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The Watchlist: August 2018

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 Riverhead | Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft | Fiction | 416 pages | ISBN 9780525534198 | US$26.00

What the publisher says: “Through these brilliantly imagined characters and stories, interwoven with haunting, playful, and revelatory meditations, Flights explores what it means to be a traveler, a wanderer, a body in motion not only through space but through time. Where are you from? Where are you coming in from? Where are you going? we call to the traveler. Enchanting, unsettling, and wholly original, Flights is a master storyteller’s answer.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “[T]his is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel—through space and also through time—and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style.”

What I say: “Tokarczuk’s book, winner of the Man Booker International Prize, doesn’t lend itself well to easy summarization. It’s an exploration of bodies and travel—which in and of itself is fairly grand, thematically speaking—but it’s also a little harder to pin down than that. In some ways, Flights is akin to the structural experiments utilized by the likes of Ali Smith and David Mitchell; in others, its constant evolution recalls the dreamlike meditations of Fernando Pessoa. The end result is a work that’s hard to describe and even more difficult to shake.”


From Restless Books | The Arid Sky by Emiliano Monge, translated from the Spanish by Thomas Bunstead | Fiction | 224 pages | ISBN 9781632061348 | US$16.99

What the publisher says: “Described as ‘a literary atomic bomb’ (Luisán Gámez), Mexican literary star Emiliano Monge’s English-language debut is the Latin American incarnation of Cormac McCarthy: an artistically daring, gorgeously wrought, and eviscerating novel of biblical violence as told through the story of a man ‘who, though he did not know it, was the era in which he lived.’”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “Germán Alcántara Carnero has led a life of violence, pain, and suffering, with only short-lived glimmers of hope and joy. Beginning in 1956, as Alcántara Carnero walks away from the town he’s ruled with the brutality of a feudal lord for decades, Monge’s short novel weaves in and out of his protagonist’s life as if flipping through a photo album.”

What I say: “Dizzyingly structured, Monge’s novel blends the visceral with the philosophical in a host of unexpected ways. Narration frequently reminds the reader of the nature of storytelling—and calls attention to the somewhat stylized manner in which the story of one man’s life is recounted here. Under other conditions, this could read like an overly self-aware device, but in the service of recounting a turbulent, violent life, the style ends up clicking surprisingly well. It’s a risky literary decision that pays off nicely.”


From Pegasus Books | The Court Dancer by Kyung-Sook Shin, translated from the Korean by Anton Hur | Fiction | ISBN 9781681777870 | US$25.95

What the publisher says: “Rich with historic detail and filled with luminous characters, Korea’s most beloved novelist brings a lost era to life in a story that will resonate long after the final page.”

What Booklist says: “Man Asian Literary Prize-winning Shin (The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness, 2015) alchemizes a brief mention in a French diplomat’s book about his turn-of-the-century Korean tenure into a gorgeous epic that seamlessly combines history and fiction to create a hybrid masterpiece.”

What I say: “Shin’s novel neatly captures two societies that are in flux and a romance that bridges them. The Court Dancer abounds with nuanced details, from the uses of diplomacy in late nineteenth-century statecraft to the difficulties of conveying the art of one culture to another without the necessary contextual information. The end result is an unpredictable tale of human connection amid political turmoil.”


From Open Letter Books | Narrator by Bragi Ólafsson, translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith | Fiction | 152 pages | ISBN 9781934824823 | US$14.95

What the publisher says: “This strange game of cat and mouse takes some dark turns . . . evolving into a complex, introspective journey of a man struggling to complete the unfinished narrative of his own life.”

What the Reykjavik Grapevine says: “The book is filled with Bragi’s unique brand of tamed absurdity, wherein reality seems to be on unstable footing, even if the characters do their utmost to disregard calamities.”

What I say: “Weaving in references from everything from the 2014 World Cup to the 1973 film La Grande Bouffe, Ólafsson’s novel satirizes a certain strain of male obsession while also leaving the door open (narratively speaking) to the potential that anything could happen. As one man tails another through Reykjavik, it’s unclear if this is the beginning of a comedy of manners or a much more unnerving story, and Ólafsson mines the tension inherent there for all it’s worth.”


From Semiotext(e) | Dusty Pink by Jean-Jacques Schuhl, translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman | Fiction | 128 pages | ISBN 9781635900132 | US$14.95

What the publisher says: “Written with the hope of achieving a ‘dreary distant banality,’ Jean-Jacques Schuhl’s first novel is a subjective stroll through an underground, glamorous Paris, a city that slips into the background but never disappears, hovering on the verge of its own suppression.”

What Rachel Kushner says: “Schuhl won the Prix Goncourt, quite deservedly, for Ingrid Caven (you might as well order that too, while you’re at it). This work, published a good forty years earlier, is even more radical, dazzling, and strange. A cult classic, sure to start a new trend of some kind, a dusting in dusty pink.”

What I say: “Schuhl’s novel blends found texts, film excerpts, a decidedly nonlinear approach to chronology, and a fixation on the Rolling Stones. The experimental prose style folds in a host of approaches and fragments, and the stream-of-consciousness evocations unearthed by these texts are oftentimes jarring and frequently transportive.”


From World Weaver Press | Solarpunk, edited by Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro, translated from the Portuguese by Fábio Fernandes | Fiction (anthology) | 276 pages | ISBN 9780998702292 | US$14.95

What the publisher says: “The English translation of the world's first solarpunk anthology. Groundbreaking science fiction stories from Brazil and Portugal.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “In a dark departure from the usual uplifting themes of the ecopunk genre, this Brazilian collection’s speculative exploration of technological primacy is anything but cheerful.”

What I say: “The stories in this anthology examine worlds—whether in the future or in an alternate timeline—where sustainable technology has become an essential part of everyday life. The strongest of them lead the reader to unpredictable places, tapping into the best aspects of speculative fiction. The stories here cover a lot of narrative ground, though some are more successful than others.” 

Published Aug 15, 2018   Copyright 2018 Tobias Carroll

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