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The Watchlist: December 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 Archipelago Books | The Barefoot Woman by Scholastique Mukasonga, translated from the French by Jordan Stump | Nonfiction | 146 pages | ISBN 9781939810045 | US$16.00

What the publisher says:The Barefoot Woman is Scholastique Mukasonga’s loving, funny, devastating tribute to her mother, Stefania, a tireless protector of her children, a keeper of Rwandan tradition even in the cruelest and bleakest of exiles, a sage, a wit, and, in the end, a victim, like almost the entire family, of the Rwandan genocide.”

What the New York Times says: “It’s a slender memoir, slightly shapeless but radiant with love. It might best be read as a companion to Cockroaches, Mukasonga’s devastating first book about her childhood and what she was able to learn about the slaughter of her family.”

What I say:The Barefoot Woman moves effortlessly from moments of lyrical and pastoral beauty to evocations of tragic events in the past and future. That the tone can be at once heartwarming and elegiac is a testament to Mukasonga’s talent as a writer. This is a work of nonfiction that immerses the reader in emotion and memory, a haunting and experiential volume.”

***

From Melville House Publishing | Revolution Sunday by Wendy Guerra, translated from the Spanish by Achy Obejas | Fiction | 191 pages | ISBN 9781612196619 | US$16.99

What the publisher says: “A novel about glamour, surveillance, and corruption in contemporary Cuba, from an internationally bestselling author who has never before been translated into English.”

What NPR says:Revolution Sunday is a complicated book, and a challenging one. It mixes poetry and prose, autofiction and hyperrealism, intense sensory detail and complete logistical vagueness. It has a plot, but not one that provides much momentum, or even meaning. Cleo floats through time and space—her senses are cranked up to eleven, but it’s hard to imagine her walking, or combing her hair. Her internal weather is the novel’s driving force.”

What I say: “Guerra’s novel abounds with reversals and unexpected revelations, from the narrator’s discovery of unnerving family secrets to personal relationships that abruptly shift. Above all, it’s a powerful meditation on the nature of home and the many ways in which one’s home—whether literal or metaphorical—can be simultaneously welcoming and threatening. The presence of multiple narrative threads about storytelling, from poetry to film, adds yet another meditative layer to this book.”

***

From Grove Press | The Day the Sun Died by Yan Lianke, translated from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas | Fiction | 342 pages | ISBN 9780802128539 | US$26.00

What the publisher says: “From ‘China’s most feted and most banned author’ (Financial Times), an unforgettable tale of a village that descends into a sleepwalking spell as the sun threatens to never rise again.”

What the Guardian says: “Yan’s disgust for his country’s moral degradation is unmistakable: a predatory ruling party exploiting its people even in death; the people themselves adrift from ritual and social norms and who now think only of getting rich at all costs.”

What I say: “The initial setup of The Day the Sun Died feels like the stuff of fables: a plague of sleepwalking overtakes a town, and a father and son desperately try to keep the people around them from harming themselves. But in this novel, the past has a visceral weight, and the dreamlike mood of the early pages rapidly takes on the escalating horror of a nightmare. That a version of Yan Lianke appears in the novel as a character adds to the jarring mood, creating a sense that anything is (narratively) possible.”

Read fiction by Yan Lianke in WWB

***

From the Song Cave | Scardanelli by Friederike Mayröcker, translated from the German by Jonathan Larson | Poetry | 48 pages | ISBN 9780998829050 | US$17.95

What the publisher says: “In Scardanelli, Friederike Mayröcker, one of the most well-known poets in Austria associated with the experimental German writers and artists of the Wiener Gruppe, continues to sharpen her mystical and hallucinatory poetic voice. Filled with memory and loss, these poems are time-stamped and often dedicated to the friends they address, including Friedrich Hölderlin—‘I do often go in your shadow’—who appears in the first poem of the book and stays throughout.”

What BOMB says: “The author of well over one hundred works of poetry and prose, including theatrical and musical productions, as well as children’s books, Friederike Mayröcker has been awarded every German-language prize literature has to offer. With breathless abandon, she has continually expanded her oeuvre and exploded notions of genre and convention, while always getting to the heart of this earthly living by invoking what Friedrich Hölderlin referred to as ‘poetic dwelling.’”

What I say: “Formally and linguistically bold, these poems from Mayröcker make their way through an uncharted territory. That comparison isn’t made lightly: there’s a dimensional and tactile quality to many of these poems that gives the reader a lingering sense of specific spaces—and a startling feeling of being yanked out of them when Mayröcker opts for an abrupt ending of transition, as she frequently does in these works.”

***

From Vintage Books | The Frolic of the Beasts by Yukio Mishima, translated from the Japanese by Andrew Clare | Fiction | 176 pages | ISBN 9780525434153 | US$16.00

What the publisher says: “Set in rural Japan shortly after World War II, The Frolic of the Beasts tells the story of a strange and utterly absorbing love triangle between a former university student, Kōji; his would-be mentor, the eminent literary critic Ippei Kusakado; and Ippei’s beautiful, enigmatic wife, Yūko. When brought face-to-face with one of Ippei’s many marital indiscretions, Kōji finds his growing desire for Yūko compels him to action in a way that changes all three of their lives profoundly.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Originally published in 1961, this luridly propulsive novel from Mishima (Confessions of a Mask) centers on a depraved love triangle between ‘a miserable, despairing woman’; ‘a self-indulgent, heartless husband’; and ‘a hot-blooded sympathetic young man.’”

What I say: “Some novels are fraught with tension and the awareness of something terrible awaiting its characters from the outset. In Mishima’s novel, translated into English for the first time, it’s clear by the end of the prologue that a bad end awaits the central trio of characters. Here, the most compelling element comes from the way that tension gathers, with both the potential of violence and philosophical discussions of morality abounding along the way.”

***

From Ugly Duckling Presse | Diary by Liliana Ponce, translated from the Spanish by Michael Martin Shea | Poetry | 32 pages | ISBN 978-1946433183 | US$10.00

What the publisher says: “Inspired by Ponce’s long-standing practice of keeping a daily journal, Diary is a twenty-part sequence that mixes the monotony of a long summer, the anxiety of creation, and a lush dreamscape of forests and vines. The poem meditates on what it means to remember, to wander, and to write while the shadow of the void, of an inevitable nothingness that hides in glances and small objects, lurks beneath the surface.”

What I say: “These prose poems abound with a meditative sense of spaces and the awareness of one’s body within them. Above all else, the works within Diary make a subtle but emphatic case for the gradual awareness of one’s surroundings and the rewards that can come from careful observation of the world.” 


Published Dec 17, 2018   Copyright 2018 Tobias Carroll

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