Book Reviews

Wolfgang Hilbig’s “The Sleep of the Righteous”

In prose that flashes like black fire, a seething hush gathering in pockets of remarkable beauty, Hilbig circles a renewal that outstrips both the ravages of history and the ruins of the present. That regeneration, he seems to suggest, belongs to literature.

Evald Flisar’s “My Father’s Dreams”

My Father's Dreams is considered by many critics to be Flisar's best novel.

Liu Xia’s “Empty Chairs”

Liu’s collection resides in a place of isolation, a place brimming with shadows, specters, and half-issued words.

Andrus Kivirähk’s “The Man Who Spoke Snakish”

Andrus Kivirähk’s The Man Who Spoke Snakish interrogates not only the literary logic of the allegorical mode but also the relationship we have—as individuals and as readers—to the dueling lures of tradition and change.

Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s “Tram 83”

Mujila has given a curious twist to a timeworn genre: Tram 83 is a picaresque novel in stasis, its hero waylaid by adventures he is constantly hoping to avoid. The language ranges from slangy to poignant, with philosophical asides and frequent pastiches of received ideas of Africa in the west.

Valeria Luiselli’s “The Story of My Teeth”

Stendhal said that a novel is a mirror carried along a highway. The Story of My Teeth is a mirror carried by a Highway Sánchez Sánchez: a coded yet gleeful journey through Mexico City, rich with details, offering . . . “a fissure in the relationship between style and reality.”

Clarice Lispector’s “Complete Stories”: Knowing the Unknowable Clarice

When I first read Lispector in the 1980s, I fell deeply, inexplicably in love. I wanted to know her work inside and out; I wanted to know everything about her. I read all I could find, which was not much and mostly in French translation . . .

Mia Couto’s “Pensativities: Essays and Provocations”

Throughout these pieces, Couto moves gracefully and eloquently from stories to lessons and questions. He speaks to a variety of audiences, and engages readers who may know little of Mozambique’s past and present, but who emerge from the collection with an interest in Mozambique’s future.

Andreï Makine’s “A Woman Loved”

Andreï Makine’s A Woman Loved is an exploration of limitations: the limits of our capacity to fully understand another person’s inner life, the limits of art to faithfully portray it, and how we compensate for these constraints by creating narratives.

Mario Benedetti’s “The Truce: The Diary of Martín Santomé”

This month, Penguin Classics will publish Uruguayan author Mario Benedetti’s La Tregua as The Truce: The Diary of Martín Santomé—fifty-five years after the novel was originally published in Spanish. Written as a journal, it is the poignant tale of widower Martín Santomé’s affection for his young co-worker.

Sergio Pitol’s “The Journey”

In order to enjoy The Journey, the second volume of revered Mexican author Sergio Pitol’s idiosyncratic autobiographical trilogy, the reader must abandon expectations: of genre, of structure, of distinctions between the aesthetic “truth” of dreams and fiction, and truth in the sense of literal accuracy.

Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi’s “Mirages of the Mind”

Written in 1990, Yousufi’s Mirages of the Mind describes with acuity the changed ambience of India after the Partition, We, twenty-five years later, know that Yousufi’s understanding of the Indian situation was nothing but prescient.

Naja Marie Aidt’s “Rock, Paper, Scissors”

Most readers of Baboon will have appreciated the way Aidt composed a series of spiky, cutting scenes, full of damaged yet compelling characters, and in Rock, Paper, Scissors the writer expands these vignettes into an extended car crash of a novel.

Yoss’s “A Planet for Rent”

A Planet for Rent is Yoss’s thinly veiled, scathing critique of 1990s Cuba, using the genre of science fiction to elude censure... Satirizing our fear of subjugation and the other, Yoss’s implementation of aliens very literally confronts contemporary anxieties about immigration and diaspora.

Anne Garréta’s “Sphinx”

Centering her tale on the love and lust of a young couple in the Parisian underworld allows Garréta to train our eyes on the physical beauty of youth, the sensuality of anonymous bodies, and our preconceptions regarding both. The bodies of je and A***, left bare of gender markers, create the need for a new, more vigilant kind of reading that involves a constant undoing of assumptions.

Mikhail Shishkin’s “Calligraphy Lesson”

Shishkin remains skeptical that language itself can cross borders—for example, in translation. For him, the problem lies in the incompatibility between translated texts and their readers.

Alain Mabanckou’s “The Lights of Pointe Noire”

In The Lights of Pointe Noire, Alain Mabanckou attempts to reconnect with his home, his family, and his own sense of place in the world—and his readers are along for the ride.

Göran Rosenberg’s “A Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz”

A Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz—part history, part memoir, part essay on the meaning of survival—insists that the Holocaust didn’t end in 1945. The book challenges the powerful redemptive narrative offered by even official histories

Kamel Daoud’s “The Meursault Investigation”

Kamel Daoud's The Meursault Investigation is a tale told in order to give the anonymous victim in Camus’s The Stranger a name—Musa—and a story of his own.

Enrique Vila-Matas’s “The Illogic of Kassel”

Kassel is a work of chaos. On the surface, this is narrative by association, the aestheticization of the experience of confronting contemporary art, which inevitably includes the turning over of one’s ideas of what is and what isn’t art.

Urs Allemann’s “The Old Man and the Bench”

In following its own strict logic, Allemann’s fine-tuned absurdism evokes Beckett, who would feel equally at home in the old man's house, with its “bottle room” and “paper bag room,” and on his bench.

Yuri Herrera’s “Signs Preceding the End of the World”

It’s a novel of thresholds and permeable borders, but it begins with holes: a sinkhole that forms as the protagonist, Makina, is watching, in a town “riddled with bullet holes and tunnels bored by five centuries of voracious silver lust.” This is an opening scene which fuses the upheavals of nature with human violence and greed, underlining the instability that runs throughout.

Horacio Castellanos Moya’s “The Dream of My Return”

What is impressive about The Dream of My Return is how it manages to have it both ways: to treat the Freudian psyche like the cheap myth it is, but to also show that when push comes to shove, we will rely on it because we need it.

Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s “Urgency and Patience”

Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s novellas astonish in how they allow us into the heads of his unexpectedly fascinating narrators. Appropriately enough, his slender essay collection, Urgency and Patience, take us just as deeply into the mind of this singular author.

Karel Schoeman’s “This Life”

The landscape to be explored is one shaped by nation and culture almost as much as it is by personal experience. This landscape, in Schoeman's novel, is one that crosses back and forth between the borders of the great semi-desert region known as the Karoo, which began to be settled and developed in the late-nineteenth century.

Max Blecher’s “Adventures in Immediate Irreality”

It would appear that to write about Blecher is, in some sense, to write about a broad swath of European modernists in a game of contextual one-upmanship.

Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”

In her remarkable novel The Vegetarian, South Korean writer Han Kang explores the irreconcilable conflict between our two selves: one greedy, primitive; the other accountable to family and society.

Magda Szabó’s “The Door”

The Door continues to be eerily resonant, as Szabó’s consideration of the changing sociopolitical terrain in 1950s–1960s Hungary speaks across borders of time and place.

Regina Ullman’s “The Country Road”

Regina Ullman, the Swiss-born contemporary of Herman Hesse, Thomas Mann, and Rainer Maria Rilke, has finally made her English-language debut with a collection of haunting and beautiful stories.

Ernst Haffner’s “Blood Brothers”

There is a certain pleasure to be found in reading a book that was publicly burned by the Nazis.

Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s “Dirty Dust”

Talk is not only the “principal character in this book,” as Titley writes in his translator’s note, it is the book.

Alejandro Zambra’s “My Documents”

In his nostalgic yet critical gaze, the introduction of home computers in those years becomes a symbol for larger reconfigurations of solitude and companionship.

Park Min-gyu’s “Pavane for a Dead Princess”

Michel Foucault begins Les mots et les choses—his study of how the West has framed and constituted knowledge from the early modern period to the present day—with a discussion of Diego Velásquez’s famous painting Las Meninas. Foucault’s meticulous, more »

Fuminori Nakamura’s “Last Winter, We Parted”

“Do you really think that a person could murder someone, purely for the sake of art?” This is the question Fuminori Nakamura asks in his most recent novel, Last Winter, We Parted. A crime fiction writer who “doesn’t mind” being described as such, Nakamura’ more »

Lee Si-young’s “Patterns”

The language is often serene, and bound to nature.

Diego De Silva’s “My Mother-in-Law Drinks”

The latest novel in translation by Italian author, playwright, and screenwriter Diego De Silva at first glance belongs to the swelling genre of paternalistic parables for the digital age.

Norman Manea’s “Captives”

Navigating the narrative threads of "Captives" is a bit like trying to make it through a hedge-maze while blindfolded, drunk, and asleep.

Pedro Zarraluki’s “The History of Silence”

Pedro Zarraluki’s "The History of Silence" is concerned with negative space: with absences, with things that can be defined only by what they are not.

Sheng Keyi’s “Death Fugue”

There are moments of real clarity and elegance in "Death Fugue."

Tove Jansson’s “The Woman Who Borrowed Memories”

A collection of very short stories which bubble up from the subconscious only to vanish as soon as they get to the surface.

Eduardo Halfon’s “Monastery”

In Halfon's "Monastery," our narrator asserts the accidental nature of nationality.

Sakutarō Hagiwara’s “Cat Town”

Hagiwara’s poetry is a strange mixture of gloomy wonderment.

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