A Conversation with Translator Marian Schwartz Interview by Ryan K. Strader

“If books don’t get published, they don’t live,” argues Marian Schwartz, the prolific and award-winning translator of over seventy Russian works. Thanks to Schwartz, significant 20th and 21st century Russian books have been brought to life, including work by Nina Berberova, Polina Dashkova, Mikhail Shishkin, and now Leonid Yuzefovich.

 

chop! chop! read more!
Advertisements

SLEEPING DRAGONS, stories by Magela Baudoin, reviewed by Katharine Coldiron

Thank goodness Magela Baudoin’s first book to be translated in English, Sleeping Dragons, is so short. The fifteen stories in this collection (adding up to only 140 pages) are so precise, bursting with such potency, that to increase the collection to 200 or 250 pages would just about kill the average reader. Nearly all the stories are perfectly formed, energetic little spheres—like new tennis balls, popping with their own elasticity the moment they drop out of the canister—and only so many of these spheres can hit a reader between the eyes before she must stop, dazed. The overall impression is of a writer with years of craftsmanship already behind her, ready to don the halo of South American literary fame.

chop! chop! read more!

AFTER THE WINTER, a novel by Guadalupe Nettel, translated by Rosalind Harvey, reviewed by Robert Sorrell

At the beginning of Guadalupe Nettel’s newly translated novel After the Winter, twenty-five-year-old Cecilia moves from her native Oaxaca to Paris. She arrives there without the usual image of Paris as a “city where dozens of couples of all ages kissed each other in parks and on the platforms of the métro, but of a rainy place where people read Cioran and La Rochefoucauld while, their lips pursed and preoccupied, they sipped coffee with no milk and no sugar.”

chop! chop! read more!

STRANGE WEATHER IN TOKYO, a novel by Hiromi Kawakami, reviewed by August Thompson

The motor of Strange Weather is the slow love that builds between Tsukiko and Sensei. At a neighborhood bar, they run into each other after decades of absence. Maybe at another time they would have exchanged pleasantries and moved along. But they are both living in the same kind of underwater blue. They chat and find that their language is the same. They start to build an intimacy without schedule, running into each other at the bar, sharing meals and drinks, telling simple stories, laughing at their inconsistencies.

chop! chop! read more!

HORSEMEN OF THE SANDS, two novellas by Leonid Yuzefovich, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

The translation initiative Read Russia characterizes Leonid Yuzefovich as a writer whose books “gray the lines between faction and fiction,” using historical figures and settings in his work. “Faction” is for artful historians (or for historian artists, perhaps), writers who know how to be suspicious of fictionalizing, but also know that history is never just facts. This description of Yuzefovich makes sense, since he is a historian by training and taught history for many years, but has emerged as an influential contemporary fiction writer in Russia.

chop! chop! read more!

THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO, a novel by Carlo Collodi, reviewed by Beth Kephart

If Disney’s Pinocchio is an affable, pliable ingénue who was reconfigured, according to the lore, to look more like a boy than a puppet, Collodi’s is an anti-hero—a wooden thing with barely any ears who mostly can’t see beyond his own nose, no matter its current proportion. He is persistent, insistent, impossible, exasperating, willfully obtuse, a regular screw-up. You don’t have to stretch to note the parallels that dominate our news cycle. Donald J. Trump was prefigured more than 130 years ago. He was augured by a satirist who was most supremely skilled in imagining poor, and poorly curbed, behavior.

chop! chop! read more!

MINA, a novel by Kim Sagwa, reviewed by Kelly Doyle

A new novel, Mina, written by Kim Sagwa and translated from Korean by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton, attempts to chronical adolescences, a transformative time of life, but in the context of a world that does not condone individuality, experimentation, or choice. Through unconventional characters, a high-pressure setting, and an unapologetic directness that is both off-putting and enthralling, Kim creates an entirely different kind of teenage drama. By placing three emotional, confused young people in a world of restraint and hidden suffering, she ignites an explosion of a story that is entirely new. It does not have the charming humor of John Green or the contrariety of J.D. Salinger. Instead, it is an immensely serious and angry portrayal of a teenage breakdown.

chop! chop! read more!

COMEMADRE, a novel by Roque Larraquy, reviewed by Justin Goodman

There is a plant “whose sap produces […] microscopic animal larvae” that can consume rats “from the inside out.” It can only be found on “Thompson Island, a small landmass in Tierra Del Fuego,” within Argentinian screenwriter Roque Larraquy’s debut novel Comemadre—the name of this plant of spontaneous generation. Translated in the novel as “motherseeker or mothersicken,” this fictitious plant and its larvae symbolize the dual powers of violence to create and destroy. First as crime, then as art.

chop! chop! read more!

KATALIN STREET, a novel by Magda Szabó, reviewed by William Morris

Four children play together in a quiet neighborhood. The children are Henriette Held, the young daughter of a Jewish dentist; the Elekes sisters, Irén and Blanka; and Bálint Temes, the handsome son of the Major. Their game is Cherry Tree, in which they all sing and spin in circles, and one of the children “chooses” another, the one they love. In this innocent game, the girls invariably choose Bálint, and each girl develops her own particular feelings for the boy; when it is his turn to choose, though, Bálint always prefers Irén, the oldest and most serious of the three. This is one of the earliest memories shared by the Elekes, Temes, and Held families, who form a lifelong, tragic bond in Magda Szabó’s Katalin Street.

chop! chop! read more!

GASLIGHT: Lantern Slides from the Nineteenth Century, essays by Joachim Kalka, reviewed by Katharine Coldiron

With a title and subtitle like Gaslight: Lantern Slides from the Nineteenth Century, the reader will be forgiven for thinking Joachim Kalka’s book is a collection of visual art. It is not. Though it does contain a handful of visual descriptions, it bears not one illustration, woodcut, or photograph. No lantern slides, and no visual depictions of gaslight. What it has instead are words, many of them, artfully arranged. Kalka’s words, assembled into eleven essays and a preface, are densely packed and remarkably pointed. Although his purpose is to glance back at the nineteenth century, not to historicize it, or even to theorize about it with a particular agenda, Kalka is a highly organized thinker. His insights prove scintillating, if specialized.

chop! chop! read more!

IVORY PEARL, a novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

Ivory Pearl is Jean-Patrick Manchette’s final and unfinished novel, now available in an English translation by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Manchette was known during his lifetime for his 1970s crime novels, noir that gained popular movie adaptations and made him a standard among French crime writers. This translation features endnotes on how Manchette envisioned the novel ending, and an introduction written by Manchette’s son, Doug Headline, which is as affectionate as it is informative.

chop! chop! read more!

TRICK by Domenico Starnone, translated from the Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri, reviewed by Jeanne Bonner

The work of literary translators can be viewed as vital, especially given the forces of nationalism today, so it is no small matter that someone of Lahiri’s caliber has joined the ranks. For Starnone and his readers, it means his novel Trick arrives in English in mesmerizing form.

chop! chop! read more!

ADUA, a novel by Igiaba Scego, reviewed by Jodi Monster

The title character of Igiaba Scego’s novel Adua is a Somali woman caught in history’s crosshairs. Born to an ambitious, mercurial man, a translator who sold his skills to the Italians during Mussolini’s pre-WWII push to expand his African empire, Adua’s life is shaped by choices she didn’t make and subject to forces she can’t control.

chop! chop! read more!

TOMB SONG, a novel by Julián Herbert, reviewed by Katharine Coldiron

What an odd book Tomb Song is. It contains prose both beautiful and profane, extensive self-awareness and a troubling level of self-ignorance. Its author and its narrator blur together into an entity that is never quite one or the other, and it doesn’t distinguish between fiction and nonfiction with especial meticulousness. That is, the narrator and the author have the same name, the same wife and child, the same job, and the same literary accomplishments. It remains undefined whether, in what passages, and to what extent Herbert has fictionalized his life to write this book, which a reviewer in a Chilean newspaper called “an elegy to his mother.”

chop! chop! read more!

NEST IN THE BONES: STORIES by Antonio Di Benedetto reviewed by Eric Andrew Newman

This collection showcases a number of wonderfully imaginative stories whose fanciful imagery remains in the reader’s mind long after he’s finished reading. Di Benedetto’s concise, intelligent stories are surely still a source of complicit delight. Anyone who reads Zama and is hungry for more of Di Benedetto’s work will enjoy pecking at the writer’s brain in Nest in the Bones.

chop! chop! read more!

NEAPOLITAN CHRONICLES, stories and essays, by Anna Maria Ortese reviewed by Jeanne Bonner

Any book that has a ringing endorsement on its cover from Elena Ferrante these days will merit a second look. But there is another, potentially more important endorsement of Neapolitan Chronicles—a silent endorsement on the part of the translators of this Italian story collection by Anna Maria Ortese, originally published in Italy in 1953.

chop! chop! read more!

The Memoirs of Two Young Wives, a novel by Honoré de Balzac, translated by Jordan Stump, reviewed by Ashlee Paxton-Turner

The classic coming-of-age novel tells the story of a young boy coming to terms with the man he is about to become. Over 175 years ago, the great French literary seer Honoré de Balzac composed a rather untraditional version: in his novel, The Memoirs of Two Young Wives, Balzac applies the traditional arc of the bildungsroman to two female protagonists in order to present two ways of life—the passionate life and the tranquil life. In doing so, Balzac reminds readers of the elusive nature of happiness, regardless of one’s way of life, and what it means to love and be loved.

chop! chop! read more!

TIME OF GRATITUDE, essays and poems by Gennady Aygi, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

Time of Gratitude is an unusual text: the collected pieces are both prose and poetry, some of them written for events and some written as personal reflection. Translator Peter France has organized the book into two sections. The first one is devoted to Russian and Chuvash writers and artists, including Boris Pasternak, Kazimir Malevich, Varlam Shalamov, and Chuvash poet Mikhail Sespel.

chop! chop! read more!

TRANSLATION AS TRANSHUMANCE, a book-length essay by Mireille Gansel, reviewed by Rachel R. Taube

For Mireille Gansel, the work of translation is an all-consuming task. Before embarking on a project, Gansel first immerses herself in the world of the poet she is translating. She studies the historical context of their writing as well as the personal context. Wherever possible, she engages with their physical environment: she visits their home, observes their writing space. And, ideally, she listens to the poet read their work aloud. Attempting to translate a single German word, “sensible,” in a poem by Reiner Kunze, Gansel travels from West to East Germany to “[listen] to the poet read, alert to his intonations and facial expressions. In the tiny blue kitchen, I was conscious of his precarious everyday life.” She imagines the letters from friends in exile that he’ll never receive, and the mingling of his two languages, a German abstracted by Nazism and a Czech repressed by war, both of which survive in the poetry of his contemporaries, in songs from his childhood. Here, in this intersection of past and present, Gansel finds the word for “sensible”: fragile.

chop! chop! read more!

MIRROR, SHOULDER, SIGNAL, a novel by Dorthe Nors, reviewed by Brendan McCourt

Above all else, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal is a novelist’s novel. Literary-minded readers will revel in the novel’s allegorical framework extending anywhere from cautionary tale to failed bildungsroman to a metaphor of novel reading itself.

chop! chop! read more!

SCHLUMP, a novel by Hans Herbert Grimm, reviewed by Kelly Doyle

When Hans Herbert Grimm’s semi-autobiographical novel Schlump was published in 1928 alongside All Quiet on the Western Front, it was advertised as a “truthful depiction” of World War I. It is no surprise that Grimm took on the the pseudonym Schlump, just as his protagonist does, to hide his identity. As explained by Volker Weidermann in the afterward, Grimm “describe[s] the German soldiers of the Great War as less than heroic,” and “the entire war as a cruel, bad joke.” While this caused the Nazis to burn his book in 1933, today it gives the text, translated by Jamie Bulloch, a feeling of authenticity.

chop! chop! read more!

A WORKING WOMAN, a novel by Elvira Navarro, reviewed by Melanie Erspamer

“She wanted […] the location of her madness to be now the location of her art.”

This is how the narrator of The Working Woman analyzes her roommate, but the same can be said of the narrator herself, and perhaps as well of the only figure in this postmodernist novel who actually “speaks:” the author, Elvira Navarro. The text becomes the conjunction of madness and art, which share one abstract and yet delineated “location,” madness needing expression through art, or art uniquely poised to express madness.

chop! chop! read more!

DAUGHTERS OF THE AIR, a novel by Anca L. Szilágyi, reviewed by Leena Soman

Tatiana is supposed to spend the summer before her junior year in high school in Vermont with her only friend while her mother summers in Rome. Instead, she hitches a ride from her boarding school’s Connecticut campus to Brooklyn. It’s 1980, and Tatiana renames herself Pluta, an alter ego she has long cultivated to meet the demands of this adventure. So begins Anca L. Szilágyi’s debut novel Daughters of the Air.

chop! chop! read more!

MALACQUA, a novel by Nicola Pugliese, reviewed by Robert Sorrell

Anyone who picks up And Other Stories’ edition of Malacqua, the first English translation of Nicola Pugliese’s Italian novel from 1977, will be immediately alerted to the strange weather which serves as the novel’s catalyst. Emblazoned across the book’s cover is Malacqua’s unofficial subtitle: Four Days of Rain in the City of Naples, Waiting for the Occurrence of an Extraordinary Event. Before even opening the book, the reader is clued into Pugliese’s supreme fascinations: water and Naples. And of course, the collision of the two.

chop! chop! read more!

PETITE FLEUR, a novel by Iosi Havilio, reviewed by August Thompson

Iosi Havilio’s Petite Fleur is a great book because it is a work of surprises intimately knotted around each other. The plot twists and writhes. Murders and magic lead to diatribes about jazz fusion that leads to rebirth and love and examinations of the anxiety of parenthood and marriage. The unexpected is constant, the satisfaction complete.

chop! chop! read more!

KONUNDRUM: SELECTED PROSE OF FRANZ KAFKA by Franz Kafka reviewed by Eric Andrew Newman

With the centenary of Franz Kafka’s first three major publications having passed just a few years ago, a plethora of new translations of Kafka’s stories have recently been released. Among them is Konundrum: Selected Prose of Franz Kafka, with works chosen and translated by Peter Wortsman, a writer known for his own micro fiction. Wortsman’s selection of what he considers to be the very best of Kafka’s short prose, whether it’s a story, a letter, a journal entry, a parable, or an aphorism distinguishes Konundrum from the other new translations. This approach contrasts with the single book-length work of Susan Bernofsky’s new translation of “The Metamorphosis” and Michael Hofmann’s new translation of all of Kafka’s unpublished stories in Investigations of a Dog.

chop! chop! read more!

ALL THAT MAN IS, a novel by David Szalay, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

In an interview with NPR, David Szalay pointed out that the title of his novel, All that Man Is, can be read two different ways: “either as a sort of slightly disparaging, sort of all that man is, and this is it. Or it can be read as a sort of almost celebratory—everything, all the kind of great variety of experience that life contains.” Szalay seems to see his work as falling somewhere in between, not entirely “disparaging” nor precisely “celebratory,” since it is a study of men dealing with situations of personal crisis. While many reviewers have described All that Man Is as bleak and depressing, Szalay confesses that he might have a “lower expectation of life than the average.”

chop! chop! read more!

THE MADELEINE PROJECT, a work of creative nonfiction by Clara Beaudoux, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

In 2013, a young journalist named Clara Beaudoux moves into a Paris apartment. The previous tenant, a woman named Madeleine, lived there for 20 years before passing away in her nineties. Strangely, Madeleine’s things have not been removed from the cellar. “All I had to do was open a door, the door to my cellar, for the adventure to begin,” writes Beaudoux.

chop! chop! read more!

THE FUTURE WON’T BE LONG, a novel by Jarett Kobek, reviewed by Jordan A. Rothacker

The New York City of the decade in which The Future Won’t Be Long is set is a city in transition, sloughing off the dirty skin of a seriously fertile artistic period to eventually reveal a heartless skeleton scraped clean by Mayor Giuliani and the NYPD by the book’s end. From the start, the city is riveting for Baby, who describes how he “wandered New York, its manic energy seeping into my bones. The pavement vibrated, resonating with billions of earlier footsteps, centuries of people making their way, the city alive with the irregular heartbeat of its million cars and trucks, of its screaming pedestrians, its vendors and hustlers. The roar and clamor infected my blood, transforming my walk.”

chop! chop! read more!

ISLAND OF POINT NEMO, a novel by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès, reviewed by Rachel R. Taube

Island of Point Nemo is a fast-moving adventure story featuring murderers, romance, and preternatural turns. But dig further into those turns, and the novel is ultimately a eulogy to books, both as physical objects and as containers for fiction. Written by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès and newly translated from French by Hannah Chute, Island of Point Nemo features suspenseful plotlines that intertwine in such a way as to make the reader question the natures of fiction, reality, and history.

chop! chop! read more!

MAP DRAWN BY A SPY, a novel by Guillermo Cabrera Infante, reviewed by reviewed by Jacqueline Kharouf

Posthumous novels are both a joy and, sometimes, a let-down. Left behind by an author whose polished work stands as a testament to the full capacity of his or her mind, the words on the page surface at first like an extension from the past. This one last bit of evidence left for us to find. The posthumous novel should be examined and praised as a rare object—hidden in a vault, locked in an old suitcase, tucked into an envelope—and given a small bit of license for being not quite the full body of work its author intended.

chop! chop! read more!

NOTES OF A CROCODILE, a novel by Qiu Miaojin, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

Lazi argues that mapping secrets and pain can be a matter of life and death, and Qiu’s suicide seems to attest to that. Considering the stresses of our present age, where identities and ideologies are masking and unmasking, the intrapersonal mapping of identity is even more significant for artists that would influence culture. That might be another way that Notes of a Crocodile is oddly predictive; or, its tendency to speak so clearly to our global present might mean that Lazi—and Qiu’s—struggle for self-identification is timeless. In either case, Notes of a Crocodile is an important addition to literature that addresses identity and sexuality, as well as a significant stylistic legacy from a writer prematurely lost.

chop! chop! read more!

MIKHAIL AND MARGARITA, a novel by Julie Lekstrom Himes, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader 

Julie Lekstrom Himes’ novel, Mikhail and Margarita, imagines the love affair that might have inspired The Master and Margarita. This is Himes’ first novel, following the publication of several short stories and essays. Himes is a physician in Massachusetts; interestingly, Bulgakov was also a physician. In an interview with the literary website Eye 94, Himes describes reading Bulgakov’s collection A Country Doctor’s Notebook (reflections on his early years as a doctor) and identifying with “the fear and regret and self-questioning” of a young doctor. Identifying with Bulgakov’s “voice” as a doctor encouraged Himes to try writing from his perspective, to imagine what compelled him to write one of the canonical Russian texts of the 20th century.

chop! chop! read more!

BARDO OR NOT BARDO, a novel by Antoine Volodine, reviewed by Amada Klute

Take the existential universe of Jean-Paul Sartre and pull his pants down around his ankles—this is the paradoxical narrative met with in French comedic novelist Antoine Volodine’s Bardo or Not Bardo. Volodine’s blunt, absurdist style illustrates a marriage between the profound and the comedic, using humor as a weapon to further investigate humanity’s most unanswerable questions.

chop! chop! read more!

THE GERMAN GIRL, a novel by Armando Lucas Correa, reviewed by Kellie Carle

The German Girl permits readers to enter the minds of two 12-year-old girls as their lives are shaped by the tragedies of the SS St. Louis and 9/11. Correa expertly combines fact with fiction, as he constructs and then deconstructs the lives of two young girls. He also illustrates the importance a family’s history and the need to pass down history through the generations. The story of the contemporary girl, Anna, is imbedded (as is her name) in Hannah’s and though this is the conceit of the novel, it is also a weakness.

chop! chop! read more!

TRYSTING, fiction by Emmanuelle Pagano, reviewed by Rachel R. Taube

Emmanuelle Pagano’s Trysting is an intimate romance among hundreds. This book of fictional fragments, each in the first person, features character after character—most of indeterminate gender, age, and history—falling in and out of love. The self-contained pieces range from one sentence meditations to several hundred word flash fictions. The shortest of these could be writing prompts, while others read as prose poems. Reading Trysting can, in fact, be like reading a book of poetry, and it benefits from slow, thoughtful study. You could linger over any one piece, reread it and taste the rhythm, the carefully chosen words.

chop! chop! read more!

FAMILY LEXICON, a novel by Natalia Ginzburg, translated by Jenny McPhee, reviewed by Robert Sorrell

Now in a new translation by Jenny McPhee (and with a new English title), Family Lexicon is Natalia Ginzburg’s Strega Prize winning memoir/novel of life in Italy before, during, and after World War II, Lessico famigliare, first published in 1963. Ginzburg is known mainly in this country for being a “writer’s writer,” a phrase which is often used to compensate for an author’s lack of fame. But in Ginzburg’s case, perhaps there’s a bit more to it; her essays are often assigned on writing workshop syllabi alongside favorites like Joan Didion, James Baldwin, and George Orwell. A quick Internet search for “Natalia Ginzburg” and “syllabus” turns up countless options. In fact, it was in a creative writing class where I was first introduced to her work, the devastatingly simple essay “He and I.”

chop! chop! read more!

ATLANTIC HOTEL, a novel by João Gilberto Noll, reviewed by Robert Sorrell

“Love. Call me Love, the Word Incarnate.”

This is the closest that readers get to a name for the protagonist and narrator of João Gilberto Noll’s strange little book, Atlantic Hotel, recently translated into English by Adam Morris. The novel is set in Brazil in the 1980s, and over the course of the book, the unnamed narrator embarks on a beguiling and pointless quest through the country. At different points he will seem to be—or perhaps will be—an actor, a priest, an alcoholic, an invalid. Along the way, Noll will shade his experiences with touches of Don Quixote and Odysseus, hints of The Stranger and a taste of the pantomime and absurdity of Fellini’s early 1960s films (Noll’s unnamed narrator a believable stand-in for the existentially angsty characters usually played by Marcello Mastroianni).

chop! chop! read more!

WAYWARD HEROES, a novel by Halldór Laxness, reviewed by Tyson Duffy

Certain great writers fade from the American memory like condensation from a windowpane. The Icelandic novelist Halldor Laxness—he was once all the rage here—is one. He was considered something of an upstart, a genius, a social novelist, a fellow traveler of Upton Sinclair and Bertolt Brecht, and he often journeyed between Europe and America. A Marxist-Stalinist who was very critical of America, he was once important enough to attract the personal ire of J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI, who worked hard to impoverish Laxness by attempting to confiscate profits from his U.S. book sales, which were considerable.

chop! chop! read more!

THE YEAR OF THE COMET, a novel by Sergei Lebedev, reviewed by Christina Tang-Bernas

The unnamed narrator of The Year of the Comet is born the moment an earthquake strikes Moscow. “The earthquake was my first impression of being: the world was revealed to me as instability, shakiness, the wobbliness of foundations.” Therefore, he observes, “My feelings, my ability to feel, were fashioned by that underground blow. I had trouble understanding anything to do with stability, immutability, and firmness, even though I wanted those states I could not achieve; disharmony was closer and more understandable than harmony.”

chop! chop! read more!

MY ITALIANS: True Stories of Crime and Courage, essays by Roberto Saviano, reviewed by Jeanne Bonner

The essay collection My Italians: True Stories of Crime and Courage, the provocateur Robert Saviano’s newest nonfiction work, is a startling condemnation of contemporary Italian life. For about a decade, Saviano’s one-man campaign against organized crime in Naples has made him famous across Italy. But he’s little known in the U.S., or he was at least until recently when a TV adaptation of his 2007 bestseller, Gomorrah, about the crime syndicate, la Camorra, began airing on the Sundance Channel (Italian director Matteo Garrone also made a 2008 film by the same name). Yet Saviano’s expertise on the malavita and how it’s infiltrated legitimate business knows no borders. Last year, he gave a talk at a conference in England about how business transactions in London’s much-vaunted City financial district are in fact influenced and manipulated by organized crime.

chop! chop! read more!

A GREATER MUSIC, a novel by Bae Suah, translated by Deborah Smith and reviewed by Justin Goodman

Bae Suah’s newest English-translated work, A Greater Music, describes the Austrian composer Franz Schubert as “a short, fat, shy myopic.” As brutal as this description is of a man who unhappily died before his 32nd year, it seems altogether different in tone when used to describe Bae’s novel itself. Filled with observatory indifference and an almost disembodied airiness, the novel comes across particularly as commentary, and as particularly rebellious. But what’s striking about A Greater Music is that it treats the work of Schubert above the man, treats the novel above the social, giving grandeur to otherwise short, fat, shy myopics. They are breathing things that were trapped in frames ill-suited for their sublimity–short in length, fat with substance, shy about their revelations, and myopic in their attentions, they are beings greater than their comportment can present. Something so heavy has rarely looked so light.

chop! chop! read more!

HUMAN ACTS, a novel by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith, reviewed by William Morris

First published in South Korea in 2014, Han Kang’s new novel Human Acts is now available for the first time in the United States. American readers first encountered Kang in 2016, with the translation of her 2007 novel The Vegetarian. This strange, dark, poetic novel, about a woman who decides to stop eating meat after having a horrific nightmare, was met with great acclaim. Translated by Deborah Smith, The Vegetarian went on to win the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. While Human Acts is a rich, powerful novel in its own right, and should be read independently of The Vegetarian, it is often interesting to situate a novel against the writer’s other work.

chop! chop! read more!

THESE ARE THE NAMES, a novel by Tommy Wieringa reviewed by Robert Sorrell

The hero–or perhaps I should say anti-hero–of Dutch author Tommy Wieringa’s new novel, These Are the Names is a 53-year-old police chief named Pontus Beg. Beg lives in a fictional border town called Michailopol, a city ailing in post-Soviet corruption and aimless malaise. Beg has “set up his life as a barrier against pain and discomfort,” Wieringa writes. “Suppressing chaos: washing dishes, maintaining order. What did it matter that one day looked so much like the other that he could not recall a single one; he keeps to the middle equidistant from both bottom and top.”

chop! chop! read more!

THE YOUNG BRIDE, a novel by Alessandro Baricco, reviewed by Melanie Erspamer

The author of the novel, Alessandro Baricco, a popular Italian writer, director and performer, suggests that a world based around logic and sense ultimately will stifle us. It is in fact, what the narrator of the main story, the “author” (easy to conflate with Baricco, though we shouldn’t), desires to escape from. He does so by running to fantasy: a place gleefully empty of logic or sense. However this is not to suggest that it is a place of chaos or anarchy—in fact quite the opposite. Fantasy rather offers refuge from the chaos of everyday life through its own simple and overriding logic: repetition.

chop! chop! read more!

COBALT BLUE, a novel by Sachin Kundalkar, reviewed by Nokware Knight

Tanay is a young, closeted queer man trying to work through an internal rut by living for the company of and validation from others. As Tanay befriends an out-of-towner renting a room in his family’s home, he finds himself in awe of the Guest’s ability to thrive in solitude, to fully embrace his mood of the moment, to being in a class of “men who lived their own idiosyncrasies” (the house guest is unnamed in the novel, but for the sake of clarity in this review I call him the Guest). It’s enough to gradually wrestle Tanay out of his day-to-day haze, to make him “aware of the mediocrity, the ordinariness” of his “secure and comfortable life.” Anuj, Tanay’s fiercely independent younger sister, is also taken by the Guest’s charms, but to different effect. For Anuj, the Guest doesn’t so much unearth a hidden urge to be, he reflects and accepts with ease the off-center personhood that comes natural to her, a personality she’s often had to defend to claim as her own.

chop! chop! read more!

BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH, a novel by Yoram Kaniuk, reviewed by David Grandouiller

Yoram Kaniuk, an Israeli novelist who died in 2013, was the kind of man who tells jokes as he’s dying in the hospital, even when he has no voice, when there’s a respirator thrust through an incision in his chest. His humor is at times bitter, biting like Sholem Aleichem’s pogrom narratives, descending into sullen anti-prayers: “cancer, like Hitler…is a messenger of the Lord.” In this respect, Kaniuk’s Between Life and Death, published this year in English, probably most closely resembles Christopher Hitchens’ Mortality. A sense of the meaninglessness in so much of life, of banality in death, pervades both authors’ stories. Kaniuk rages and rejoices, but sometimes qualifies these outbursts by settling, like Hitchens, for a tone of ambivalent irony, communicated in prose thick with vibrant images and cumulative sentences.

chop! chop! read more!

THE BIRDS, a novel by Tarjei Vesaas, reviewed by Melanie Erspamer

Had The Birds been written from the perspective of another character other than Mattis, a dim-witted near forty-year old, it probably would have had a different title—The Lumberjack, maybe, or some other word that references one of the major events in the novel. But that’s the point: the perspective, usually in third person but sometimes slipping into first person, is Mattis’ and thus the story is his. Although often the characters in a book share the same events, they do not share the same story; for that, as Norwegian author Tarjei Vesaas shows brilliantly in this moving novel, depends on the way we see things, on the importance we give to those events we share. For Mattis, the most important events in the novel concern the birds.

chop! chop! read more!

33 REVOLUTIONS, a novel by Canek Sánchez Guevara, reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin

Canek Sánchez Guevara’s 33 Revolutions is a prayer of a novel with a single liturgical refrain and a retort (of a kind) to the giddiness emitting from the American-Cuban travelsphere. Not since Reinaldo Arenas has a Cuban literary voice arrived on American shores with such beaten madness, and sense of personal desperation. Sánchez Guevara, who died last year at age 40, was the eldest grandson of revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara. His mother, Hilda Guevara Gaesa, was Che’s oldest child; Hilda’s mother (also Hilda) introduced Che to the Castro brothers in the mid-1950s. (It’s worth remembering that the American literary public became enamored of Arenas after his death, too.)

chop! chop! read more!

THE SEVEN MADMEN, a novel by Roberto Arlt reviewed by Jacqueline Kharouf

Madness is synonymous with insanity, but to be “mad” one doesn’t necessarily go crazy. One might be mad at society, a world of socially imposed rules that stifle the imagination or measure people according to economic usefulness. Rage against a world in which a multicultural, mostly impoverished majority are controlled by a corrupt, wealthy minority could be defined as a type of “madness.” In such a state, the individual’s warped mind drives him to fantastical plans for revenge, deep wells of anguish or panic, brothel-filled nights, petty crimes, thoughts of suicide, kidnapping, and imagined love affairs.

chop! chop! read more!