Cleaver reviewers present the most exciting literary work from around the globe. We specialize in reviewing books from American independent presses and works in translation.

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The Beauty of Their Youth book jacket

The Beauty of Their Youth: Stories by Joyce Hinnefeld, reviewed by Beth Kephart

fiction reviews, reviews /
There are five Hinnefeld stories, four of them previously published in literary journals, in The Beauty of Their Youth, a release from the Wolfson Press American Storytellers series. One is about the legacy of a “pool of desire.” One is about the accessorizing of a family crime. One is about the tragedy of idle desires, another about an artist and his elastic resume, and another about a mother and daughter on a trip abroad and the reverb of the personal past. The stories take us to Bucks County, PA, inside the pages of a Carson McCullers book, toward Everglades gators ...
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Soujourners of the In-Between Book Jacket

SOJOURNERS OF THE IN-BETWEEN, poems by Gregory Djanikian, reviewed by Beth Kephart

poetry reviews, reviews /
In his new heartbreaking and affirming book of poems, his seventh, Gregory Djanikian writes past complexity toward the elemental and the binding. He unites the “beautiful and the raw,” plays no tricks, displays no tics, exploits nothing but the moment and the thought that accompanies it. He finds the reader wherever the reader is, then webs her into his space and time, a place where a hand run along the back of a cat returns “the animality of my own skin/the trees in slanting light,/ the blue sky breathing its blue/down to the greening fields.” (“What Is a Cat But ...
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HOW TO BUILD A HEART, a young adult novel by Maria Padian, reviewed by Kristie Gadson

HOW TO BUILD A HEART, a young adult novel by Maria Padian, reviewed by Kristie Gadson

reviews, young adult fiction reviews /

HOW TO BUILD A HEART by Maria Padian Algonquin Young Readers, 339 pages reviewed by Kristie Gadson

How To Build a Heart jacket coverIsabella Crawford doesn’t keep secrets, she guards them. Protects them:

People love to talk about themselves, and if you keep directing the conversation and questions back to them, they leave the interaction with the impression you’re the absolute best. Even though you haven’t told them a damn thing.

I’m crazy good at this game. And I’ve had years of practice.

For Izzy, a failure to safeguard a secret means the life she meticulously crafted for herself is in jeopardy. She’d prefer not to ...
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Incidental Inventions book jacket

INCIDENTAL INVENTIONS, short pieces by Elena Ferrante, reviewed by David Grandouiller

Who is the Italian novelist we call Elena Ferrante? Since her first novel’s publication in 1992, she—with the help of her publishers—has carefully maintained the real author’s anonymity. Many readers have treated this guarded privacy as a playful challenge, making theories and guesses, particularly in recent years as Ferrante has become increasingly celebrated. The Italian philologist Marco Santagata, after analyzing her oeuvre, suggested she might be the writer Marcella Marmo (Marmo and her publisher denied this). More controversially, the journalist Claudio Gatti dug up financial records to claim that Anita Raja is the author behind Ferrante—others suggest it may be ...
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Outside Myself book jacket

OUTSIDE MYSELF, a young adult novel by Kristen Witucki, reviewed by Donna W. Hill

OUTSIDE MYSELF by Kristen Witucki Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing, 232 pages reviewed by Donna W. Hill

Outside Myself book jacket Superbly written, Outside Myself by Kristen Witucki gets to the heart of the human experience. Blended and broken families struggle with issues that tear parents and children apart. Trying to do their best, they are fettered by incomplete and often false information. At the center of it all, two very different blind characters, determined to create their own place in the world, grapple with the negativity in their families, communities and themselves. Outside Myself covers roughly fifteen months from May 1994 to August 1995. It is ...
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Sketches of the Criminal World Book Jacket

SKETCHES OF THE CRIMINAL WORLD: FURTHER KOLYMA STORIES by Varlam Shalamov reviewed by Dylan Cook

fiction reviews, reviews /

SKETCHES OF THE CRIMINAL WORLD: FURTHER KOLYMA STORIES by Varlam Shalamov translated by Donald Rayfield New York Review Books, 576 pages 

reviewed by Dylan Cook

Sketches of the Criminal World Book JacketA man gets ready to murder his boss with a pickaxe. A woman is grateful that her newborn twins don’t survive. A doctor refuses to treat new patients, fearing that someone has been sent to kill him. Characters like these populate Varlam Shalamov’s criminal world, the depraved underbelly of society born and bred in the Soviet prison system. Many of the criminal world’s citizens were locked up under vague pretenses of “counterrevolutionary activity,” so why ...
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YEAR BY YEAR: Poems by Lynne Sachs book jacket

YEAR BY YEAR: Poems by Lynne Sachs reviewed by Sharon Harrigan

poetry reviews, reviews /

YEAR BY YEAR: Poems by Lynne Sachs Tender Buttons Press, 64 pages

reviewed by Sharon Harrigan

YEAR BY YEAR: Poems  by Lynne Sachs book jacketWhen Lynne Sachs turned fifty, she asked herself one simple question: How have the private, most intimate moments of her life been affected by the public world beyond? The poems she wrote in response turned into this book. One poem for each year. Sachs is a well-known experimental filmmaker. Year by Year is her first book of poetry, and in many ways it can be appreciated as the logical extension of her career as a visual storyteller. She describes her films as combining “memoir ...
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Barren desert landscape

THE GREATEST LANDSCAPE HE HAD EVER SEEN by César Valdebenito, translated by Toshiya Kamei

Flash, Issue 28, translation /

Barren desert landscape THE GREATEST LANDSCAPE HE HAD EVER SEEN by César Valdebenito translated by Toshiya Kamei

In the summer midday, he was seated on a blanket in his underwear, with his boots on. His horse was five or six meters away while his gaunt dog Toby was asleep. He had turned on the radio and was listening to the news, but twenty minutes later he got bored. About fifty meters away his flock of sheep wandered. Robust, peaceful, and healthy, they kept grazing. He grabbed his rifle, which he had brought back from Pueblo Seco, Mexico a few years earlier. He ...
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The Book of Sarah

THE BOOK OF SARAH, a graphic memoir by Sarah Lightman, reviewed by Emily Steinberg

graphic narrative reviews, reviews /
Sarah Lightman's poignant, engrossing and poetic graphic memoir, The Book of Sarah , leads the reader on an epic odyssey, moving back and forth in time, from the author’s early twenties as an uncertain, dependent, and depressed young artist to a confident forty-five-year-old woman who is finally the architect of her own life ...
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Degrees of Difficulty jacket cover

DEGREES OF DIFFICULTY, a novel by Julie E. Justicz, reviewed by Beth Kephart

fiction reviews, reviews /
I thought a lot about this family as I read Julie Justicz’s novel Degrees of Difficulty. Here the child at the center of the heartbreak is third-born Ben, born with damage to his twenty-first chromosome, an “omission in the blueprint” that has resulted in “the recessed jaw that would lead to feeding issues, the missing kidney due to frequent injections, hospitalizations, IV medications. And later, the seizures: Body-wracking grand mals that daily medications could not control.” ...
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Book Cover Grand Union

GRAND UNION, short stories by Zadie Smith, reviewed by Eliza Browning

fiction reviews, reviews /
Grand Union, a collection of nineteen works of short fiction, represents an exciting addition to her oeuvre. The characters it features—black and white, young and old, male and female, gay and straight, and hailing from both sides of the Atlantic—are as diverse a cast as populate her novels, but their stories veer from the first-person narrative to the nonlinear and surreal to the essayistic ...
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Ruby and Roland Book Jacket

RUBY & ROLAND: A NOVEL by Faith Sullivan, reviewed by Beth Kephart

fiction reviews, reviews /
When Faith Sullivan began writing what has become known as her Harvester books—novels like The Cape Ann and The Empress of One and Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse—she invited readers to join her in a fictional Minnesota landscape, then gave them many reasons to return. Sullivan’s Harvester is a palpable place. Its people are relatable and real. They carry burdens and they engage in kindness. Their bones bend with the hills ...
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jacket art for Buried Alive

BURIED ALIVE: A TO-DO LIST, poems by Carole Bernstein, reviewed by Claire Oleson

poetry reviews, reviews /
From satirizing the mechanics of the American workplace to discovering motherly devotion in the myth of Persephone, Carole Bernstein’s third poetry collection Buried Alive: A To-Do List takes readers through caves and coffins alike, showing what living things still kick inside the previously presumed-dead ...
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Empty Words Book Jacket

EMPTY WORDS, a novel by Mario Levrero, reviewed by Ashlee Paxton-Turner

fiction reviews, reviews, translation /
Organized as a series of handwriting exercises, Empty Words offers a look inside a novelist’s mind as he attempts to improve himself by improving his handwriting. Originally published in 1996 in Spanish, it is Levrero’s first novel translated into English. Annie McDermott, who introduces English language readers to Levrero, has translated other works from Spanish and Portuguese, and her translations have appeared in many places, including Granta, the White Review, Asymptote, Two Lines, and World Literature Today ...
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Cover art for The Way Through the Woods

THE WAY THROUGH THE WOODS: ON MUSHROOMS AND MOURNING, a memoir by Long Litt Woon, reviewed by Beth Kephart

nonfiction reviews, reviews, translation /
I bought Long Litt Woon’s The Way Through the Woods: On Mushrooms and Mourning for the promise embedded in the premise. How would Woon make her way back into the world after the shocking, sudden death of the fifty-four-year-old husband with whom she had spent all her adult years? What do mushrooms have to do with recovering from such a loss? Does anybody ever actually recover? ...
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Art Can Help Book Jacket

ART CAN HELP, essays by Robert Adams, reviewed by Beth Kephart

“[I]f you begin with an idea you’re usually beat before you start,” writes Robert Adams in Art Can Help, as he tries to imagine Edward Ranney photographing the Canyon del Muerto, and, so, here I begin, having been holding this slender silver volume in my hand all afternoon, interrupted only by the sound of a neighbor’s lawn mower and the smell of some ambient spray paint. (A long sentence, a beginning.) ...
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Bloody Seoul jacket art

BLOODY SEOUL, a Young Adult Novel by Sonia Patel, reviewed by Kristie Gadson

To Rocky, the city of Seoul is truly something to behold. Sprawling skyscrapers dare to kiss the sky, thousands of lights rival the sun at night, and millions of people bustle through at any given moment, while the Han River remains a calm force through it all. And it will soon be his to rule, just like his father, the leader of the city’s most notorious gang, Three Star Pa. However, despite Rocky being the sole heir and next in line to become the big boss, his father refuses to turn the gang over to him.

...
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Cover art for Max Havelaar

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

fiction reviews, reviews, translation /
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 him if the title rang any bells. "Of course," he told me. "It's a classic, everyone reads it." Think along the lines of Pride and Prejudice. In his short but poignant introduction to this edition of the novel, Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer makes the bold claim that Max Havelaar ...
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Passing for Human cover art

PASSING FOR HUMAN: A GRAPHIC MEMOIR by Liana Finck reviewed by Alexandra Kanovsky

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 herself ...
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Cover art for I and You

I AND YOU, stories by J. David Stevens, reviewed by David Amadio

fiction reviews, reviews /
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 1899 and later settled in Richmond, Virginia. Reflecting on the source material for his multi-generational narratives, Stevens, whose Mexico is Missing and Other Stories won the 2006 Ohio State University Prize in Short Fiction, admits an apprehension of the age: “[A] part of me still wonders if such stories cross ...
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Jacket Cover for Your Strange Fortune

YOUR STRANGE FORTUNE, poems by Chloe N. Clark, reviewed by K.C. Mead-Brewer

poetry reviews, reviews /
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 Fortune is no different, full of rich and devastating moments, each poem stretching with fresh life on the page or on the air. Some of these poems also function as works of visual art, such as “Flora and Fauna of the Outer Rings,” embodying their meaning in shape as well ...
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Jacket cover for The Book of X

THE BOOK OF X, a novel by Sarah Rose Etter, reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier

fiction reviews, reviews /
“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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Jacket cover for GREEN TARGET

GREEN TARGET, poems by Tina Barr, reviewed by Jeff Klebauskas 

poetry reviews, reviews /
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. Barr’s poetry harmonizes the intersecting lives she details, whether they be animal, botanical, or human. All is seen and accounted for through her kaleidoscopic vision in which events, objects and people are constantly shape-shifting, bleeding into each other, losing their original form, becoming targets for Barr’s eye-opening observations ...
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Jacket cover 99 Names of Exile

99 NAMES OF EXILE, poems by Kaveh Bassiri, reviewed by Claire Oleson

poetry reviews, reviews /
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 the speaker wishes they could conjure in the face of death, but cannot. Perhaps inspired by this loss of detail and still searching for a path to grief and intimacy, the speaker explains “I don’t trust flat surfaces” and “I know the earth is round, and if we continue falling,/ ...
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jacket cover for Berlin Alexanderplatz

BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ, a novel by Alfred Döblin, reviewed by Tyson Duffy

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 wanders Manhattan—or some gentrifying urban center of high culture and national pride—selling tie stands and alt-right newsletters, roughing up prostitutes, shooting up bars, and volunteering for a number of disastrous heists before winding up a diminished nobody, an assistant porter at a small company with less than nothing left to ...
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The Real Sky Book Jacket

THE REAL SKY, a mixed-genre chapbook by Valerie Fox & Jacklynn Niemiec, reviewed by Kendra Jean Aquino

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 a field and never returns. Valerie Fox’s hybrid writing in The Real Sky is unexpected and surreal ...
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Worthy of love book jacket

WORTHY OF LOVE, a young adult novel by Andre Fenton, reviewed by Kristie Gadson

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 book jacket

Pressure Dressing, poems by Mark Scroggins, reviewed by Johnny Payne

poetry reviews, reviews /
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 and confederacies looser than that of Jefferson Davis come into being ...
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The Fire Lit & Nearing Book Jacket

THE FIRE LIT & NEARING, poems by J.G. McClure, reviewed by Kristen Sawyer

poetry reviews, reviews /
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

fiction reviews, reviews, translation /
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 bookstore and discover the “Azeri” section. The only thing harder to find might be Georgian, and I’ll only say “might.” Probably most of us have no idea what novelists in Azerbaijan write about, what kind of social justice concerns they have, or what kind of risks those writers take to ...
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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

fiction reviews, reviews, translation /
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 instance of this transmission takes the form of a historical moment remembered by the narrator: while Señora Alvear, “once upon a time the famous soprano Regina Pacini,” sits at her dinner table beneath a painting by French animal painter Alfred de Dreux, “her eye travels back and forth constantly between ...
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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

nonfiction reviews, reviews /
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 spun me around, and I slid off the road, stopped in the median, my tread marks looping back through the new snow like a confused shadow. I’m fine, thanks. I didn’t turn around, kept driving, couldn’t bear missing a chance not to be alone. The car’s fine, too, just brown ...
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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

nonfiction reviews, reviews /
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 a calculus that will solve the problem of what goes into the body: “I would like to return to a time before it got so hard to eat,” she writes in the chapbook’s opening, “but eating has always been the hardest work I’ve ever had to do.” ...
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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

nonfiction reviews, reviews /
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 let Echo know just how ugly and worthless she is ...
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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

fiction reviews, reviews, translation /
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 father whom he betrayed, at what the agonized Sebastian Haffner once called the “moral inadequacy of the German character,” at the literary world for snubbing him, and at every center of power involved in WWII: the Russians, British, Germans, Europe itself. The triumphant Soviets—without whom WWII could not have been ...
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Book cover for Besotted

BESOTTED, a novel by Melissa Duclos, reviewed by Lisa Johnson Mitchell

fiction reviews, reviews /
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 of Sasha’s desire, has packed up and left her predictable existence and Amherst-educated boyfriend, having grown tired of being an afterthought of his otherwise-enchanted life ...
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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

nonfiction reviews, reviews /
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 compass.  Like death itself, you’ve been told that grief brings anguish ...
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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

fiction reviews, translation /
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

poetry reviews, reviews /
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 to offer greater immediate clarity, yet equal force. In fact, some of these explorations are more heightened and exploratory than the often-sentimental and casually conventional Human Poems. ...
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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

nonfiction reviews, reviews /
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 New York Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow, to people like David Frum, former speechwriter for George W. Bush, who is still reviled by many on the left for his role promoting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars ...
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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 … maybe this is, in fact, the only literature possible today.” The sentence came in the last hundred pages of The Story of a New Name, the second book in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. And while the “today” referenced above was Italy in the 1960s, the description was oddly reminiscent of ...
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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 off to Hades. Levan is a specialist in Greek literature, so he doesn’t talk of “dying.” He refers to “my departure to Hades.” ...
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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

fiction reviews, reviews, translation /
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 cooking bananas…), my mother would pause and call out to us.” Much of the book proceeds from this image: we learn the details of her mother’s life and rituals through her endless work and we learn the kinds of things passed down from a Tutsi mother to her daughter—one of ...
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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

fiction reviews, reviews /
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, and depth of emotion that can be found in everyday life ...
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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

fiction reviews, reviews /
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 band with a shit-ton of underground buzz,” Paul muses on page five, setting the band’s intention for the rest of the tour: build Qualia’s indie fame to a record deal, or some serious label recognition. ...
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NARRATOR, a novel by Bragi Ólafsson, reviewed by Katharine Coldiron

NARRATOR, a novel by Bragi Ólafsson, reviewed by Katharine Coldiron

fiction reviews, reviews, translation /
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 movements throughout Reykjavik are completely uninteresting, encompassing mostly pubs and shops of little consequence. But G.’s thoughts circle neurotically around his family, his failures, and Aron’s ex-girlfriend, Sara, for whom G. pined. In this way, and others, the vertical dimensions of the book are much more compelling than its movements ...
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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

fiction reviews, reviews /
“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, Pretend We Live Here. This type of humor and keen observation peppers the entire collection of fifteen 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

fiction reviews, reviews, translation /
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. She started working to gain Hilbig an English-speaking audience before his death, and The Females, from Two Lines Press, is her sixth Hilbig work. ...
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