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Book Reviews

July 2020

Humans Are the Ultimate Food Staple in Agustina Bazterrica’s Dystopian “Tender Is the Flesh”

Reviewed by Kevin Canfield

After a fatal virus infects its livestock, a panicked nation is herded by political demagogues toward human slaughter and cannibalism in this disturbing Argentinian novel.

Machado de Assis Gains Different Voices in New Translations of “Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas”

Reviewed by Charles A. Perrone

A deceased character writes his memoirs from beyond the grave in this sui generis classic by the Brazilian master, now published in two new editions that take divergent paths to convey its peculiar combination of "the pen of mirth" and "the ink of melancholy."

Adania Shibli’s “Minor Detail” Caps Its Author’s Long Quest for a Language of Life Under Occupation

Reviewed by Mona Kareem

With every line of this laborious novel, the Palestinian writer explores how war and conflict occur on the level of narrative, history, and the individual psyche. The result is an accumulation of details that store the trauma of those whose screams hang in the air of the past.

June 2020

Ha Seong-nan’s “Bluebeard’s First Wife” Gives the Old Tale of Patriarchy a New Twist

Reviewed by Hannah Weber

A crucial voice in the burgeoning movement of feminist fiction from South Korea, Ha is a master of atmospheric suspense whose stories use shock and horror to dissect contemporary gender-based violence and its historical roots.

In Mieko Kawakami’s “Breasts and Eggs,” Oppression and Dissent Begin at Women’s Bodies

Reviewed by Saba Ahmed

This meandering narrative, distinguished with the prestigious Akutagawa Prize, keeps a steady focus on how social pressures and the passage of time come to bear on its characters’ corporeality.

May 2020

Haiku and Suicidal Thoughts Haunt a Trip Across Japan in Marion Poschmann’s “The Pine Islands”

Reviewed by Max Radwin

In this unsettling novel, shortlisted for the 2019 International Man Booker Prize and just published in the US, an academic expert on the history of beards in cinema reads Bashō and tries to help a stranger find the perfect spot to kill himself.

Close-Up: An Experiment in Reviewing Translation

Reviewed by Words Without Borders

How should we review works in translation?

Family Life is Just Another Name for Tragedy in María Fernanda Ampuero’s “Cockfight”

Reviewed by Lily Meyer

This collection of stories by the Ecuadorean writer and journalist depicts episodes of abuse in a way that may not be exactly enjoyable to read, but feels urgent, gripping, and smart.

April 2020

In Matéi Visniec’s “Mr. K Released,” an Inmate Chooses Prison Over Freedom

Reviewed by Benjamin Woodard

Originally published in 2010, this funny, if faintly scattershot, novel relies on a Kafkaesque allegory to reconsider Romania’s late-1980s transition to democracy after decades of Communist rule.

Fernanda Melchor’s “Hurricane Season”: A Literary Triumph on the Failures of Mexican Modernization

Reviewed by Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado

A murder mystery, told through the thoughts and voices of the inhabitants of a small town in Veracruz, lays bare the shattered hopes of a community hit by rampant violence and economic austerity, as Melchor draws on disparate traditions (from crime fiction to García Márquez novels) to create a masterpiece that is very much her own.

March 2020

Monika Zgustova Collects Women’s Stories from the Gulag in “Dressed for a Dance in the Snow”

Reviewed by Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild

A volume of interviews with survivors of the detention camps first created by Lenin in 1918 documents harrowing abuses against dissidents and minorities that extend to present-day Russia.

February 2020

Rodaan Al Galidi Gives a Mordant Account of a Long Wait for Asylum in “Two Blankets, Three Sheets”

Reviewed by Matt Hanson

At once funny and bleak, this novel by the Iraq-born Dutch novelist draws on his personal experiences to expose the cruel and often absurd procedural challenges that immigrants must endure.

January 2020

A Balkan Road Trip Leads to a Reckoning with the Past in Olja Savičević‘s “Singer in the Night”

Reviewed by Hannah Weber

A successful soap-opera writer struggling with memory loss sets off on a quest to find her vanished first husband in this new book by the Croatian novelist, poet, and playwright.

Zeruya Shalev Connects Private Woes with Political Strife in “Pain”

Reviewed by Yael Halevi-Wise

The trauma of a terrorist attack and the disillusion of unrequited love haunt the protagonist of a new novel by the Israeli author, in whose work the past usually returns to impinge upon the present, clamoring for repair.

December 2019

“Space Invaders,” by Nona Fernández, Looks Back at the Unspoken Terrors of Pinochet’s Chile

Reviewed by Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado

A remarkable novel about the traces left by the Chilean dictatorship in the lives of children explores the tension between the unsaid and shreds of remembrance that acquire outsize importance when the reader connects the dots.

November 2019

Writing From Elsewhere: A Timely Anthology Collects Tales of Displacement and Resettlement

Reviewed by Hannah Weber

Edited by Dohra Ahmad, The Penguin Book of Migration Literature puts together a challenging and insightful collection that attempts to reveal the myriad ways of experiencing human movement across nations and cultures.

October 2019

“Me & Other Writing” Shows Marguerite Duras’ Recurring Exploration of Lifelong Obsessions

Reviewed by Allison Grimaldi-Donahue

Spanning thirty years, the essays selected and translated by Emma Ramadan and Olivia Baes range from meditations on reading and writing to personal pieces bordering on autofiction.

A Poignant Memoir by Naja Marie Aidt Grapples with the Trauma of a Tragic Death

Reviewed by Nataliya Deleva

The Danish writer creates a meta-text of mourning as she grieves the loss of her son in "When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl’s Book."

Huzama Habayeb Challenges Myths of Motherhood and Exile in “Velvet”

Reviewed by M. Lynx Qualey

Distinguished with the 2017 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, this multi-generational novel confronts traditional taboos to tell a late-in-life love story between two Palestinian refugees living in Jordan’s Baqa’a camp.

September 2019

A Family Drama Unfolds in Silence in Linda Boström Knausgård’s “Welcome to America”

Reviewed by Deborah Bragan-Turner

A Stockholm apartment where two children live with their mother is the main setting for this book, an intimate portrait of a family in crisis that won the prestigious Swedish August Prize and has been described as a chamber play.

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