GLOBE 100

The Globe’s top 29 picks for international fiction of 2012

The Globe and Mail

FILE PHOTO: Author Sadie Jones. Her first novel is titled, The Outcast. (Tibor Kolley/The Globe and Mail)

The Globe’s Books team is sent thousands of books every year: novels and poetry, mysteries and histories, memoirs and coffee-table books, erotica, exotica, graphic novels, self-published books, books sophisticated and crude, even textbooks. From this rich array we select only the most promising for reviews - and then only those that wowed our professional readers for our annual 100 list. Herewith, the foreign fiction titles reviewers couldn’t put down, couldn’t stop talking about, and insist you stock up on, too.

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American Dervish

By Ayad Akhtar,

Little, Brown

This thrilling novel incorporates the vital ingredients of fine storytelling: a powerful coming-of-age story, mesmerizing protagonists and writing that ranges from haiku-like interior monologues to the faultless mimicry of the spoken language of a community of Pakistani immigrants in American suburbia. -- Nazneen Sheikh

The Fat Years

By Chan Koonchung, translated by Michael S. Duke,

Doubleday

This brave, audacious and radical satire skewers the “counterfeit paradise” that is the 21st-century China of material growth and prosperity under totalitarian governance. The Fat Years centres on the erasure from sanctioned memory of the events surrounding June, 1989, including the massacre on Tiananmen Square. That, amazingly, is not fiction.  -- Charles Foran

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

By Nathan Englander,

Knopf

Nathan Englander’s collection returns to the same fertile territory as his first book of stories: Religious Jews in crisis, the ephemeral nature of the written word and, most pointedly, the enduring trauma of the Holocaust are explored with abundant humour, tenderness and heartache. -- Jonathan Papernick

Watergate

By Thomas Mallon,

Pantheon

This novel’s brilliance rests upon Mallon’s ability to weave Watergate’s oft-told events into a moral tapestry that feels wholly new. One curious side effect is to remind us just how progressive many of Richard Nixon’s policies were, from his stewardship of the environment to his “opening” of communist China. -- Stephen Amidon

At Last

By Edward St. Aubyn,

Farrar, Straus, Giroux

This last of five novels centred on the life of upper-class Englishman Patrick Melrose deals with the death of Patrick’s mother. Readers who do not know the other novels will still enjoy At Last’s humour, thoughtfulness, amusing characterizations and intelligence. -- André Alexis

Arcadia

By Lauren Groff,

Voice

We follow the lives and times of Abe and Hannah Stone, and their son Bit, at first on a commune on a crumbling estate in 1968. Bit grows up, but the family finally walks out on Arcadia’s souring dream, only to return late in their lives to live in an off-grid cottage on the estate’s grounds. -- J.C. Sutcliffe

Enchantments

By Kathryn Harrison,

Random House

It’s Jan. 1, 1917, and Rasputin’s frozen body has just been fished out of the Neva River. His daughter Masha, 18, came to St. Petersburg after her father mesmerized the Russian court. But without Rasputin, there’s no one to care for Russia’s crown prince. So Masha inherits the job. A beautifully sculpted novel. -- Jerome Charyn

The Lifeboat

By Charlotte Rogan,

Reagan Arthur/Little Brown

When the Empress Alexandra is sunk in mid-Atlantic in 1914, we follow, through the not-quite-reliable eyes of Grace Winter, the failing fortunes of the 39 passengers of a lifeboat. Rogan’s thrilling debut novel is very fine at detailing the sheer arduous, draining physicality of the ordeal. -- Martin Levin

Waiting for Sunrise

By William Boyd,

HarperCollins

It is Vienna, 1913, and German-speaking English actor Lysander Rief is seeking psychoanalysis. He meets a mysterious woman, who lures him into a sexual adventure, then charges him with rape. He eventually ends up behind enemy lines in search of a traitor. Sex, spies and suspense, this novel has it all. -- Giles Blunt

Canada

By Richard Ford,

HarperCollins

Dell Parsons, the narrator, is a recently retired, 66-year-old American English teacher living in Windsor. He is remembering the year he and his twin sister, Berner, turned 15, a time when a pair of significant and traumatizing events took place. A majestic, generous novel that encompasses the full range of human life. -- Jane Urquhart

The Hunger Angel

By Herta Müller, translated by Philip Boehm,

Metropolitan Books

The Hunger Angel is based on the memories of Müller’s fellow German-Romanian poet Oskar Pastior, who, like her novel’s Leo, was carted off to a labour camp at 17. He, too, felt estranged from his home village. As a young gay man, he could never show his true self even to his relatives. -- Anna Porter

Flight

By Adam Thorpe,

Jonathan Cape

Bob Winrush is a 51-year-old cargo pilot carrying suspicious loads in exchange for envelopes fat with cash. But after turning down a particularly nasty job, he realizes that everyone associated with that job has been turning up dead. Bob suspects he’s next, so he takes flight to the windswept Hebrides. -- William Kowalski

A Hologram for the King

By Dave Eggers,

McSweeney’s

The 50-ish Alan Clay is divorced and untethered, a debt-ridden American in the twilight of a consulting career. His latest assignment: securing an IT contract in King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia. Clay thinks that if he lands the deal, the monetary windfall will cure “everything that ails him.” -- Cynthia Macdonald

The Red House

By Mark Haddon,

Doubleday Canada

An affluent doctor invites his rather less affluent sister and her husband and three children to join him and his new wife and stepdaughter at an English countryside “vacation” home for a week, creating a potentially explosive mixture leavened by humour, grief and desire. -- Aritha van Herk

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

By Rachel Joyce,

Doubleday

Harold Fry and his wife are astonished by the arrival of a pink letter, addressed to Harold, from his old friend Queenie, dying of cancer and saying goodbye. Harold writes back and sets off to post his letter, but decides to deliver it in person in distant Berwick-upon-Tweed. He writes: “Hold on – I’m comin’.” -- Donna Bailey Nurse

The Lower River

By Paul Theroux,

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Ellis Hock, his marriage and business finished, impulsively decides to return to the impoverished African village where, as a volunteer, he had built a clinic and school and been blissfully happy. But he finds Africa “chewed, bitten, burned, deforested and dug up,” and mourns “the village that had disappeared utterly.” -- Jeffrey Meyers

Sweet Tooth

By Ian McEwan,

Knopf Canada

Cambridge graduate Serena is recruited to MI-5 in 1972, and soon joins a project code-named Sweet Tooth, in which large sums of money are given to intellectuals on the non-communist left. Asked to verify the suitability for the project of young writer Tom Haley, Serena becomes embroiled in attraction and intrigue. -- J.C. Sutcliffe

NW

By Zadie Smith,

Hamish Hamilton Canada

Set mostly in working-class housing in London, NW is full of voices from everywhere: Ghanaians, Jamaicans, Rastas, ginger-haired Irish, litigators, junkies, students, parents and grown children. Smith’s democratizing omniscient narrator slips from one consciousness to the next, giving everyone his or her say. -- Lisa Moore

Bring Up the Bodies

By Hilary Mantel,

HarperCollins

This sequel to Wolf Hall (both novels won Man Booker Prizes), tracks the year leading up to the execution of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife. We see and analyze events through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s adviser. But here Mantel focuses rigorously on Henry's growing desire to be rid of Anne. -- Guy Gavriel Kay

This is How You Lose Her

By Junot Díaz,

Riverhead

Yunior, possibly Dominican-American Junot Diaz’s alter ego, a “polymathic voice,” was narrator of his excellent first novel, and narrates many of the stories in this collection. But Diaz, a master of voice and tone, is definitely not repeating himself. -- Zoe Whittall

HHhH

By Laurent Binet, translated by Sam Taylor,

Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Laurent Binet’s astonishingly strange and self-attentive novel narrates the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazis’ notorious “Butcher of Prague,” Himmler’s right-hand man and architect of the Final Solution. -- Michael LaPointe

Flight Behavior

By Barbara Kingsolver,

HarperCollins

If anyone could pull off a philippic on the ecology of the Earth, it would be Barbara Kingsolver, and this she does in Flight Behavior, possibly the first novel to deal specifically, determinedly and overtly with climate change. -- Kathleen Byrne

The Round House

By Louise Erdrich,

Harper

Louise Erdrich’s tale of life on a North Dakota reserve, continuing the complex and sensitive saga of native Americans that she began with Love Medicine in 1984, works wonderfully as social commentary, as a mystery and as literary fiction. -- Candace Fertile

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm

A New English Version, by Philip Pullman,

Viking

Sex. Violence. Horror. On the 200th anniversary of the Brothers Grimm, Philip Pullman retells their stories – and reminds us that fairy tales tap into appetites and fears that are not for kids only. -- Catherine Bush

The Uninvited Guests

By Sadie Jones,

Knopf Canada

On the day of Emerald Torrington’s 20th birthday party, a railway accident leaves the family responsible for a group of dazed third-class passengers. Sadie Jones’s novel of disasters, dinner and an English country house is polished, charming and beautifully crafted. -- J.C. Sutcliffe

Waterline

By Ross Raisin,

HarperCollins

Mick, a run-down, middle-aged Glaswegian, struggles to deal with his wife’s death, caused by the asbestos he worked with. He skips town and gets a job washing dishes in London, then winds up homeless. It is a portrait of grief as haunting as it is elegant, yet it somehow manages to crackle with energy. -- Michael Hingston

Treasure Island!!!

By Sara Levine,

Europa Editions

An unnamed twentysomething New York woman is so enthralled by the adventures of young Jim Hawkins with Long John Silver and the other inhabitants of Treasure Island that she resolves to pattern her life on the book and, more specifically, on young Master Hawkins. -- Martin Levin

The Street Sweeper

By Elliot Perlman,

Bond Street

Australian writer Elliot Perlman’s novel is a superb multistrand epic that stretches across continents and over a century of history, focusing on the Holocaust and the African-American civil-rights struggle, and intertwining them in a way that brings out their similarities. -- Sara Johnson

The Odds

A Love Story,

by Stewart O’Nan,

Viking

Art and Marion Fowler, a middle-aged couple on the brink of divorce, head to Niagara Falls, Ont. Their primary destination is a casino where they plan to multiply their remaining cash in hopes of saving their house and their marriage. -- Donna Bailey Nurse