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

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 ...
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PLAYING CATCH WITH STRANGERS, essays by Bob Brody, reviewed by Colleen Davis

PLAYING CATCH WITH STRANGERS, essays by Bob Brody, reviewed by Colleen Davis
Playing Catch with Strangers consists of a long series of short essays. Most were written for print or online publications and not originally intended as book chapters. They are clean, straightforward, and easy to read. They are also salutary—in the sense of promoting better mental health and positive emotions. Brody ...
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THE RADICAL ELEMENT: 12 Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes, and Other Dauntless Girls, edited by Jessica Spotswood, reviewed by Maureen Sullivan

THE RADICAL ELEMENT: 12 Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes, and Other Dauntless Girls, edited by Jessica Spotswood, reviewed by Maureen Sullivan
The Radical Element: 12 Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes, and Other Dauntless Girls is an anthology of feminist fiction, celebrating what editor Jessica Spotswood calls in her introduction the “quiet badassery” of young heroines taking charge of their own identities. This collection is a follow-up to A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 ...
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ADUA, a novel by Igiaba Scego, reviewed by Jodi Monster

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 ...
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BAD JOBS AND POOR DECISIONS Dispatches from the Working Class, a memoir by J.R. Helton, reviewed by Robert Sorrell

BAD JOBS AND POOR DECISIONS Dispatches from the Working Class, a memoir by J.R. Helton, reviewed by Robert Sorrell
The jacket of J.R. Helton’s memoir, Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions: Dispatches from the Working Class, shows an assortment of loose black-and-white sketches: a marijuana leaf, a packet of cigarettes, a typewriter, crumpled beer cans, lines of (presumably) cocaine, a gun, a cockroach. Among them, figures emerge: A man’s face ...
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THE PRICE GUIDE TO THE OCCULT, a young adult novel by Leslye Walton, reviewed by Brandon Stanwyck

THE PRICE GUIDE TO THE OCCULT, a young adult novel by Leslye Walton, reviewed by Brandon Stanwyck
For a novel about witches, magic, and family curses, Leslye Walton’s The Price Guide to the Occult has a lot to say about humanity. More than a century ago, a witch named Rona Blackburn landed on Anathema Island, where she was met with fear and vexation from the island’s founding ...
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PLAYING WITH DYNAMITE, a memoir by Sharon Harrigan, reviewed by Brian Burmeister

PLAYING WITH DYNAMITE, a memoir by Sharon Harrigan, reviewed by Brian Burmeister
Who we are is a complicated thing. Interactions influence perceptions, and perceptions influence memories. Having lost her father in a tragic accident when she was only seven, author Sharon Harrigan attempts to unravel the mystery of the man her father was in the powerful new memoir Playing with Dynamite. “I ...
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TOMB SONG, a novel by Julián Herbert, reviewed by Katharine Coldiron

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 ...
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SOMEDAY, SOMEWHERE, a young adult novel by Lindsay Champion, reviewed by Elaina Whitesell

SOMEDAY, SOMEWHERE, a young adult novel by Lindsay Champion, reviewed by Elaina Whitesell
Dominique, or Dom, seems to have nothing. She lives in Trenton, New Jersey with her single mother and helps run their Laundromat. When Dom and her best friend Cass embark on a field trip to New York City to see the students of the Brighton Conservatory perform at Carnegie Hall, ...
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NOTHING and DOTING, two novels by Henry Green, reviewed by Melanie Erspamer

NOTHING and DOTING, two novels by Henry Green, reviewed by Melanie Erspamer
Henry Green is the pen name of English writer Henry Vincent Yorke, a well-educated man from a wealthy business family who wrote novels from 1926 to 1952, when Doting, his last work, was published. His works are considered important contributions to modernist literature, and he was well-respected by several authors ...
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NEST IN THE BONES: STORIES by Antonio Di Benedetto reviewed by Eric Andrew Newman

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

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

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 ...
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[m]otherhood, stories by Anna Lea Jancewicz, reviewed by KC Mead-Brewer

[m]otherhood, stories by Anna Lea Jancewicz, reviewed by KC Mead-Brewer
Anna Lea Jancewicz built up her editorial chops on magical flash fiction and fairytale non-fiction journals, like Cease, Cows and Tiny Donkey, before becoming Editor-in-Chief of Rabble Lit, a magazine dedicated to working-class literature. Some might consider this a strange artistic road, but it makes sense. Using the magic in ...
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Buckskin Cocaine, stories by Erika T. Wurth, reviewed by Jordan A. Rothacker

Buckskin Cocaine, stories by Erika T. Wurth, reviewed by Jordan A. Rothacker
Sometimes we read fiction to escape, to experience the art of writing, or to lose ourselves in plot. Non-fiction is often imagined the territory of learning, absorbing direct information on a topic. We often forget that fiction still has this power, to take you somewhere real you’ve never been, to ...
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BIRTH OF A NEW EARTH: The Radical Politics of Environmentalism, a manifesto by Adrian Parr, reviewed by Robert Sorrell

BIRTH OF A NEW EARTH: The Radical Politics of Environmentalism, a manifesto by Adrian Parr, reviewed by Robert Sorrell
When will we stop imaging climate change in the future and how can we reorient ourselves to this reality? Adrian Parr’s new academic work on climate change, Birth of a New Earth, attempts to answer this question by tapping into the recent trend of considering the positive, some might even ...
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TIME OF GRATITUDE, essays and poems by Gennady Aygi, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

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

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 ...
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AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE, a novel by Tayari Jones, reviewed by Brandon Stanwyck

AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE, a novel by Tayari Jones, reviewed by Brandon Stanwyck
Do Roy and Celestial have an ordinary American marriage? The title of Tayari Jones’ fourth novel implies that perhaps they do in fact have a quintessential American life, and in many ways they do… ...
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MIRROR, SHOULDER, SIGNAL, a novel by Dorthe Nors, reviewed by Brendan McCourt

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 ...
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BLACK GENEALOGY, poems by Kiki Petrosino, reviewed by Claire Oleson

BLACK GENEALOGY, poems  by Kiki Petrosino, reviewed by Claire Oleson
Situated between a national and a personal history, Kiki Petrosino’s poetry book Black Genealogy sifts through the past in search of lost identity, language, bodies, and self-possession amidst the legacy of the Civil War and slavery in America. The book details an exploration of both a familial and a larger ...
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HER BODIES AND OTHER PARTIES, stories by Carmen Maria Machado, reviewed by Rosie Huf

HER BODIES AND OTHER PARTIES, stories by Carmen Maria Machado, reviewed by Rosie Huf
For those of us still traumatized by the 2016 Presidential election, the debut novel Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado, is the emotional and intellectual release for which we have been waiting. It is electric with the #Resist spirit. It underscores the importance of the #MeToo movement ...
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SCHLUMP, a novel by Hans Herbert Grimm, reviewed by Kelly Doyle

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 ...
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LIGHT INTO BODIES, poems by Nancy Chen Long, reviewed by Trish Hopkinson

LIGHT INTO BODIES, poems by Nancy Chen Long, reviewed by Trish Hopkinson
The poetry of Light into Bodies begins and ends with a theme of identity while its pages flutter with the imagery of egrets, pigeons, swans, and starlings. Nancy Chen Long presents the complexity of exploring identity from multiple perspectives—from the viewpoint of a mathematician, from a child whose mother repeatedly ...
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COLLUSION: SECRET MEETINGS, DIRTY MONEY, AND HOW RUSSIA HELPED DONALD TRUMP WIN, nonfiction by Luke Harding, reviewed by Susan Sheu

COLLUSION: SECRET MEETINGS, DIRTY MONEY, AND HOW RUSSIA HELPED DONALD TRUMP WIN, nonfiction by Luke Harding, reviewed by Susan Sheu
Reading Harding’s new book Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win, published in mid-November by Vintage Books, gives the sense that we are living in a John Le Carre novel where we are not certain that the West won the Cold War or that the ...
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THE SCIENCE OF UNVANISHING OBJECTS, poems by Chloe N. Clark, reviewed by Brandon Stanwyck

THE SCIENCE OF UNVANISHING OBJECTS, poems by Chloe N. Clark, reviewed by Brandon Stanwyck
Completely mundane happenings take on significant meaning in Chloe N. Clark’s The Science of Unvanishing Objects. Everyday things like butterflies, telephones, and mirrors assume a role beyond their normal functions. Likewise, ordinary events such as conversations between strangers and seeing a lover naked for the first time become catalysts for ...
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A WORKING WOMAN, a novel by Elvira Navarro, reviewed by Melanie Erspamer

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

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

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 ...
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