Book Reviews

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, articulate...read 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’s...read 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.


Sérgio Rodrigues’s “Elza: The Girl” and Paulo Scott’s “Nowhere People”

Where are all the young Brazilian writers?


Joseph Roth’s “The Hundred Days”

An achingly beautiful fictional account of the rise and fall of the Emperor Napoleon


Otfried Preussler’s “Krabat and the Sorcerer’s Mill”

Preussler’s storytelling mastery and gift for atmosphere render this Bildungsroman-meets-Gothic horror both timeless and splendidly, creepily original.


Antal Szerb’s “Journey by Moonlight”

This phantasmal, complex novel of ideas takes place in a “wild, precipitous landscape”


Venedikt Erofeev’s “Walpurgis Night”

Current events can make us wonder: In times of tremendous violence, do literary questions and conflicts matter at all?


David Albahari’s “Globetrotter”

This sense of absence pervades the characters’ ideas of national identity — all of them are personally defined by things they lacked in their pasts, either symbolically, literally, or both.


Ernst Meister’s “Wallless Space”

What happens when a “piteously naked” philosopher-turned-poet decides to pursue philosophy in the form of verse?


Edgard Telles Ribeiro’s “His Own Man”

In "His Own Man," nations, like the individuals therein, adapt and change such that their contemporary states bear little resemblance to their earlier incarnations.


Ondjaki’s “Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret”

It is no surprise that this energetic and endearing novel is the work of a writer of such stunning accomplishment as Ondjaki.


Alessandro Baricco’s “Mr. Gwyn

In an attempt to combat an approaching aimlessness after his sudden retirement, Gwyn chooses the new vocation of a copyist.


Gonçalo M. Tavares’s “A Man: Klaus Klump”

Gonçalo M. Tavares (Does the M stand for Man? Maniac? Master? Certainly not anything as common as Manuel . . .) is a writer that trades in oppositions. And business is good.


Antonio Ungar’s “The Ears of the Wolf”

It is this instability, this dance between beauty and horror, fear and elation, and this delicate navigation of power, which can turn one into the other, that animates Antonio Ungar’s singular, captivating novel.


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