Whether you’re looking for a quick escape on your midday break or a quiet lunch with that always entertaining friend, literature, this list includes five short works of fiction that you can read alongside your favorite lunchtime meal. These various translations have appeared in the pages of World Literature Today and range from dryly humorous to absorbingly deep.
1. “Turning Thirty” by Abdellah Taïa
Translation by Daniel Simon
On the eve of his thirtieth birthday, the narrator recounts three near-death experiences and his journey from Morocco to France. With nods toward Dostoevsky and Genet (echoing the Lazarus scene between Raskolnikov and Sonya in Crime and Punishment), he experiences a crisis of existential vertigo.
2. “Continuity of Hell” by Andrés Neuman
Translation by George Henson
In this very short story by Andrés Neuman, the cool, dark parking garage becomes a place of comfort. “Sinking into the asphalt bowels gave me a strange sense of calm. I’d turn on the car’s headlights, and that gray, red, and yellow interior, the symmetry of the walls and columns, became a dependable realm with its safe rules and oneiric silence (do we dream sounds?).”
3. “The Surprise” by Lili Potpara
Tranlsation by Kristina Zdravič Reardon
Lili Potpara invites us into the home of ten-year-old Alenka, where her birthday surprise reveals a more complicated side of the young girl’s personality and desires.
4. “Loneliness” by Eduard Màrquez
Translation by Lawrence Venuti
In this short story, Eduard Màrquez applies the term Zugzwang—a chess position where any move is disadvantageous—to his characters who, he observes, “are subjected to forces and situations that prove too great for them.”
5. “In Search of a Man for Friendship and Possibly More” by Empar Moliner
Translation by Novia Pagone
With a dose of droll humor, Empar Moliner casts herself as the protagonist in this story about a woman who visits a dating agency to find a boyfriend because “it’s Christmas, and since it’s Christmas it seems repugnant not to have a steady boyfriend to give one gifts.”