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The Watchlist: August 2016

By M. Bartley Seigel and Stephanie Hubble

Every month, from the reviews desk to you, Words without Borders shares a handful of new titles they are excited about and think you should be excited about, too. This month’s list was compiled by Stephanie Hubble, a student at Michigan Technological University, with the help of our reviews editor, M. Bartley Seigel. Let us all now sally forth into a few new titles worth our good attentions:

Cover of Eva Sleeps by Francesca MelandriFrom Europa Editions, Eva Sleeps by Francesca Melandri, translated from the Italian by Katherine Gregor; ISBN 9781609453121; US $16.00

Says the publisher: “Out of the struggles and conflicts in the border regions of Northern Italy and Austria comes a family story that embodies the history of nations. Eva, a forty-year-old public relations professional based in northern Italy, receives an unexpected message from the deep south. Vito, a man she knew as a child as a friend of her mother’s, is very ill and would like to see her one last time.”

Says Culture Whisper: “With all of the hype surrounding Elena Ferrante, once neglected contemporary Italian female writers are now more than ever in the literary spotlight. These include Dacia Maraini (The Train to Budapest) and Simona Sparacco (About Time) but in particular Francesca Melandri, a screenwriter whose first debut in English, Eva Sleeps, shines with filmic intensity.”

Says Solo Libri: “There are few Italian novels that so successfully and surprisingly combine broad themes like local and national history, or the relationship between the north and the south, together with the personal dramas linked to family, love, ambition. This is an epic novel!”


Cover of How to Travel without Seeing by Andres NeumanFrom Restless Books, How to Travel without Seeing: Dispatches from the New Latin America by Andrés Neuman, translated from the Spanish by Jeffrey Lawrence; ISBN 1632060558: US $15.99

Says the publisher: “A kaleidoscopic, fast-paced tour of Latin America from one of the Spanish-speaking world’s most outstanding writers. Lamenting not having more time to get to know each of the nineteen countries he visits after winning the prestigious Premio Alfaguara, Andrés Neuman begins to suspect that world travel consists mostly of ‘not seeing.’ But then he realizes that the fleeting nature of his trip provides him with a unique opportunity: touring and comparing every country of Latin America in a single stroke. Neuman writes on the move, generating a kinetic work that is at once puckish and poetic, aphoristic and brimming with curiosity. Even so-called non-places—airports, hotels, taxis—are turned into powerful symbols full of meaning. A dual Argentine-Spanish citizen, he incisively explores cultural identity and nationality, immigration and globalization, history and language, and turbulent current events. Above all, Neuman investigates the artistic lifeblood of Latin America, tackling with gusto not only literary heavyweights such as Bolaño, Vargas Llosa, Lorca, and Galeano, but also an emerging generation of authors and filmmakers whose impact is now making ripples worldwide.”

Says Roberto Bolaño: “Neuman has a gift. No good reader will fail to perceive in its pages something that can only be found in literature of the highest rank, the kind written by true poets who dare to penetrate into the darkness with their eyes open, and who keep them open no matter what. When I encounter these young writers it makes me want to cry. The literature of the twenty-first century will belong to Neuman and a few of his blood brothers.”

Says The Guardian: “A writer wise beyond his years.”


Cover of The White Islands by Marjorie AgosinFrom Swan Isle Press, The White Islands by Marjorie AgosÍn, translated by Jacqueline Nanfito; ISBN 9780983322092; US $20.00

Says the publisher: “‘I only wanted to write about them, / Narrate their fierce audacity, / Their voyages through the channels of the Mediterranean.’ So begins a poetic journey through the islands of the Mediterranean that served as homes and refuge for the Sephardic Jews after the Alhambra Decree, which ordered their expulsion from Spain. Inspired by her own journey to Salonika and the Greek Islands, Rhodes, Crete, as well as the Balkans, Marjorie Agosín searches for the remnants of the Sepharad.

Agosín’s poems speak to a wandering life of exile on distant shores. We hear the rhythm of the waves and the Ladino-inflected voices of Sephardi women past and present: Paloma, Estrella, and Luna in the fullness of their lives, loves, dreams, and faith. An evocative and sensual voyage to communities mostly lost after the Holocaust, The White Islands offers a lighthouse of remembrance, a lyrical world recovered with language and song, lament and joy, longing and hope.”

Says writer Ruth Behar: “I’ve read Agosín’s stunningly beautiful poems with tears in my eyes and with awe in my heart. At once a lament about the loss of Sefarad and a celebration of all that lives on in word and song and women's memories, this book is a unique testament to a people, a culture, and a seascape. Marjorie Agosín is the best Jewish Latina poet writing today and these poems are a gift to all readers who are traveling, as she puts it, ‘through ambiguous geographies.’ If you read only one poetry book, read this one, it will make your spirit soar, I promise you.”

Says poet and critic Edward Hirsch: “Agosín takes up a sacred flame, a solemn trust, in this audacious book of journeys, this dreamy, precise, urgent, and heartrending Jewish testament.”


Cover of Girl on Heavens Pier by Eeva-Liisa MannerFrom Dalkey Archive Press, Girl on Heaven’s Pier by Eeva-Liisa Manner, translated from the Finnish by Terhi Kuusisto; ISBN 978-1628971385; US $14.00

Says the publisher: “Originally published in 1951, this novel tells of a young girl living with her deeply religious grandparents in prewar Vyborg—before it became part of the Soviet Union. Leena hates school, loves music and rain, and wanders through the town in a state of childish enchantment. ‘Like a spruce cone, a child falls into a world where logical disorder replaces magical order, and there you are—in trouble, we’ll agree.’ The world she inhabits features multiple layers of reality, and this is reflected in the novel’s artful narrative: life and death are reflections of each other, and reality is merely a map of the individual’s inner world. Through the naïve perspective of a young girl, the book addresses deep philosophical concerns in simple, lucid prose.”

Says Nordic Women’s Literature: “Eeva-Liisa Manner is a distinctive poet who transfers her private mythologies to a universal plane.”

Says Stephanie: “Who doesn’t need a modernist Finnish blast from the past every now and then?”


From The Other Press, Blitz by David Trueba, translated from the Spanish by John Cullen; ISBN 9781590517840; US $7.99

Says the publisher: “Blitz is a romantic tragicomedy that recounts the exploits of Beto, an architect who heads to Munich with his girlfriend to take part in a landscape-planning competition, where he hopes to improve his career prospects. Like a flash of lightning, a text message Beto wasn’t meant to receive shatters his life and ideals and leaves him bewildered and heading nowhere—until he unintentionally falls into the arms of an older woman, Helga, in a cross-generational encounter that is the beating heart of the tale. With sensitivity and biting wit, Trueba crafts a story of lost souls and lost loves, humorously critiques male narcissism, and shows us that in this modern age it is more important than ever to appreciate every moment and embrace intimacy when lucky enough to find it, from wherever it may come.”

Says Book Riot: “Trueba’s tale is both moving and humorous, a powerful reminder to make the most of those intimate moments when the opportunity presents itself.”

Says writer Percival Everett: “Learning to Lose is complex, powerful, surprising, and most of all smart. David Trueba is the real thing. I had a lot of work on my desk and it is still on my desk. I have however read Mr. Trueba’s novel. Enough said.”

Published Aug 16, 2016   Copyright 2016 M. Bartley Seigel and Stephanie Hubble

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