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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MAX HAVELAAR: OR, THE COFFEE AUCTIONS OF THE DUTCH TRADING COMPAN, a novel by Multatuli, reviewed by Dylan Cook

Cover art for Max Havelaar
Max Havelaar is likely an unfamiliar title to most American readers, and the Netherlands in general is an often overlooked source of literature. But make no mistake: the world over holds Max Havelaar in high regard. I recently had the chance to talk to a born-and-raised Dutchman, and I asked ...
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PASSING FOR HUMAN: A GRAPHIC MEMOIR by Liana Finck reviewed by Alexandra Kanovsky

Passing for Human cover art
Liana Finck wants to be seen. In creating Passing for Human, a graphic memoir and her second full-length work, she constructs her life story as Leola, and in doing so fantastically reimagines her youth and early adulthood in a quest to be seen and heard—by peers, by readers, and by ...
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I AND YOU, stories by J. David Stevens, reviewed by David Amadio

Cover art for I and You
Many of the characters in J. David Stevens’s four-story collection I and You are Chinese immigrants; the author himself is not. In the book’s introduction, Stevens confides that he might never have written about these characters if not for the relationship with his wife Janet, whose ancestors left China in ...
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YOUR STRANGE FORTUNE, poems by Chloe N. Clark, reviewed by K.C. Mead-Brewer

Jacket Cover for Your Strange Fortune
I first encountered Chloe N. Clark through her prose, but even then, it was clear to me that she was a poet. Her work often feels multimodal in form, something that shines as a written text but that also seems eager to be performed aloud. Her debut collection Your Strange ...
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THE BOOK OF X, a novel by Sarah Rose Etter, reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier

Jacket cover for The Book of X
“I was born a knot like my mother and her mother before her,” Sarah Rose Etter’s debut novel begins, drawing readers into Cassie’s life story, The Book of X. “Picture three women with their torsos twisted like thick pieces of rope with a single hitch in the center.” ...
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GREEN TARGET, poems by Tina Barr, reviewed by Jeff Klebauskas 

Jacket cover for GREEN TARGET
In her latest work, Green Target, Tina Barr prods at the simultaneously tumultuous and cooperative relationship between humanity and nature, writing from her cabin in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Barr blends the intimate details of personal existence with the macrocosmic scope of collective human experience, cleverly balancing comfort and misery ...
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99 NAMES OF EXILE, poems by Kaveh Bassiri, reviewed by Claire Oleson

Jacket cover 99 Names of Exile
99 Names of Exile begins in landscape. In the absence of the body of a deceased loved one, the book’s first poem “Invention of Country” searches for  a buried “uniform/ in a chest camouflaged as a scarab, its wings latched.” The poem goes on to ruminate on memories and details ...
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BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ, a novel by Alfred Döblin, reviewed by Tyson Duffy

jacket cover for Berlin Alexanderplatz
A thought experiment: imagine that back during the peak prosperity years of the Obama Administration, with optimism at a high and unemployment dropping, that the good Dr. Oliver Sacks had unexpectedly published a despairing novel featuring a one-armed murdering pimp with white-supremacist leanings named Frank Beaverbrains. This dull petty criminal ...
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THE REAL SKY, a mixed-genre chapbook by Valerie Fox & Jacklynn Niemiec, reviewed by Kendra Jean Aquino

The Real Sky Book Jacket
Within the first few pages of The Real Sky by Valerie Fox and Jacklynn Niemiec we meet a theatrical tour guide in a haunted town, a man named Andrew who might turn into someone else at the end of the day, and a mother, covered in plaster, who walks into ...
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WORTHY OF LOVE, a young adult novel by Andre Fenton, reviewed by Kristie Gadson

Worthy of love book jacket
Andre Fenton’s heartful debut novel Worthy of Love follows Adrian as he struggles not only with his weight, but with his own sense of self-worth. Candid, earnest, and full of emotion, Fenton gives us a unique yet personal story about one journey toward self-love ...
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Pressure Dressing, poems by Mark Scroggins, reviewed by Johnny Payne

PRESSURE DRESSING book jacket
It is a pleasure when a poet weds mind and heart in equal measure. Poets who tend toward innovation are often peremptorily classified by critics and readers as cerebral, the commenter overemphasizing surface play and failing to perceive—much less value—the emotional qualities they bring to their work. Thus ersatz schools ...
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THE FIRE LIT & NEARING, poems by J.G. McClure, reviewed by Kristen Sawyer

The Fire Lit & Nearing Book Jacket
J.G. McClure’s long-awaited first collection of poetry, The Fire Lit & Nearing meditates on the loss of romantic love and walks through darkness for an answer. McClure refuses, and simultaneously attempts, to mend himself on these pages ...
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FAREWELL, AYLIS: A NON-TRADITIONAL NOVEL IN THREE WORKS by Akram Aylisl, translated by Katherine E. Young, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

FAREWELL, AYLIS: A NON-TRADITIONAL NOVEL IN THREE WORKS by Akram Aylisl, translated by Katherine E. Young, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader
We don’t often read literature from Azerbaijan, for many reasons. It’s a small post-Soviet country that is hard to find on the map, with a Turkic language that makes finding translators difficult, and a government that still censors its writers Soviet-style. We don’t generally stroll down the aisle at a ...
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OPTIC NERVE, a novel by Maria Gainza, translated by Thomas Bunstead, reviewed by Justin Goodman

OPTIC NERVE, a novel by Maria Gainza, translated by Thomas Bunstead, reviewed by Justin Goodman
Written from the perspective of an unnamed Argentinian art critic, Optic Nerve flits from her present to her childhood memories, to her culture’s memories, in order to develop a lineage between self and cultural artifacts, become an optic nerve transmitting information from the external to the internal. The most representative ...
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ALL THE FIERCE TETHERS, essays by Lia Purpura, reviewed by David Grandouiller

ALL THE FIERCE TETHERS, essays by Lia Purpura, reviewed by David Grandouiller
It’s hard to find communion with a living thing in winter. Anyone with a burrow crawls in, wraps their tail around their eyes. The other night, when snow had just started falling, I braved the interstate on my way to another city, to share a friend’s burrow. Some black ice ...
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STARVATION MODE, a chapbook memoir by Elissa Washuta, reviewed by Michelle Crouch

STARVATION MODE, a chapbook memoir by Elissa Washuta, reviewed by Michelle Crouch
Originally released as an E-book by Instant Future in 2015, essayist Elissa Washuta’s Starvation Mode is now reborn in corporeal chapbook form. At 50 pages, it can be read in one sitting, and I recommend this approach for best absorption of its nutrients. Nutrients, numbers, rules—Washuta is constantly searching for ...
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WAYWARD LIVES, BEAUTIFUL EXPERIMENTS: INTIMATE HISTORIES OF SOCIAL UPHEAVAL, nonfiction by Saidiya Hartman, reviewed by Gabriel Chazan

WAYWARD LIVES, BEAUTIFUL EXPERIMENTS: INTIMATE HISTORIES OF SOCIAL UPHEAVAL, nonfiction by Saidiya Hartman, reviewed by Gabriel Chazan
What is a free life? This seemingly simple question is, of course, anything but simple. Theorizing a possibility of a free life with a recognition of the various structural oppressions in society is a challenge brought to vivid life in Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments by Saidiya Hartman ...
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ECHO NORTH, a young adult novel by Joanna Ruth Meyer, reviewed by Rachel Hertzberg

ECHO NORTH, a young adult novel by Joanna Ruth Meyer, reviewed by Rachel Hertzberg
Joanna Ruth Meyer’s second YA novel, Echo North, opens with a classic fairytale premise: Echo, who was attacked as a small child by a wolf, is scorned by her village because of the brutal scars on her face. When her father remarries, the cruel new stepmother takes every opportunity to ...
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ALL FOR NOTHING, a novel by Walter Kempowski, reviewed by Tyson Duffy

ALL FOR NOTHING, a novel by Walter Kempowski, reviewed by Tyson Duffy
Every self-professed American optimist should read the oeuvre of Walter Kempowski—not that they ever will. The chronicler of brutality was never given a fair shake even by his fellow Germans, and despite strong book sales, by literary award committees. Kempowski had plenty of reasons to be angry—angry at his Nazi ...
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BESOTTED, a novel by Melissa Duclos, reviewed by Lisa Johnson Mitchell

Book cover for Besotted
Melissa Duclos’ debut novel Besotted is a lyrical, urgent love story about two young American women, Sasha and Liz, who run away to China to try to find themselves. Sasha has fled all the trappings of her privileged life, including her father who disapproves of her sexuality. Liz, the object ...
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ROOM FOR GRACE, a memoir by Maureen and Daniel Kenner, reviewed by Colleen Davis

ROOM FOR GRACE, a memoir by Maureen and Daniel Kenner, reviewed by Colleen Davis
Grief is a waiting room with broken blinds. Cracks in the slats reveal some light outside, but since the pulleys won’t move, it’s impossible to know when—or if—the sun will shine on us again. The first time you lose a parent, this room feels strange and its shadows thwart your ...
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ADIÓS TO MY PARENTS, a novel by Héctor Aguilar Camín, reviewed by Kim Livingston

ADIÓS TO MY PARENTS, a novel by Héctor Aguilar Camín, reviewed by Kim Livingston
Adiós To My Parents is a universal family story. Although the setting (Mexico, Belize, Guatemala) is unfamiliar to me—I’ve lived in the Chicago suburbs all of my fifty-one years and, regrettably, have taken only one Spanish class—the people in this book are so richly drawn that I know them instantly ...
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A STAB IN THE DARK, poems by Facundo Bernal, reviewed by Johnny Payne

A STAB IN THE DARK, poems  by Facundo Bernal, reviewed by Johnny Payne
One imagines this first existing as a notebook, non-committal if tending toward provisional completion, then, as Stein might put it, becoming what it became. In his most explosive work, Trilce, César Vallejo’s more formally complex poems are not necessarily more ambitious than those done in prose, in which he tends ...
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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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