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The Watchlist: April 2019

By Tobias Carroll

Each month, Tobias Carroll shares a handful of recently released or forthcoming titles in translation that he’s especially excited about.

From Soho Press | Dark Constellations by Pola Oloixarac, translated from the Spanish by Roy Kesey | Fiction | 216 pages | ISBN 9781616959234 | US$26.00

What the publisher says: “Argentinian literary star Pola Oloixarac’s wildly ambitious second novel investigates humanity’s quest for knowledge and control, hurtling from the nineteenth-century mania for scientific classification to present-day mass surveillance and the next steps in human evolution.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “This wild anthropological ride blends political satire, psychedelic sexuality, and cyberpunk themes through three intertwining stories.”

What I say: “Weird science abounds in this concise yet sprawling novel with a plot that spans multiple centuries. Oloixarac riffs on science as rebellion, the ways that technology can be used to both prop up and dismantle power, and the fine line between communal bliss and authoritarian groupthink. Though Dark Constellations is a rigorously expansive work in terms of time period, it’s also grappling with some decidedly pressing questions for contemporary readers.”


From Open Letter Books | Flowers of Mold by Ha Seong-nan, translated from the Korean by Janet Hong | Fiction | 240 pages | ISBN 9781940953960 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “In ten captivating, unnerving stories, Flowers of Mold presents a range of ordinary individuals—male and female, young and old—who have found themselves left behind by an increasingly urbanized and fragmented world.”

What Booklist says: “Like Ha’s compatriots Han Yujoo (The Impossible Fairy Tale, 2017) and Ancco (Bad Friends, 2018), PEN/Heim Translation Fund-awarded Hong enables English-language readers access into Ha’s disturbing, unpredictable, oneiric—yet all too recognizable—world in which heat stifles, waste rots, and bonds break; yet, for most, life goes on.”

What I say: “There’s a certain style of fiction that abuts the horrific but never quite crosses the line into the outright uncanny. Flowers of Mold fits neatly into that category: in these stories, readers will find tales of alienation and unruly behavior that will likely jar them as much as any narrative of sinister creatures and haunted spaces. Here, the mood is so dense as to be overwhelming; it makes for a memorable and unsettling experience.”


From Peirene Press | Children of the Cave by Virve Sammalkorpi, translated from the Finnish by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah | Fiction | 148 pages | ISBN 978-1908670502 | US$16.35  

What the publisher says: “1819. Iax Agolasky, a young assistant to a notable French explorer, sets off on a journey to the Russian wilderness. They soon discover a group of creatures living in a cave: children with animal traits. But are they animals, or are they human? Faced with questions of faith, science, and the fundamentals of truth, tensions rise in the camp. Soon the children’s safety becomes threatened and Agolasky needs to act.”

What A Life in Books says: “Sammalkorpi uses the conceit of a fragmented diary to tell her story, exploring themes of reality and unreality, and what it is to be human. The reaction to the children, left by loving parents for their own protection, found abandoned or rescued from freak shows, is all too believable.”

What I say: “In telling the story of a nineteenth-century scientific expedition that encounters a society of children whose bodies blend human and animal aspects, Sammalkorpi utilizes techniques from the fiction of the period—namely, the book is presented as a series of documents discovered years after the actions they describe. It’s a formally bold choice, and Children of the Cave also features a couple of surprises along the way, allowing Sammalkorpi to find a welcome balance between the sentimental and the Gothic.”


From Tilted Axis Press | Sergius Seeks Bacchus by Norman Erikson Pasaribu, translated from the Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao | Poetry | 80 pages | ISBN 978-1911284239 | US$13.00

What the publisher says:Sergius Seeks Bacchus is a heartbreaking and humorous rumination on what it means to be in the minority in terms of sexuality, ethnicity, and religion. Drawing on the poet’s life as an openly gay writer of Bataknese descent and Christian background, the collection furnishes readers with an alternative gospel, a book of bittersweet and tragicomic good news pieced together from encounters with ridicule, persecution, loneliness, and also happiness.”

What Electric Literature says: “Though he writes in Indonesian, Pasaribu’s poetry collection Sergius Seeks Bacchus (translated by Tiffany Tsao) carries the inflections, songs, and stories of diaspora. His works offer the joys and isolations of queer life in a conservative landscape, a minority existence (less visible in the Javanese-dominated mainstream), and the influences of Christianity.”

What I say: “The poems in Sergius Seeks Bacchus cover a wide stylistic range, from fragmented to enumerated, and the result is a brief but complex map of their author’s psyche. Frequently moving and deeply thoughtful, Pasaribu’s poems offer a vision of community, isolation, and enduring moments of joy.”


From Yonder: Restless Books for Young Readers | The Casket of Time by Andri Snær Magnason, translated from the Icelandic by Björg Arnadóttir and Andrew Cauthery | Middle Grade Fiction | 240 pages | ISBN 9781632062055 | US$17.99

What the publisher says: “Teenage Sigrun is sick of all the apocalyptic news about the ‘situation’ and, worse, her parents’ obsession with it. Sigrun’s family—along with everyone else—decides to hibernate in their TimeBoxes®, hoping for someone else to fix the world’s problems. But when Sigrun’s TimeBox® opens too early, she discovers an abandoned city overrun by wilderness and joins a band of kids who are helping a researcher named Grace solve the ‘situation.’”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “Within this story within the story lies both a lesson for the children and the opportunity to undo the present-day damage wrought by their negligent elders. Readers will enjoy spotting references to familiar fairy tales and puzzling out the connections between the two storylines.”

What I say:The Casket of Time opens with a description of a near-future society where technology has persuaded much of the populace to experience suspended animation. Tonally, this aspect of it recalls its author’s earlier LoveStar, albeit written for younger readers. But it soon takes a shift in tone, adding fairy-tale elements and a structure that nestles one narrative within another, all of which makes for an appealing conflation of the power of the stories and the need to engage with the world.”

Read an interview with Andri Snær Magnason


From New Directions Publishing | EEG by Daša Drndić, translated from the Croatian by Celia Hawkesworth | Fiction | 380 pages | ISBN 9780811228480 | US$19.95

What the publisher says: “In this breathtaking final work, Daša Drndić’s fearless voice reaches new heights. Andreas Ban’s suicide attempt has failed. Though very ill, he still finds the will to tap on the glass of history to summon those imprisoned within. Mercilessly, he dissects society and his environment, shunning all favors as he goes after the evils and hidden secrets of our times.”

What the Guardian says: “Like much of Drndić’s earlier work (and specifically her novel Trieste, which includes a list of 9,000 names of murdered Italian Jews), ultimately EEG is urgently focused on retrieving and recording the criminal violence of the twentieth century—primarily of the Second World War, but also of the Communist regime in her native Yugoslavia, and of the Bosnian war, among other tragedies.”

What I say: “Drndić’s novel is haunted with death—both via its narrator’s meditations on mortality and suicide and via longer historical descriptions of the legacy of twentieth-century totalitarianism. There’s an abundance of formally bold elements here, including the inclusion of photographs and tables beside the text. While this is a deeply weighty literary work, it’s also far from monolithic, encompassing a host of modes across its pages.”


From World Editions | The Storyteller by Pierre Jarawan, translated from the German by Rachel McNicholl and Sinéad Crowe | Fiction | 472 pages | ISBN 9781642860115 | US$17.99

What the publisher says: “In this moving and gripping novel about family secrets, love, and friendship, Pierre Jarawan does for Lebanon what Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner did for Afghanistan. He pulls away the curtain of grim facts and figures to reveal the intimate story of an exiled family torn apart by civil war and guilt. In this rich and skillful account, Jarawan proves that he too is a masterful storyteller.”

What the Bulletin says:The Storyteller is a moving and nuanced account of a young man’s search for identity. It is also a love story, a mystery, and a riveting account of the impact of the conflicts in the Middle East on families caught up in the violence and the aftermath.”

What I say: “The narrator of The Storyteller is born to a Lebanese couple who have left their home country’s strife for Germany. That doesn’t ease certain struggles, though, and decades after his father’s mysterious departure, the novel’s narrator embarks on a trip to Lebanon to uncover the circumstances of his leaving. Jarawan blends real and fictional characters and, as the title suggests, the nature of storytelling plays a substantial role in the story told within these pages.”

Read an interview with Pierre Jarawan

Published Apr 16, 2019   Copyright 2019 Tobias Carroll

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