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.
Looking for a specific title? Check out our alphabetical index of reviews.
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THE ROAD TO UNFREEDOM, nonfiction by Timothy Snyder, reviewed by Susan Sheu

THE ROAD TO UNFREEDOM, nonfiction by Timothy Snyder, reviewed by Susan Sheu
Since 2016, many journalists—as well as academic, political, and literary writers—have been sounding the alarm about the future of American democracy. The writers trying to shake Americans out of their manifest-destiny stupor are a diverse cast, ranging from activists who wouldn’t hesitate to label themselves members of “the resistance,” like ...
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I’M FINE. HOW ARE YOU? a chapbook by Catherine Pikula, reviewed by Robert Sorrell

I’M FINE. HOW ARE YOU? a chapbook by Catherine Pikula, reviewed by Robert Sorrell
A few days after I finished Catherine Pikula’s chapbook I’m Fine. How are You? I read the following sentence: “I would like to make a book out of crumpled-up pieces of paper: you start a sentence, it doesn’t work and you throw the page away. I’m collecting a few … ...
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SACRED DARKNESS: THE LAST DAYS OF THE GULAG, a narrative by Levan Berdzenishvili, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

SACRED DARKNESS: THE LAST DAYS OF THE GULAG, a narrative by Levan Berdzenishvili, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader
“As with any book, my book had its own special fate—it was born by mistake,” claims Levan Berdzenishvili, in the opening chapter of Sacred Darkness. Levan wakes up in a hospital, sick and disoriented, with a high fever. He realizes he has some debts to pay before he can jaunt ...
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THE BAREFOOT WOMAN, a novel by by Scholastique Mukasonga, reviewed by Rebecca Entel

THE BAREFOOT WOMAN, a novel by by Scholastique Mukasonga, reviewed by Rebecca Entel
The Barefoot Woman opens with the author’s mother, Stefania, imparting knowledge to her daughters. “Often in the middle of one of those never-ending chores that fill a woman’s day,” Mukasonga writes, “(sweeping the yard, shelling and sorting beans, weeding the sorghum patch, tilling the soil, digging sweet potatoes, peeling and ...
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A DANGER TO HERSELF AND OTHERS, a young adult novel by Alyssa Sheinmel, reviewed by Kristie Gadson

A DANGER TO HERSELF AND OTHERS, a young adult novel by Alyssa Sheinmel, reviewed by Kristie Gadson
A Danger to Herself and Others is a wonderful, suspenseful read that does more than just tell a riveting story. The book opens the door to a larger narrative and seeks to cultivate compassion and understanding toward other, real-life stories just like Hannah’s ...
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RE-, poems by Andrea Blancas Beltran, reviewed by Hope Fischbach

RE-, poems by Andrea Blancas Beltran, reviewed by Hope Fischbach
Andrea Blancas Beltran, associate editor of MIEL, experimental poet, and proud fronteriza, made her chapbook debut in July 2018 with the poetry collection Re-. In it, Beltran stitches together a brimming handful of nostalgic recollections, inviting the reader to ponder the role of memory, the eerie beauty of forgotten things, ...
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PANIC YEARS, a novel by Daniel DiFranco, reviewed by Allegra Armstrong

PANIC YEARS, a novel by Daniel DiFranco, reviewed by Allegra Armstrong
Panic Years, Daniel Difranco’s debut novel, is a hyper realistic account of a band on tour. Told from the perspective of laconic Paul, Panic Years follows indie bandmates Paul, Laney, Gooch, Jeff and later Drix across the country’s dive bars and clubs. “I’d joined Qualia because they were a good ...
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NARRATOR, a novel by Bragi Ólafsson, reviewed by Katharine Coldiron

NARRATOR, a novel by Bragi Ólafsson, reviewed by Katharine Coldiron
Narrator is brief and quirky, rich and absurd, metatextual and extremely simple. It’s a walking narrative (in reality, a stalking narrative), which means it depends upon the motion of the narrator in order to go anywhere in particular. However, this book’s range is only within the mind; Aron’s and G.’s ...
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PRETEND WE LIVE HERE, stories by Genevieve Hudson, reviewed by Ashlee Paxton-Turner

PRETEND WE LIVE HERE, stories by Genevieve Hudson, reviewed by Ashlee Paxton-Turner
“College people like getting greens with soil still on the stems. It makes them feel real in a world made mostly of plastic and propane.” This is what the first narrator, a 13-year-old Alabaman girl with a rotten tooth, tells the reader in Genevieve Hudson’s debut collection of short stories, ...
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THE FEMALES by Wolfgang Hilbig reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

THE FEMALES by Wolfgang Hilbig reviewed by Ryan K. Strader
The Females was my first encounter with the late writer Wolfgang Hilbig, who grew up in East Germany and was allowed to move to the West in the mid-80s. He died in 2007 and was buried in Berlin. Isabel Fargo Cole has been translating his work for twenty years now ...
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BITTER ORANGE, a novel by Claire Fuller, reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier

BITTER ORANGE, a novel by Claire Fuller, reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier
Part of the pleasure in following an author, as I have followed Claire Fuller from her first novel to her latest, Bitter Orange, is coming to recognize her voice, even without a title page. Our Endless Numbered Days and Swimming Lessons introduced me to Fuller’s eerie, ironically rendered English countryside ...
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EVERYDAY MADNESS: On Grief, Anger, Loss, and Love, a memoir by Lisa Appignanesi, reviewed by Gabriel Chazan

EVERYDAY MADNESS: On Grief, Anger, Loss, and Love, a memoir by Lisa Appignanesi, reviewed by Gabriel Chazan
Lisa Appignanesi’s latest book comes at a time in which most of us regularly feel beside ourselves in what she describes as an “everyday madness.” She devotes herself to describing this mundane madness, something which could be called trauma but is experienced by almost everyone, in three manifestations ...
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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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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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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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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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