Book Reviews

Magdaléna Platzová’s “The Attempt”

A powerfully distilled meditation on the competing costs of freedom and dependence.


Pizarnik’s “Extracting the Stone of Madness” & Dabral’s “This Number Does Not Exist”

Pizarnik is a heroic voyager slaying demons and recovering lost languages . . . . Dabral returns again and again to childhood, to the difference between city and countryside, to a nagging sense of loss.


Kim Yideum’s “Cheer Up, Femme Fatale” & Oh Sae-young’s “Night-Sky Checkerboard”

The old to the new: recent Korean poetry in translation.


Raja Alem’s “The Dove’s Necklace”

A sensual, surreal, and challenging novel by the first woman to win the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.


Olja Savičević’s “Adios, Cowboy”

A gritty, down-and-out debut novel from one of Croatia's “lost generation.”


Ji Xianlin’s “The Cowshed - Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution”

A memoir calling attention to the tremendous injustices wrought during China's cultural revolution.


Sergei Lebedev’s “Oblivion”

In form, Oblivion is like a detective story. This investigation turns frighteningly political, however, when it leads him to Russia’s northern Tundra region, which once housed Stalin’s gulags.


The Return of the Narrative: Miljenko Jergović’s “The Walnut Mansion”

Jergović roots his stories firmly in local Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian turf. History is back.


Tahar Ben Jelloun’s “The Happy Marriage”

The reader is left with the question: in the case of an unhappy marriage, would it be better to follow the advice of Tolstoy or Ben Jelloun?


Daniel Sada’s “One Out of Two”

Daniel Sada’s One Out of Two is a sleeper agent of a book. . . . a brilliant, and welcome, act of literary sabotage.


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.


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