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Articles tagged "Book Review"

Magdaléna Platzová’s “The Attempt”

On the face of it, The Attempt by Czech author Magdaléna Platzová’s (her latest novel and the second to be published in English) is an ambitiously large-scale undertaking. A reimagining of the events and people surrounding the assassination attempt, in 1892, of American art-collecting plutocrat Henry Clay Frick by Lithuanian Jewish anarchist Alexander Berkman, the story is narrated by a Czech historian transplanted to contemporary Manhattan,...

Magda Szabó’s “The Door”

                 Every person is a half-opened door                  leading to a room for everyone.                                    — Tomas Tranströmer I. Beloved in her native Hungary, Magda Szabó’s work is only just beginning to receive the attention it deserves among...

J.M.G. Le Clézio Shows Us How It’s Done

Read The African, the newly translated memoir by Nobel laureate J.M.G. Le Clézio, to learn more about the author’s childhood, personality, and relationship with his father. Read it for the sometimes elegant beauty of the prose. Just don’t read it for its insights into Africa and its people. Why? The most efficient way to explain is to say that The African scores high on the criteria set out in Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina’s essay “How to Write About...

Grigoris Balakian’s “Armenian Golgotha”

On April 24, 1915, some 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders were arrested in Constantinople. Grigoris Balakian, a Christian vartabed, or priest, was among them. "It was as if all the prominent Armenian public figures—assemblymen, representatives, revolutionaries, editors, teachers, doctors, pharmacists, dentists, merchants, bankers, and others in the capital city—had made an appointment to meet in these dim prison cells," he later wrote. Balakian was witnessing the...

Max Aub’s “Field of Honour”

In The Secret Agent, Joseph Conrad's 1907 novel of shadowy plots and anarchist intrigue, the characters wade through a watery murk that befits their scheming and double-dealing. One enters the London streets like "a descent into a slimy aquarium;" those who step outside are "enveloped" in "a murky, gloomy dampness." An oozing, liquid swill—much like the one that coats Conrad's streets—suffuses Max Aub's novel Field of Honour. At one point, its protagonist Rafael...

Natsuhiko Kyogoku’s “Summer of the Ubume”

There is a Japanese folktale about a village that was once plagued by a demon. Each night the villagers hear its cries emanating from deep within the surrounding woods and shut themselves in their homes, paralyzed by fear. Crops wither, trade halts, and society begins to unravel at the seams. Unable to rid themselves of the demon, the villagers send for a renowned warrior, who ventures deep into the forest and follows the shrieks to their source. Finally he reaches the fiend's cave and...

Jean Philippe Toussaint’s “Running Away”

Many of Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s novels share a certain structure: a nameless narrator drifts through minimalist plots that are almost completely lacking in drama but pervaded by a sense of lightness and quiet humor. This lightness and humor is a hallmark of his previous work, including his novels The Bathroom and Television, works that critic Warren Motte has described as "epics of the trivial." With Running Away, his latest novel to appear in English translation, readers familiar...

Götz and Meyer by David Albahari

Serbian writer David Albahari's new novel is a deeply unnerving tale of obsession and memory, part Holocaust story and part rumination on the incompatibility of history and storytelling. The nameless narrator, a teacher whose family was killed in a Belgrade concentration camp, sets himself the task of reconstructing his family tree, which in turn leads him to the records of the camp at the Jewish Historical Museum in Belgrade. There, among stacks of documents and lists of victims, he...

Conjugal Love by Alberto Moravia

Throughout his long and astonishingly productive career, Alberto Moravia never stopped exploring the erotic highways and byways. Of course, he tended to look on the dark side. Readers of his many fictions will search in vain for a life-affirming roll in the hay. Instead Moravia zoomed in on the pitfalls, power struggles, and multiple deceptions of eros. Think of him as the Beethoven of bad sex, blessed with a glittering style and the emotional temperature of an icebox. Conjugal Love is no...

A Woman in Jerusalem by A. B. Yehoshua

"He had now devoted three whole days to this woman, laboring faithfully on her behalf after giving his impulsive word to make her anonymous death his business." This short sentence (p. 143) could stand on its own as a capsule of a human story, very much like Hemingway's famous: "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn." It is packed with meanings and contradictions, both personal and universal. It not only summarizes the plot of A Woman in Jerusalem, but, more importantly, captures the private...

Last Evenings on Earth by Roberto Bolaño

Translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews New Directions, 2006 Few writers translated into English in the past several years have generated as much excitement as Roberto Bolaño. Bolaño, who died in 2003, is one of the most popular literary authors in the Spanish-speaking world. Thus far two of his novels have been published in the United States. Two more are due out this spring, including a purported masterpiece,The Savage Detectives. Fitted between these pairs is Last...

The Heretic by Miguel Delibes

This international bestseller follows the life of a boy born on the day the Protestant reformation began-when Martin Luther nailed his list of ninety-five theses to a church door in Wittenberg-through his last days in prison and burning at the stake. Cipriano Salcedo, the only son of the Salcedo family, is born in Valladolid, Spain, on October 31, 1517, shortly after which his mother dies. Resented from birth by his father, who refers to him as "that little parricide," Cipriano grows up in...

The Silent Steppe by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov

The Silent Steppe: The Story of a Kazakh Nomad under Stalin is a vivid, personal story of courage and hope in the face of persecution and terror. It breathes new life into a neglected chapter of European history, and should prove useful for Cold War research and socio-cultural anthropology studies. Famine, conscription into the Red Army, the defense of Stalingrad . . . author Mukhamet Shayakhmetov is a remarkable survivor, bolstered by a strong faith. He is now in his eighties. His...

Stick Out Your Tongue by Ma Jian

When Stick Out Your Tongue was first published in China in 1987, one commentator denounced it as a "vulgar, obscene book that defames the image of our Tibetan compatriots," and Ma Jian's works were banned forevermore in the country. The remaining copies of the serialized novel were traded on the black market for exorbitant sums. Its English translation, published almost twenty years later, brims with lurid details that might shock Western sensibilities as well. The narrator, a...

The Nimrod Flipout by Etgar Keret

Almost all of the thirty (very) short stories in Etgar Keret's wonderfully vivid collection, The Nimrod Flipout, take place against backdrops that are deceptively banal. Each site, though, eventually reveals a rupture, a tear in its seeming ordinariness through which the perverse, bizarre or fantastic is oozing in. Tremendously popular in his native Israel, Keret has consistently voiced a desire for his stories to explore and engender ambiguity and to challenge aspects of life that...

Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

Suite Francaise feels epic for a number of reasons. First, because of the scope of the fear it documents-that of French civilians on the eve of and during German occupation. Second, because it artfully balances the anguish (and verisimilitude) of any unsparing portrayal of war with the pretty, carefully wrought language of a good nineteenth-century novel. Most important, however, Suite Française feels significant because of the circumstances in which it was conceived, written, and...

The Book about Blanche and Marie by Per Olov Enquist

In Andrè Brouillet's famous painting of neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot's lecture on female hysteria, a woman is draped over Charcot's assistant's arm. She is placid and completely sensual in the cold room; her dress has fallen from her shoulders and a nurse reaches out to help her as she swoons. This woman is Blanche Wittman, the favorite hysteria patient of Charcot, the head of the women's psychiatric hospital. Brouillet's painting was the only existing...

Inside and Other Short Fiction: Japanese Women on Japanese Women, compiled by Cathy Layne

Inside and Other Short Fiction--Japanese Women by Japanese Women offers a corrective to Western and Japanese stereotypes of Japanese women's sexuality. The stories in this collection are connected by an exploration of women's sexual liberation, and provide a female readership with a sophisticated equivalent to the sexually graphic print media heavily marketed to Japanese men. The women in Inside generally do not conform to traditional gender roles that stress early marriage and...

Big Breasts & Wide Hips by Mo Yan

At a time when Western eyes fixate on China's influence as a budding economic superpower, Mo Yan has turned his gaze inward on the vicissitudes of the last Chinese century. Big Breasts & Wide Hips is more than an act of catharsis; it's a nine-course sensual feast, peppered with colorful characters and hypnotic imagery. The Shangguan family, whose matriarch bears eight girls and a boy by different fathers, live and die in a harsh landscape shaped by repeated political...

I Loved You for Your Voice by Sélim Nassib

Modern Egypt is a dream unfulfilled. Independence from Britain was supposed to usher in a glorious era in which Egypt would unite the Middle East under the banner of pan-Arabism. That dream died in 1967, when Egyptian forces suffered a catastrophic defeat in the Six Day War against Israel. Egypt's charismatic president Gamal Abdel Nasser resigned soon after, and in recent years Egyptians have lived under a notably corrupt and incompetent dictatorship propped up by billions of dollars in...

Captain of the Sleepers by Mayra Montero

In chapters that alternate between past and present, this slip of a novel recounts the pain of a child witnessing his parents' infidelities. J.T. Bunker is the "Captain of the Sleepers," a small-time pilot who falls in love with the narrator's mother and begins transporting cadavers, or "sleepers" as the narrator calls them, from mainland Puerto Rico to Vieques-they want to be buried at home--as a reason to see her. The tale unfolds in a series of monologues by the sixty-year-old...

The Successor by Ismail Kadare

In The Successor Ismail Kadare mines his country's recent history and puts an infamous death into a crucible. In this way, Kadare captures the strangeness of what was Albania's perverse version of an elite community, those close enough to power to be direct psychological captives of its quixotic and ruthless ruler. The Guide, a literary stand in for Enver Hoxha, Albania's community dictator, is the captor here: his appearances and absences, his cryptic utterances, and most...

The Noodle Maker by Ma Jian

The pace of change in China over the last fifteen years has been extraordinarily fast; the pace at which its literature reaches us in translation shamefully slow. Chinese dissident writer Ma Jian is already known in the English-speaking world for his award-winning travel memoir of rural China in the 1980s, Red Dust. Since the Chinese takeover of Hong Kong in 1997, he has been living with his partner and translator in London. The Noodle Maker, the first of Jian's novels to appear in...

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