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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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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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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