to the chagrin of the police.
Winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature , Olga Tokarczuk delivers here a very poetic, funny and sad police investigation , which never ceases to surprise its reader without linking artificial twists. The thriller often flirts with the fantastic, without ever resorting to Deus Ex Machina . On the contrary: the mystery is often metaphorical, without being obscure, speaking of universality thanks to the anecdotal.
- 🇪🇸 Un hijo , by Alejandro Palomas ( The little boy who wanted to be Mary Poppins )
Guille, a dreamy young boy endowed with a boundless imagination, devotes a real cult to Mary Poppins. Everyone is worried about him: his father, who raises him alone, is ashamed to have such a sensitive son. His teacher is worried to see him slip away from reality, in favor of an imaginary world. And his psychologist thinks that Guille is far too well for that not to hide something…
Un hijo is one of the most books to discover this summer , a superb story carried by excellent characters and a magnificent reflection on dreams, imagination, childhood and love. Beauty is constantly present, without everything being rosy; but we come out of the book happy , a little sad and melancholy, with the feeling that this novel has done us good.
- 🇮🇹 L’arte della gioia , Goliarda Sapienza ( The art of joy )
It is not a new book , nor even a recent discovery: published in 1998, printed in only a few copies, L’arte della gioia acquires the status of a major novel in Italian literature after its publication… in France, in 2005. Republished and retranslated in 2015 by Editions du Tripode, it was not until 2019 and 2020 that popular word-of-mouth finally made it a best seller in bookstores.
The success of this masterpiece written, in pain, between 1967 and 1976, is based on many elements that are difficult to highlight without disclosing its content. But we could summarize this by: the power of words; images that brand the mind with a hot iron; a life for which one feels a great deal of empathy and sympathy ; the fascinating birth of a political consciousness.