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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Clotel book jacket

CLOTEL OR THE PRESIDENT’S DAUGHTER, a novel by William Wells Brown, written in 1853, reviewed by Dylan Cook

fiction reviews, reviews /
In 1998, scientists performed a DNA test to answer one of the longest running rumors in American history. Historians could no longer deny the truth: Yes, Thomas Jefferson had fathered children with his slave Sally Hemings. But plenty of people already knew that. William Wells Brown knew this beyond a reasonable doubt when he published Clotel in 1853, a novel that imagines the lives and tribulations of Jefferson’s slave-born daughters. The characters are all fictional, but Brown’s creative liberties stray little from reality. Masters frequently made concubines of their slaves, so why would Jefferson be any exception? Jefferson’s words that ...
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THE DARK HEART OF EVERY WILD THING, a novel by Joseph Fasano, reviewed by Michael McCarthy

THE DARK HEART OF EVERY WILD THING, a novel by Joseph Fasano, reviewed by Michael McCarthy

fiction reviews, reviews /
In the moral universe of poet Joseph Fasano’s debut novel, The Dark Heart of Every Wild Thing, death lurks in every corner of life. A father, bereaved of his wife, must journey through the teeming forests of British Columbia and hunt a fabled mountain lion, to him the very “mind of the wild.” Three years ago, it mauled his son, the father powerless to save him. Now, as he narrates his monomaniacal fight for survival, the hunt for the mountain lion becomes an obsession, borne of unfathomable grief, to exact revenge on a world that has stolen everything he loved ...
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ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS, a novel by Ocean Vuong, reviewed by Claire Kooyman

ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS, a novel by Ocean Vuong, reviewed by Claire Kooyman

fiction reviews, reviews /
Ocean Vuong’s writing is steeped in memories, the history of which sometimes precedes him chronologically. This was true of his poetry in the collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds, and it is also true of his first novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, recently released by Penguin Press. This novel is a recursive exploration of the path memories take through a family. The narrator’s life is impacted by the traumas his mother and grandmother suffered before he was born. As a very young child, Vuong’s narrator, Little Dog, learns quickly that not all authority figures can be trusted absolutely, and ...
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Cleanness Book Jacket

CLEANNESS, a novel by Garth Greenwell, reviewed by Nikki Caffier Smith 

fiction reviews, reviews /
At its heart, Cleanness is a novel about duality: the duality of spirit, of desire, of self-perception. How one can be “dirty” and “clean” at the same time. With deft and expressive writing, Greenwell questions our understanding of these concepts. What does it mean to be dirty? What does it mean to be clean? To go outside or stay in. To stay in or go outside. Perhaps they are just two facets of the same thing ...
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Cover art for What I Carry

WHAT I CARRY, a YA novel by Jennifer Longo, reviewed by Aja Todd

From the very first moment of her existence, Muiriel was born alone. Found abandoned at a medical center with no parents to claim her, Muiriel has lived in foster care her entire life. But blessed with a book of survival by naturalist John Muir and her experience in nearly twenty different foster homes, seventeen-year-old Muiriel knows she will not let her past dictate her future:

Aging out is terrifying.

...
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TO THE BONE, poems by Angela Narciso Torres, reviewed by Alina Stefanescu

TO THE BONE, poems by Angela Narciso Torres, reviewed by Alina Stefanescu

poetry reviews, reviews /
To The Bone is a book about the particular sort of remembering that accompanies losing a parent to Alzheimer's. The poet's mother is brought tenuously, haltingly, on the page. A sense of slippage is accomplished through layering, repetitions, and fluctuating temporality to reveal how a disease of memory appears to the mind struggling to find shore in presence ...
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MINOR DETAIL, a novel by Adania Shibli, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette and reviewed by Dylan Cook

MINOR DETAIL, a novel by Adania Shibli, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette and reviewed by Dylan Cook

Tables need at least three legs to stand; guitar strings only ring when taut around two points. Minor Detail, Adania Shibli’s third novel, takes its title as a challenge: how much can hinge upon one moment? How can a single moment of pain bridge the past to the present?  ...
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My Autobiography of Carson McCullers Book Jacket

MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF CARSON MCCULLERS, a memoir by Jenn Shapland, reviewed by Claire Oleson

nonfiction reviews, reviews /
Jenn Shapland’s hybridized memoir and biography straddles what its seemingly-impossible title suggests: an ability to write about oneself by writing about someone else. Far from taking on a myopic or narcissistic project, ​My Autobiography of Carson McCullers i​s eager to talk about the self for the sake of empathy, to revive written-off lives, to question presumed heterosexualities, and to make a bodily connection with now-irrecoverable marginalized bodies ...
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THE ROYAL ABDULS, a novel by Ramiza Shamoun Koya, reviewed by Beth Kephart

THE ROYAL ABDULS, a novel by Ramiza Shamoun Koya, reviewed by Beth Kephart

fiction reviews, reviews /
During the day and a half that I ravenously read Ramiza Shamoun Koya’s debut novel, The Royal Abduls, I asked myself these questions. I leaned into the lives of Koya’s magnificently drawn characters, into the nest of troubles they inadvertently twigged together, into the love they did not know how to express. Or forgot to express. Or ran out of time to express ...
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Square Hunting Book Jacket

SQUARE HAUNTING, nonfiction by Francesca Wade, reviewed by Gabriel Chazan

nonfiction reviews, reviews /
In a short piece of writing on “London Under Siege,” written during World War II, Virginia Woolf wrote that “everybody is feeling the same thing: therefore no one is feeling anything in particular. The individual is merged in the mob.” Reading these words now, as we live through a different collective social crisis, I am reminded of the significance of individual intellectual and emotional life as a key form of sustenance and even political action ...
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POLITICS IS FOR POWER, nonfiction by Eitan Hersh, reviewed by Brian Colker

POLITICS IS FOR POWER, nonfiction by Eitan Hersh, reviewed by Brian Colker

nonfiction reviews, reviews /
On a recent Sunday under quarantine, my spouse Susan Sheu and I donned costume wigs for our Zoom meeting. Twelve volunteers from the Los Angeles area sat at our respective kitchen tables, couches, and easy chairs and wrote postcards for California 38th District assembly member Christy Smith, who is running for Congress via a special election on May 12. Susan came up with the concept “wigging out for Democracy”; she thought that wearing wigs would be a festive and interesting way to make the Zoom meeting less tedious. It worked well: despite the quarantine and general malaise, wearing the wigs ...
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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

Purchase this book to benefit Cleaver Isabella 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 ...
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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

Purchase this book to benefit Cleaver 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 ...
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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

Purchase this book to benefit Cleaver A 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 ...
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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

Purchase this book to benefit Cleaver When 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 ...
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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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