Skip to content
Congratulations to 2021 Ottaway Award winner Naveen Kishore! Learn more.

The Watchlist: August 2020

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 Seven Stories Press | Bezoar: And Other Unsettling Stories by Guadalupe Nettel, translated from the Spanish by Suzanne Jill Levine | Fiction | 96 pages | ISBN 9781609809584 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “Intricately woven masterpieces of craft, mournful for their human cries in defiance of our sometimes less than human surroundings, Nettel's stories and novels are dazzlingly enjoyable to read for their deep interest in human foibles. Following on the critical successes of her previous books, here are six stories that capture her unsettling, obsessive universe.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “The stories span the globe and always find the darker corners of their geographies—from the side streets of Rome to dilapidated Mexican beach towns, mysterious Tokyo gardens to a psych ward in an unnamed European city.”

What I say: This slim collection is described accurately with its subtitle: these are disquieting stories that create a sense that something is very wrong rather than crossing the line into outright horror. What emerges are psychologically rich tales where the mood is overwhelming; for this reader, that’s an excellent thing indeed.


From Columbia University Press | Sachiko by Endō Shūsaku, translated from the Japanese by Van C. Gessel | Fiction | 432 pages | ISBN 9780231197311 | US$28.00

What the publisher says: “With the A-bomb attack on Nagasaki looming in the distance, Endō depicts ordinary people trying to live lives of faith in a wartime situation that renders daily life increasingly unbearable. Endō’s compassion for his characters, reflecting their struggles to find and share love for others, makes Sachiko one of his most moving novels.”

What Foreword Reviews says: “Set during World War II, Endō Shūsaku’s novel Sachiko shifts from the fated city of Nagasaki to the horrors of Auschwitz, developing versatile individual and intersecting perspectives with compassion.”

What I say: In telling the story of two friends wrestling with faith and their lives in a nationalistic state, Endō offers a morally dense and thought-provoking read. Sachiko does not shy away from the horrors of war or genocide, and Endō’s novel unsettlingly depicts the ways in which people can become complicit in horrific political systems.


From Bellevue Literary Press | Moss by Klaus Modick, translated from the German by David Herman | Fiction | 192 pages | ISBN 9781942658726 | US$16.95

What the publisher says: “An aging botanist withdraws to the seclusion of his family’s vacation home in the German countryside. In his final days, he realizes that his life’s work of scientific classification has led him astray from the hidden secrets of the natural world.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Modick skimps on story, but he’s a skilled prose stylist, and in the capable hands of Herman he conjures a graceful, thought-provoking portrait of memory and mortality.”

What I say: There’s a storied array of novels that grapple with isolation in ways both realistic and bizarre. Moss finds itself right in the middle of that spectrum: it’s narrated by a man of science, but in his isolation he’s begun to embrace an almost mystical strain in nature. The gradual progression of this narrative taps into a host of humanitarian and ecological concerns, even as it reminds the reader of the complex web of connections humans dwell within.


From Tilted Axis Press | Unexpected Vanilla by Lee Hyemi, translated from the Korean by So J. Lee | Poetry | 74 pages | ISBN 9781911284505 | UK£9.99

What the publisher says: “Detailing various intimacies in her ‘world of the second person,’ which still feels clandestine but safe from the threat of exposure, Lee explores the Korean language’s scope for ambiguous gendering. The task of the queer translator is to feel out the subtleties with respect, as one does in life, and not presume heterosexuality.”

What I say: Sometimes using sparse and efficient language and sometimes venturing into prose poetry, the works in Unexpected Vanilla summon up a powerful array of contradictory moods and emotions. “Flowers erupt through the body / Today I call blood leaking from vessels / the lips of an adulteress,” Lee writes in “Half the Blood,” offering a sense of the visceral imagery that abounds in this collection.


From NYRB Classics | Unwitting Street by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, translated from the Russian by Joanne Turnbull | Fiction | 192 pages | ISBN 9781681374888 | US$16.95

What the publisher says: “When Comrade Punt does not wake up one Moscow morning—he has died—his pants dash off to work without him. The ambitious pants soon have their own office and secretary. So begins the first of eighteen superb examples of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s philosophical and phantasmagorical stories.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “In these eighteen short stories, written between 1920 and 1940, Russian writer Krzhizhanovsky turns a sardonic eye on history, God, philosophy, the early days of the Soviet Union, and the writer's fate.”

What I say: Some of the stories in this collection are wry intellectual fables in a similar key to Calvino’s Cosmicomics; others offer a skewed and satirical take on Soviet bureaucratic life. While traditional fables offer a moral lesson, these instead illustrate a society and characters whose values and aesthetics have gone markedly awry. The result, for readers, is an unpredictable literary journey.


From And Other Stories | Many People Die Like You by Lina Wolff, translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel | Fiction | 192 pages | ISBN 9781911508809 | US$16.95

What the publisher says: “In this collection from the winner of Sweden’s August Prize, Lina Wolff gleefully wrenches unpredictability from the suffocations of day-to-day life, shatters balances of power without warning, and strips her characters down to their strangest and most unstable selves.”

What Ploughshares says: “Wolff shows us that while conventionality is, indeed, death, the opposite isn’t true: unconventionality isn’t life, and it won’t automatically make you happy—however much Wolff’s characters believe it will.”

What I say: Fraught relationships and tense encounters abound in Wolff’s collection. Her characters can be gloriously cosmopolitan in some ways and bleakly provincial in others; this is a book filled with flawed characters unaware of their own issues, coming together in ways they might later regret.

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 Aug 25, 2020   Copyright 2020 Tobias Carroll

Leave Your Comment

comments powered by Disqus
Like what you read? Help WWB bring you the best new writing from around the world.