Heaven, Mieko Kawakami, translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd

A 14-year-old boy with a lazy eye is relentlessly bullied at school. His only ally is a female classmate who is similarly preyed upon by class bullies. The two friends meet in secret and forge a friendship that is as much rooted in pain as it is in the desire to be understood. However, these meetings have not gone unnoticed by their tormentors – they lay in wait as the two friends wonder why they have been subjected to such ruthlessness and if life will reward them for putting up with this pain.

Heaven is a haunting novel of the violence that we are often subjected to in our formative years and their lasting impression on us. Kawakami examines the unexpected cruelty of children and the fate of the meek in a society that favours the powerful.

Elena Knows, Claudia Piñeiro, translated from the Spanish by Frances Riddle

Rita is found dead in the bell tower of the church she used to attend. The official investigation into the incident is quickly concluded as suicide and many people seem to be particularly disturbed by her death. However, Rita’s sickly, elderly mother is not convinced and suspects foul play. She is determined to find the culprit.

But this is not an easy journey to make. Elena is in a late stage of Parkinson’s Disease, where her movements are limited. Her life revolves around the many pills she takes as well as the limitations of being perpetually ill. This is especially problematic as Elena is on a mission – one that involves calling in an old debt to reveal the truth.

Elena Knows interweaves crime fiction with intimate tales of morality and individual freedom as Piñeiro makes sharp comments on the dismissive attitudes toward caregivers, people with disabilities, and women.

A New Name: Septology VI-VII, Jon Fosse, translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls

Asle is an ageing painter who lives alone on the coast of Norway. He is lonely save for his two friends – Åsleik, his neighbour and a traditional fisherman-farmer; and Beyer, a gallerist who lives in the city. In the city of Bjørgvin lives another Asle, also a painter but consumed by loneliness and alcoholism. Asle and Asle are doppelgängers – two versions of the same person and same life, both trying to make sense of existential doubts.

A New Name is the final instalment of Septology, Fosse’s magnum opus. The final book in the series is an exploration of the human condition – incantatory, hypnotic, and utterly unique.

Tomb of Sand, Geetanjali Shree, translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell

In northern India, a grieving eighty-year-old woman is unable to come to terms with the death of her husband. Not the one to be defeated by circumstances, she resurfaces to gain a new lease of life. She is determined to challenge conventions and strikes up unusual friendships. It is soon decided that it is time to confront the traumas of her youth and the Partition – for which she must to travel to Pakistan. None of the elderly woman’s decisions makes sense to her bohemian daughter, who thinks of herself as the more “modern” of the two.

Tomb of Sand reflects on the destructive impact of borders – between religions, countries, and genders. Despite its serious themes, the novel is a playful exploration of love, loss, and everything in between.

The Books of Jacob, Olga Tokarczuk, translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft

It is the mid-18th century. New ideas have begun to sweep the continent. A young Jew of mysterious origins has arrived in a village in Poland. Before long, he changes his name and persona; visited by what seem to be ecstatic experiences, Jacob Frank casts a beguiling spell that attracts an increasingly fervent following.

In the years to come, Frank will traverse the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires and keep reinventing himself time and time again. He converts to Islam and then Catholicism, is crucified as a heretic and revered as the Messiah, and wreaks havoc on the conventional order with scandalous rumours of his sect’s secret rituals and the spread of his increasingly iconoclastic beliefs.

The Books of Jacob is Tokarczuk’s portrayal of Enlightenment Europe as she imagines it – on the cusp of change, searching for certainty, and longing for transcendence.

Cursed Bunny, Bora Chung, translated from the Korean by Anton Hur

Bora Chung uses elements of the fantastic and surreal to address the cruelties of patriarchy and capitalism in today’s society. Cursed Bunny reminds us that the greatest horrors take place within reality and by people who inflict pain on others, particularly for their own benefit. This is a genre-defying collection of short stories that blur the lines between magical realism, horror, and science fiction. Chung’s stories achieve what they had set out for – to shock, horrify, and lodge viscerally in the reader’s memory.