Book Reviews

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, articulate...read more »

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