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Book Reviews

January 2016

Tahar Ben Jelloun’s “The Happy Marriage”

Reviewed by Tony Malone

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?

December 2015

Daniel Sada’s “One Out of Two”

Reviewed by Anne Posten

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

November 2015

Wolfgang Hilbig’s “The Sleep of the Righteous”

Reviewed by Dustin Illingworth

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”

Reviewed by A. M. Bakalar

My Father's Dreams is considered by many critics to be Flisar's best novel.

Liu Xia’s “Empty Chairs”

Reviewed by Lizzie Tribone

Liu’s collection resides in a place of isolation, a place brimming with shadows, specters, and half-issued words.

October 2015

Andrus Kivirähk’s “The Man Who Spoke Snakish”

Reviewed by Dustin Illingworth

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”

Reviewed by Adrian Nathan West

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”

Reviewed by Tynan Kogane

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.”

September 2015

Clarice Lispector’s “Complete Stories”: Knowing the Unknowable Clarice

Reviewed by Jenny McPhee

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”

Reviewed by Kristine Rabberman

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”

Reviewed by Lori Feathers

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”

Reviewed by Samantha Schnee

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.

August 2015

Sergio Pitol’s “The Journey”

Reviewed by Anne Posten

In order to enjoy The Journey, the second volume of revered Mexican author Sergio Pitol’s idiosyncratic autobiographical trilogy, the reader must abandon expectations: of genre, of structure, of distinctions between the aesthetic “truth” of dreams and fiction, and truth in the sense of literal accuracy.

Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi’s “Mirages of the Mind”

Reviewed by Saudamini Deo

Written in 1990, Yousufi’s Mirages of the Mind describes with acuity the changed ambience of India after the Partition, We, twenty-five years later, know that Yousufi’s understanding of the Indian situation was nothing but prescient.

Naja Marie Aidt’s “Rock, Paper, Scissors”

Reviewed by Tony Malone

Most readers of Baboon will have appreciated the way Aidt composed a series of spiky, cutting scenes, full of damaged yet compelling characters, and in Rock, Paper, Scissors the writer expands these vignettes into an extended car crash of a novel.

Yoss’s “A Planet for Rent”

Reviewed by Rosie Clarke

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.

July 2015

Anne Garréta’s “Sphinx”

Reviewed by Jane Yong Kim

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”

Reviewed by Lucy Renner Jones

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”

Reviewed by Kate Prengel

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.

June 2015

Göran Rosenberg’s “A Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz”

Reviewed by Dorian Stuber

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

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