Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEWS

Cleaver reviewers present the most exciting literary work from around the globe. We specialize in American independent press releases but also vital work in translation that’s all too often overlooked by American readers.

Scroll down to browse excerpts from Cleaver’s latest reviews of books by small and indie presses.
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A Conversation with Translator Marian Schwartz Interview by Ryan K. Strader

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

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 ...
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PORTRAIT OF A BODY IN WRECKAGES, poems by Meghan McClure, reviewed by Claire Oleson

PORTRAIT OF A BODY IN WRECKAGES, poems by Meghan McClure, reviewed by Claire Oleson
Excellent writing is often lauded for its ability to transport and disembody the reader, to enrapture so completely that its audience floats along the sentence and forgets their place in the room. Meghan McClure’s Portrait of a Body in Wreckages does not do this, instead, much of its excellence is ...
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WHITE DANCING ELEPHANTS, stories by Chaya Bhuvaneswar, reviewed by K.C. Mead-Brewer

WHITE DANCING ELEPHANTS, stories by Chaya Bhuvaneswar, reviewed by K.C. Mead-Brewer
Chaya Bhuvaneswar is part of a unique legacy of writer-physicians—Nawal El Saadawi, William Carlos Williams, Anton Chekhov, to name a few—and the unexpected harmony of these pursuits is showcased throughout her collection White Dancing Elephants, winner of the 2017 Dzanc Short Story Collection Prize. Written with a straightforward, refreshingly uncluttered voice, these ...
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AFTER THE WINTER, a novel by Guadalupe Nettel, translated by Rosalind Harvey, reviewed by Robert Sorrell

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 ...
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BOOT LANGUAGE, a memoir by Vanya Erickson, reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier

BOOT LANGUAGE, a memoir by Vanya Erickson, reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier
The paradox in writing a postmodern memoir is that the author must somehow convince readers she’s telling the truth—typically by admitting to subjectivity and fallible memory, and by interrogating her version of events. But that’s not the strategy Vanya Erickson employs in her post-WWII coming-of-age story, Boot Language. With vivid ...
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STRANGE WEATHER IN TOKYO, a novel by Hiromi Kawakami, reviewed by August Thompson

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

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 ...
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CARTOON DIALECTICS, a series by Tom Kaczynski, reviewed by Julia Alekseyeva

CARTOON DIALECTICS, a series by Tom Kaczynski, reviewed by Julia Alekseyeva
The Cartoon Dialectics series collects work that Tom Kaczynski has published in anthologies since 2005. Kaczynski is perhaps best known for being the publisher of comics imprint Uncivilized Books, an independent press that has published works by Gabrielle Bell, David B., and Noah Van Sciver. As the title Cartoon Dialectics ...
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ELEANOR, OR THE REJECTION OF THE PROGRESS OF LOVE, a novel by Anna Moschovakis, reviewed by John Spurlock

ELEANOR, OR THE REJECTION OF THE PROGRESS OF LOVE, a novel by Anna Moschovakis, reviewed by John Spurlock
Anna Moschovakis’ debut novel Eleanor, or the Rejection of the Progress of Love is a searching and poignant work that deftly positions itself between the unspeakable specificity of personal experience and the disturbing surplus of fungible narratives in our online world. The writing feels brave in both its formal approach ...
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BASIC BLACK WITH PEARLS, a novel by Helen Weinzweig, reviewed by Jodi Monster

BASIC BLACK WITH PEARLS, a novel by Helen Weinzweig, reviewed by Jodi Monster
Lola Montez, the protagonist of Basic Black with Pearls by Helen Weinzweig, is a woman gripped by an obsessive, consuming passion for her married lover, Coenraad. To hear Lola tell it, this mysterious man, who works for an unspecified outfit referred to only as “The Agency,” directs her to their ...
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A ROOM AWAY FROM THE WOLVES, a young adult novel by Nova Ren Suma, reviewed by Rachel Hertzberg 

A ROOM AWAY FROM THE WOLVES, a young adult novel by Nova Ren Suma, reviewed by Rachel Hertzberg 
The title of Nova Ren Suma’s gripping new book, A Room Away from the Wolves, refers to its central location, but also to an unobtainable promise: a place where a girl can go to be truly safe. This novel resists easy categorizations. Not just a ghost story, not just a ...
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THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO, a novel by Carlo Collodi, reviewed by Beth Kephart

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, ...
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LIFE DURING WARTIME, a novel by Katie Rogin, reviewed by Isabelle Mongeau

LIFE DURING WARTIME, a novel by Katie Rogin, reviewed by Isabelle Mongeau
Katie Rogin’s debut novel, Life During Wartime, presents the struggle that soldiers, and their families, face adjusting back to civilian life. The story begins when 21-year-old Nina Wicklow, home from duty in Iraq, goes missing in a small town outside of Los Angeles ...
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MINA, a novel by Kim Sagwa, reviewed by Kelly Doyle

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

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 ...
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DEEP CAMOUFLAGE, poems by Amy Saul-Zerby, reviewed by Mike Corrao

DEEP CAMOUFLAGE, poems by Amy Saul-Zerby, reviewed by Mike Corrao
Amy Saul-Zerby’s new collection, Deep Camouflage is the manifestation of heartbreak. It is the fables that spawn from moments of empathy and melancholy. It is the conversation that a poet has with their reader. More than most poetry collections, Saul-Zerby’s is a sequence that asks to be read all at ...
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LOVE, HATE and OTHER FILTERS, a young adult novel by Samira Ahmed, reviewed by Leticia Urieta

LOVE, HATE and OTHER FILTERS, a young adult novel by Samira Ahmed, reviewed by Leticia Urieta
Maya Aziz sees her world through a camera lens. “One thing I’ve learned,” she says, “People love a camera, and when I’m filming, they see it, not me, so whenever I need to, I can disappear behind my trusty shield.” She is often the observer, experiencing her life on the ...
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KATALIN STREET, a novel by Magda Szabó, reviewed by William Morris

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 ...
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NEVER ANYONE BUT YOU, a novel by Rupert Thomson, reviewed by Melanie Erspamer

NEVER ANYONE BUT YOU, a novel by Rupert Thomson, reviewed by Melanie Erspamer
With quiet skill and rich description, Rupert Thomson strings the lives of two eclectic lovers through the tumultuous history of Paris and the Channel Islands during and between the two World Wars ...
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CUBIST STATES OF MIND/NOT THE CRUELEST MONTH, poems by Marc Jampole, reviewed by Alessio Franko

CUBIST STATES OF MIND/NOT THE CRUELEST MONTH, poems by Marc Jampole, reviewed by Alessio Franko
Whereas his previous book references artists, movements, historical figures, and myths, Jampole has made the bold choice here to work from two overarching cultural touchstones. Rather than searching for the vocabulary it shares with the reader, Cubist States of Mind/Not the Cruelest Month undertakes the creation of a new such ...
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THEY WERE BEARS, poems by Sarah Marcus, reviewed by Nathan O. Ferguson

THEY WERE BEARS, poems by Sarah Marcus, reviewed by Nathan O. Ferguson
The poems in Sarah Marcus’ book, They Were Bears follow a young woman, the speaker of most of the poems, who pursues discovery and sensation in the remote corners of the American wilderness. The narrative shapes this wilderness into a wide-open expanse characterized by uncertainty, wonder, and menace. The backdrop ...
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GASLIGHT: Lantern Slides from the Nineteenth Century, essays by Joachim Kalka, reviewed by Katharine Coldiron

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 ...
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AARDVARK TO AXOLOTL, essays by Karen Donovan and TALES FROM WEBSTER’S, essays by John Shea, reviewed by Michelle E. Crouch

AARDVARK TO AXOLOTL, essays by Karen Donovan and TALES FROM WEBSTER’S, essays by John Shea, reviewed by Michelle E. Crouch
Karen Donovan’s Aardvark to Axolotl and John Shea’s Tales from Webster engage with this paradox via the dictionary, that great alphabetizer of language. The dictionary is the reference-book-of-all-reference-books. It is writing broken down to its most basic components, as a color wheel separates out the most basic tools of the ...
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DIFFICULT WOMEN, a memoir by David Plante, reviewed by Susan Sheu

DIFFICULT WOMEN, a memoir by David Plante, reviewed by Susan Sheu
Acclaimed writer David Plante’s book, published originally in 1983, is an account of his friendships with three women central to the artistic and intellectual world of the 1970s. It is a rare act of memoir writing to describe oneself as the shadowy sidekick to other, presumably greater and more interesting ...
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IVORY PEARL, a novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

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 ...
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TART HONEY, poems by Deborah Burnham, reviewed by Claire Oleson

TART HONEY, poems by Deborah Burnham, reviewed by Claire Oleson
Divided into four sections, Deborah Burnham’s poetry collection Tart Honey seems cut into citrus slices— edible, organic, and aware of some lost and bodily whole it re-composes in the formation of its parts. The poems feature modern relationships with too much absence, a dissolving picture of Apollo 13 soon taken ...
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THE JUNIPER TREE, a novel by Barbara Comyns, reviewed by Allegra Armstrong

THE JUNIPER TREE, a novel by Barbara Comyns, reviewed by Allegra Armstrong
The Juniper Tree is a mid-twentieth-century retelling of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale of the same name, though Barbara Comyns has made the story all her own. Originally published in 1985, The Juniper Tree tells the story of Bella Winter, the unwed mother of a biracial daughter, through her quest ...
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THE KREMLIN BALL, a novel by Curzio Malaparte, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

THE KREMLIN BALL, a novel by Curzio Malaparte, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader
In his introductory comments for The Kremlin Ball, Curzio Malaparte claims that his novel is “a faithful portrait of the USSR’s Marxist nobility.” Such a thing should be anachronistic: a Marxist nobility? A communist high society? But that is exactly what Malaparte, as the novel’s narrator, is describing ...
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Two Poetry Chapbooks from Doublecross Press reviewed by Rachael Guynn Wilson

Two Poetry Chapbooks from Doublecross Press reviewed by Rachael Guynn Wilson
Headlands Quadrats and It’s No Good Everything’s Bad speak to anyone who appreciates poetry, and lovingly handcrafted poetry chapbooks. Both works strike a delicate balance between lyric and narrative modes—the former leaning further into lyric and the latter into prose narrative. Headlands Quadrats will be especially notable to those with ...
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