Elisa Shua Dusapin and her translator, Aneesa Abbas Higgins, won the 2021 National Book Award for Translated Literature with Dusapin’s debut, Winter in Sokcho. The novel “follows a young French Korean woman as she wrestles with desire, daughterhood, and identity,” PW’s starred review said. The duo’s forthcoming follow-up is among several new translated works of fiction that similarly challenge questions of identity and what it means to belong.

In Dusapin and Higgins’s The Pachinko Parlor (Open Letter, Sept.), Swiss Korean protagonist Claire spends a summer in Tokyo, where her grandparents have lived for decades as Zainichi Korean exiles after fleeing war in their home country. Dusapin was born in France and raised in Paris, Seoul, and Switzerland; Higgins says that the novel captures the “experience of living much of one’s life between various cultures, of being both insider and outsider,” and asks readers to reflect on the worlds that are open to some and closed to others. Language is essential to bridging the gap between generations in Dusapin’s story, Higgins explains. “The novel expresses feelings of hovering between languages and searching for the best vehicle to communicate.”

1,000 Coils of Fear by Olivia Wenzel (Catapult, July), which PW’s review called “an exciting, confident debut,” explores the experiences of a Black German woman, from her childhood in East Germany and during German reunification in the 1990s through the rise of populism in the U.S. circa 2016. Translator Priscilla Layne says she appreciates Wenzel’s nuanced depiction of Black identity: “The novel stresses the local East German context while also acknowledging the ways in which Black people across the diaspora are connected through their experiences with racism, discrimination, and feeling vulnerable to violence.” As the daughter of Caribbean immigrants to the U.S., Layne identified with the narrator’s experience. “People challenged my identity because I wasn’t Black in a way that was legible to them,” she explains. “So I related to the narrator. A lot of the novel is about piecing together your identity, how other people see you, and negotiating how you feel on the inside versus what people project onto you.”

Another German debut that treads this slippery terrain is the aptly titled Identitti by Mithu Sanyal (Astra House, July). When Nevidita, a well-known blogger who describes herself as a “mixed-race Wonder Woman,” discovers that Saraswati, her doctoral mentor in postcolonial studies, has been passing as Indian, the student and activist is forced to reevaluate her sense of self and how she’s perceived in the world. The text incorporates blog posts and Twitter threads, a unique experience for translator Alta L. Price. Sanyal “used these made-up social media handles to push the boundaries of the narrative and of language,” Price says. “You’re getting slang and culturally and linguistically dependent jokes. It was a fun challenge to bring those into English.”

Though the novel addresses specific complexities of German identity politics, Price believes it can resonate broadly. “It brings up these uncomfortable questions we don’t necessarily have the language in any language to talk about,” she says. “But we have to try.”

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