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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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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BITTER ORANGE, a novel by Claire Fuller, reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier

BITTER ORANGE, a novel by Claire Fuller, reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier

fiction reviews, reviews /
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 of dark forests and haunted seaside villages, and to her characters held captive by lies. From novel to novel I’ve admired how she uses intelligent but naïve narrators to withhold information from the reader, sustaining unnerving suspense while signaling dissonance beneath the well-mannered surface. At this point, I’ll eagerly read ...
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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

nonfiction reviews, reviews /

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

fiction reviews, reviews, translation /
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 average reader. Nearly all the stories are perfectly formed, energetic little spheres—like new tennis balls, popping with their own elasticity the moment they drop out of the canister—and only so many of these spheres can hit a reader between the eyes before she must stop, dazed. The overall impression is ...
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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

poetry reviews, reviews /
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 found in its proficiency to embody the reader, to address them in their own physicality, and move along the level of the cell as well as the sentence ...
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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

fiction reviews, reviews /
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 stories center on the urgent human desire to heal and be healed ...
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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

fiction reviews, reviews, translation /
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 the métro, but of a rainy place where people read Cioran and La Rochefoucauld while, their lips pursed and preoccupied, they sipped coffee with no milk and no sugar.” ...
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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

nonfiction reviews, reviews /
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 detail and some implausibly long passages of remembered dialogue, she presents herself as the sole reliable narrator of her life in California, where she was raised by an abusive, alcoholic father and a mother who failed to protect her (but did “soften Dad’s blows” with inherited money) ...
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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

fiction reviews, reviews, translation /
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 underwater blue. They chat and find that their language is the same. They start to build an intimacy without schedule, running into each other at the bar, sharing meals and drinks, telling simple stories, laughing at their inconsistencies ...
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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

graphic narrative reviews, reviews /
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 suggests, Kaczynski’s own work straddles the line between comics and philosophy; he weaves together reflections on culture and critical theory with memoir and memory ...
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HORSEMEN OF THE SANDS, two novellas by Leonid Yuzefovich, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

HORSEMEN OF THE SANDS, two novellas by Leonid Yuzefovich, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

fiction reviews, reviews, translation /
The translation initiative Read Russia characterizes Leonid Yuzefovich as a writer whose books “gray the lines between faction and fiction,” using historical figures and settings in his work. “Faction” is for artful historians (or for historian artists, perhaps), writers who know how to be suspicious of fictionalizing, but also know that history is never just facts. This description of Yuzefovich makes sense, since he is a historian by training and taught history for many years, but has emerged as an influential contemporary fiction writer in Russia ...
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ELEANOR, OR THE REJECTION OF THE PROGRESS OF LOVE, a novel by Anna Moschovakis, reviewed by John Spurlock

ELEANOR, OR THE REJECTION OF THE PROGRESS OF LOVE, a novel by Anna Moschovakis, reviewed by John Spurlock

fiction reviews, reviews /
Anna Moschovakis’ debut novel Eleanor, or the Rejection of the Progress of Love is a searching and poignant work that deftly positions itself between the unspeakable specificity of personal experience and the disturbing surplus of fungible narratives in our online world. The writing feels brave in both its formal approach and its openness to the potentially divergent conclusions it may suggest ...
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BASIC BLACK WITH PEARLS, a novel by Helen Weinzweig, reviewed by Jodi Monster

BASIC BLACK WITH PEARLS, a novel by Helen Weinzweig, reviewed by Jodi Monster

fiction reviews, reviews /
Lola Montez, the protagonist of Basic Black with Pearls by Helen Weinzweig, is a woman gripped by an obsessive, consuming passion for her married lover, Coenraad. To hear Lola tell it, this mysterious man, who works for an unspecified outfit referred to only as “The Agency,” directs her to their assignations by means of a secret code he embeds into the text of National Geographic magazine articles ...
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A ROOM AWAY FROM THE WOLVES, a young adult novel by Nova Ren Suma, reviewed by Rachel Hertzberg 

A ROOM AWAY FROM THE WOLVES, a young adult novel by Nova Ren Suma, reviewed by Rachel Hertzberg 

The title of Nova Ren Suma’s gripping new book, A Room Away from the Wolves, refers to its central location, but also to an unobtainable promise: a place where a girl can go to be truly safe. This novel resists easy categorizations. Not just a ghost story, not just a coming-of-age story, A Room Away from the Wolves will leave readers questioning the notion of safety in a world where the most dangerous enemy is one’s own past—and double-checking dark corners of the bedroom before going to sleep ...
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THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO,  a novel by Carlo Collodi, reviewed by Beth Kephart

THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO, a novel by Carlo Collodi, reviewed by Beth Kephart

If Disney’s Pinocchio is an affable, pliable ingénue who was reconfigured, according to the lore, to look more like a boy than a puppet, Collodi’s is an anti-hero—a wooden thing with barely any ears who mostly can’t see beyond his own nose, no matter its current proportion. He is persistent, insistent, impossible, exasperating, willfully obtuse, a regular screw-up. You don’t have to stretch to note the parallels that dominate our news cycle. Donald J. Trump was prefigured more than 130 years ago. He was augured by a satirist who was most supremely skilled in imagining poor, and poorly curbed, behavior ...
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LIFE DURING WARTIME, a novel by Katie Rogin, reviewed by Isabelle Mongeau

LIFE DURING WARTIME, a novel by Katie Rogin, reviewed by Isabelle Mongeau

fiction reviews, reviews /

Katie Rogin’s debut novel, Life During Wartime, presents the struggle that soldiers, and their families, face adjusting back to civilian life. The story begins when 21-year-old Nina Wicklow, home from duty in Iraq, goes missing in a small town outside of Los Angeles.

...
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Mina cover art. A cat is pictured screaming against a black background

MINA, a novel by Kim Sagwa, reviewed by Kelly Doyle

A new novel, Mina, written by Kim Sagwa and translated from Korean by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton, attempts to chronical adolescences, a transformative time of life, but in the context of a world that does not condone individuality, experimentation, or choice. Through unconventional characters, a high-pressure setting, and an unapologetic directness that is both off-putting and enthralling, Kim creates an entirely different kind of teenage drama. By placing three emotional, confused young people in a world of restraint and hidden suffering, she ignites an explosion of a story that is entirely new. It does not have the charming humor of ...
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COMEMADRE, a novel by Roque Larraquy, reviewed by Justin Goodman

COMEMADRE, a novel by Roque Larraquy, reviewed by Justin Goodman

There is a plant “whose sap produces […] microscopic animal larvae” that can consume rats “from the inside out.” It can only be found on “Thompson Island, a small landmass in Tierra Del Fuego,” within Argentinian screenwriter Roque Larraquy’s debut novel Comemadre—the name of this plant of spontaneous generation. Translated in the novel as “motherseeker or mothersicken,” this fictitious plant and its larvae symbolize the dual powers of violence to create and destroy. First as crime, then as art ...
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DEEP CAMOUFLAGE, poems by Amy Saul-Zerby, reviewed by Mike Corrao

DEEP CAMOUFLAGE, poems by Amy Saul-Zerby, reviewed by Mike Corrao

poetry reviews, reviews /
Amy Saul-Zerby’s new collection, Deep Camouflage is the manifestation of heartbreak. It is the fables that spawn from moments of empathy and melancholy. It is the conversation that a poet has with their reader. More than most poetry collections, Saul-Zerby’s is a sequence that asks to be read all at once ...
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LOVE, HATE and OTHER FILTERS, a young adult novel by Samira Ahmed, reviewed by Leticia Urieta

LOVE, HATE and OTHER FILTERS, a young adult novel by Samira Ahmed, reviewed by Leticia Urieta

Maya Aziz sees her world through a camera lens. “One thing I’ve learned,” she says, “People love a camera, and when I’m filming, they see it, not me, so whenever I need to, I can disappear behind my trusty shield.” She is often the observer, experiencing her life on the outside looking in. As the novel opens, Maya is at a crossroads: she has been accepted to NYU’s prestigious filmmaking program, but her traditional Indian Muslim parents want her to go to school in Chicago, within reach of their influence and protection ...
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KATALIN STREET, a novel by Magda Szabó, reviewed by William Morris

KATALIN STREET, a novel by Magda Szabó, reviewed by William Morris

Four children play together in a quiet neighborhood. The children are Henriette Held, the young daughter of a Jewish dentist; the Elekes sisters, Irén and Blanka; and Bálint Temes, the handsome son of the Major. Their game is Cherry Tree, in which they all sing and spin in circles, and one of the children “chooses” another, the one they love. In this innocent game, the girls invariably choose Bálint, and each girl develops her own particular feelings for the boy; when it is his turn to choose, though, Bálint always prefers Irén, the oldest and most serious of the three ...
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NEVER ANYONE BUT YOU, a novel by Rupert Thomson, reviewed by Melanie Erspamer

NEVER ANYONE BUT YOU, a novel by Rupert Thomson, reviewed by Melanie Erspamer

fiction reviews, reviews /
With quiet skill and rich description, Rupert Thomson strings the lives of two eclectic lovers through the tumultuous history of Paris and the Channel Islands during and between the two World Wars ...
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CUBIST STATES OF MIND/NOT THE CRUELEST MONTH, poems by Marc Jampole, reviewed by Alessio Franko

CUBIST STATES OF MIND/NOT THE CRUELEST MONTH, poems by Marc Jampole, reviewed by Alessio Franko

poetry reviews, reviews /
Whereas his previous book references artists, movements, historical figures, and myths, Jampole has made the bold choice here to work from two overarching cultural touchstones. Rather than searching for the vocabulary it shares with the reader, Cubist States of Mind/Not the Cruelest Month undertakes the creation of a new such vocabulary altogether. The result is two series of poems that sit on the edge between the particular and the universal, the everyday and the extraordinary, the true and the beautiful ...
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THEY WERE BEARS, poems by Sarah Marcus, reviewed by Nathan O. Ferguson

THEY WERE BEARS, poems by Sarah Marcus, reviewed by Nathan O. Ferguson

poetry reviews, reviews /
The poems in Sarah Marcus’ book, They Were Bears follow a young woman, the speaker of most of the poems, who pursues discovery and sensation in the remote corners of the American wilderness. The narrative shapes this wilderness into a wide-open expanse characterized by uncertainty, wonder, and menace. The backdrop also shifts from unpeopled natural settings to the speaker’s agricultural childhood home and to the industrial sprawl of Cleveland. The book’s three untitled segments each alternate between lyric poems and prose poems, and all use bears and other animals as central to their imagery and symbolism. Poems in the book ...
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GASLIGHT: Lantern Slides from the Nineteenth Century, essays by Joachim Kalka, reviewed by Katharine Coldiron

GASLIGHT: Lantern Slides from the Nineteenth Century, essays by Joachim Kalka, reviewed by Katharine Coldiron

With a title and subtitle like Gaslight: Lantern Slides from the Nineteenth Century, the reader will be forgiven for thinking Joachim Kalka’s book is a collection of visual art. It is not. Though it does contain a handful of visual descriptions, it bears not one illustration, woodcut, or photograph. No lantern slides, and no visual depictions of gaslight. What it has instead are words, many of them, artfully arranged. Kalka’s words, assembled into eleven essays and a preface, are densely packed and remarkably pointed. Although his purpose is to glance back at the nineteenth century, not to historicize it, or ...
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AARDVARK TO AXOLOTL, essays by Karen Donovan and TALES FROM WEBSTER’S, essays by John Shea, reviewed by Michelle E. Crouch

AARDVARK TO AXOLOTL, essays by Karen Donovan and TALES FROM WEBSTER’S, essays by John Shea, reviewed by Michelle E. Crouch

nonfiction reviews, reviews /
Karen Donovan’s Aardvark to Axolotl and John Shea’s Tales from Webster engage with this paradox via the dictionary, that great alphabetizer of language. The dictionary is the reference-book-of-all-reference-books. It is writing broken down to its most basic components, as a color wheel separates out the most basic tools of the painter. It also makes for dry reading. As far as plots go, it’s lackluster ...
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DIFFICULT WOMEN, a memoir by David Plante, reviewed by Susan Sheu

DIFFICULT WOMEN, a memoir by David Plante, reviewed by Susan Sheu

nonfiction reviews, reviews /
Acclaimed writer David Plante’s book, published originally in 1983, is an account of his friendships with three women central to the artistic and intellectual world of the 1970s. It is a rare act of memoir writing to describe oneself as the shadowy sidekick to other, presumably greater and more interesting characters. In nonfiction writing classes, this point of view would be discouraged ...
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IVORY PEARL, a novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

IVORY PEARL, a novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

Ivory Pearl is Jean-Patrick Manchette’s final and unfinished novel, now available in an English translation by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Manchette was known during his lifetime for his 1970s crime novels, noir that gained popular movie adaptations and made him a standard among French crime writers. This translation features endnotes on how Manchette envisioned the novel ending, and an introduction written by Manchette’s son, Doug Headline, which is as affectionate as it is informative ...
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TART HONEY, poems by Deborah Burnham, reviewed by Claire Oleson

TART HONEY, poems by Deborah Burnham, reviewed by Claire Oleson

poetry reviews, reviews /
Divided into four sections, Deborah Burnham’s poetry collection Tart Honey seems cut into citrus slices— edible, organic, and aware of some lost and bodily whole it re-composes in the formation of its parts. The poems feature modern relationships with too much absence, a dissolving picture of Apollo 13 soon taken over by a persona attempting to collect her body into experiencing her partner, and paintings with colors that spill into cells, among other simultaneously harmonizing and divisive images ...
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THE JUNIPER TREE, a novel by Barbara Comyns, reviewed by Allegra Armstrong

THE JUNIPER TREE, a novel by Barbara Comyns, reviewed by Allegra Armstrong

fiction reviews, reviews /
The Juniper Tree is a mid-twentieth-century retelling of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale of the same name, though Barbara Comyns has made the story all her own. Originally published in 1985, The Juniper Tree tells the story of Bella Winter, the unwed mother of a biracial daughter, through her quest to live life on her own terms in a world where she is patently disapproved of for being who she is ...
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THE KREMLIN BALL, a novel by Curzio Malaparte, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

THE KREMLIN BALL, a novel by Curzio Malaparte, reviewed by Ryan K. Strader

In his introductory comments for The Kremlin Ball, Curzio Malaparte claims that his novel is “a faithful portrait of the USSR’s Marxist nobility.” Such a thing should be anachronistic: a Marxist nobility? A communist high society? But that is exactly what Malaparte, as the novel’s narrator, is describing ...
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Two Poetry Chapbooks from Doublecross Press reviewed by Rachael Guynn Wilson

Two Poetry Chapbooks from Doublecross Press reviewed by Rachael Guynn Wilson

poetry reviews, reviews /
Headlands Quadrats and It’s No Good Everything’s Bad speak to anyone who appreciates poetry, and lovingly handcrafted poetry chapbooks. Both works strike a delicate balance between lyric and narrative modes—the former leaning further into lyric and the latter into prose narrative. Headlands Quadrats will be especially notable to those with an abiding interest in ecopoetics, and It’s No Good Everything’s Bad to those drawn to feminist poetics, Marxism, and humor ...
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TRICK by Domenico Starnone, translated from the Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri, reviewed by Jeanne Bonner

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

fiction reviews, reviews, translation /
The work of literary translators can be viewed as vital, especially given the forces of nationalism today, so it is no small matter that someone of Lahiri’s caliber has joined the ranks. For Starnone and his readers, it means his novel Trick arrives in English in mesmerizing form ...
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PLAYING CATCH WITH STRANGERS, essays by Bob Brody, reviewed by Colleen Davis

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

nonfiction reviews, reviews /
Playing Catch with Strangers consists of a long series of short essays. Most were written for print or online publications and not originally intended as book chapters. They are clean, straightforward, and easy to read. They are also salutary—in the sense of promoting better mental health and positive emotions. Brody reminds us of the many gifts that life offers to those who pay it close attention ...
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