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The Watchlist: April 2021

By Tobias Carroll

Each month, Tobias Carroll shares a handful of recently released or forthcoming titles in translation that he’s especially excited about. This month's selection includes books translated from Arabic, Japanese, Spanish, Hebrew, Korean, and Catalan. 


From Verso | Terminal Boredom by Izumi Suzuki, translated from the Japanese by Polly Barton, Sam Bett, David Boyd, Daniel Joseph, Aiko Masubuchi, and Helen O’Horan | Fiction | 224 pages | ISBN 9781788739887 | US$19.95

What the publisher says: “Nonchalantly hip and full of deranged prescience, Suzuki’s singular slant on speculative fiction would be echoed in countless later works, from Neuromancer to The Handmaid’s Tale. In these darkly playful and punky stories, the fantastical elements are always grounded in the universal pettiness of strife between the sexes, and the gritty reality of life on the lower rungs, whatever planet that ladder might be on.”

What Japan Times says: “On paper, seven stories seems like a thin collection, but each of the worlds Suzuki creates is deep and complex, with many of the questions raised lingering long after the last page and making you crave more.”

What I say: As an introduction to Suzuki’s writing for Anglophone readers, Terminal Boredom does an excellent job. (At least it did for this Anglophone reader.) The stories ponder questions of gender roles and power dynamics within society; if your bookshelf includes works by the likes of Marge Piercy or Joanna Russ, you may well have found your new favorite writer.


From Two Lines Press | Nancy by Bruno Lloret, translated from the Spanish by Ellen Jones | Fiction | 156 pages | ISBN 9781949641127 | US$19.95

What the publisher says: “Alone again in a Chile punctuated by graves, footsteps, X-rays, and crosses, Nancy looks back on her life. Before her cancer, before her husband’s ridiculous death, before she fled home hidden in the back of a truck, she spent her youth at Playa Roja, hearing the rumors of disappeared girls and dead boys while swimming alongside her friends and the creepy old gringos.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “With nothing left, Nancy reminisces about her childhood with a brother who vanished one day, a sad father who turned to Mormonism late in life, and an emotionally and psychologically abusive mother who abandoned them. There is no joy or humor here, but the writing shines with piercing descriptions of pain, drawn up in increasingly fractured minimalist prose.”

What I say: Formally inventive and harrowingly expressive, Bruno Lloret’s short novel Nancy takes a host of structural and typographic risks, nearly all of which pay off. This is a book that’s about both enduring and surviving trauma; the presence of skewed perspectives on religion and belief make this work even more haunting. File this one in the rare category of fiction that feels both utterly contemporary and deeply dystopian.

Read an excerpt of Nancy on WWB.


From Harper Voyager | I’m Waiting For You and Other Stories by Kim Bo-Young, translated from the Korean by Sophie Bowman and Sung Ryu | Fiction | 320 pages | ISBN 9780062951465 | US$26.99

What the publisher says: “In this mind-expanding work of speculative fiction, available in English for the first time, one of South Korea’s most treasured writers explores the driving forces of humanity—love, hope, creation, destruction, and the very meaning of existence—in two pairs of thematically interconnected stories.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “Playing with notions of immortality and toying with improbable transgressions of the laws of physics, Kim delivers a suite of stories that is at once lyrical and full of foreboding, keeping dramatic tension tight among poetic evocations of a home planet that is ‘our hall of learning, our cradle of experiences, our short-term interactive training ground,’ if one we have also destroyed.”

What I say: Kim Bo-Young’s fiction abounds with high concepts: two of the stories here follow star-crossed lovers whose impending marriage is delayed due to the effects of time dilation, for instance. But at their core, these are stories that use grand concepts to ask grand questions—about subjects like love, individuality, and the bonds between people. The result makes for a thought-provoking and moving collection.


From Amazon Crossing | I’m in Seattle, Where Are You? by Mortada Gzar, translated from the Arabic by William Hutchins | Nonfiction | 322 pages | ISBN 9781542016575 | US$24.95

What the publisher says: “In his deeply affecting memoir, Mortada interweaves tales of his childhood work as a scrap-metal collector in a war zone and the indignities faced by openly gay artists in Iraq with his impossible love story and journey to the US. Marginalized by his own society, he is surprised to discover the racism he finds in a new one.”

What Seattle Times says: “Sometimes the connections are bracing. One very funny Seattle scene, in which Gzar is bitten in the crotch by a dog, is interlaced with an account of religious persecution and imprisonment in Basra. A young Seattle man’s exuberant coming-out party is compared to the brutality that similarly promising young Iraqi men experienced.”

What I say: I’m very fond of Seattle, and the pandemic has occasioned the longest stretch I’ve gone without a visit there in many years. Mortada Gzar’s memoir made me feel an acute longing for the city in question. It also left me with a profound sense of its author’s own history, personality, and aesthetics. Unpredictable and thoroughly moving.


From And Other Stories | Permafrost by Eva Baltasar, translated from the Catalan by Julia Sanches | Fiction | 144 pages | ISBN 9781911508755 | US$14.95

What the publisher says: “Permafrost’s no-bullshit lesbian narrator is an uninhibited lover and a wickedly funny observer of modern life. Desperate to get out of Barcelona, she goes to Brussels, ‘because a city whose symbol is a little boy pissing was a city I knew I would like’; as an au pair in Scotland, she develops a hatred of the color green. And everywhere she goes, she tries to break out of the roles set for her by family and society, chasing escape wherever it can be found: love affairs, travel, thoughts of suicide.”

What Financial Times says: “Permafrost is at its most captivating when it concentrates on women’s bodies, desire and sex, the sensations and emotions of which the narrator documents with clarity and verve.”

What I say: Told in a series of stark chapters, Permafrost juxtaposes past and present alongside memory and desire. The narrator’s recurring depression adds an affecting element to this novel. Over the course of its pages, Baltasar ponders questions of love and mortality in new and compelling ways.


From Farrar, Straus and Giroux | Aquarium by Yaara Shehori, translated from the Hebrew by Todd Hasak-Lowy | Fiction | 272 pages | ISBN 9780374105921 | US$27.00

What the publisher says: “Living in a universe of their own creation, feared by and disdainful of the other children on their block, Lili and Dori grow up semi-feral. Lili writes down everything that happens—just the facts. And Dori, the reader, follows her older sister wherever she goes. United against a hostile and alien world, the girls and their parents watch the hearing like they would fish in an aquarium.”

What Jewish Book Council says: “The novel unravels around the subversive psyche of Dori, whose inner landscape continually defies the written word as a binary means for ordering the universe. Dori’s consciousness reveals the arbitrariness of relying on the sounds of words to communicate—in Dori’s eyes, speaking is no more than mouths moving to form shapes, like those of fish behind aquarium glass.”

What I say: Where Aquarium excels is in its ability to encompass myriad forms of communication. This is, after all, a book about the children of two Deaf parents, and so language is at its heart in more ways than one. Shehori’s novel features immersive descriptions of locations, though the novel’s structure sometimes feels overly complex.

Looking for more reading suggestions? Check out Tobias Carroll’s recommendations from last month.

Disclosure: Words Without Borders is an affiliate of and will earn a commission if you use the links above to make a purchase.

Published Apr 26, 2021   Copyright 2021 Tobias Carroll

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