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The Watchlist: December 2019

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 Grove Atlantic | The Story of a Goat by Perumal Murugan, translated from the Tamil by N. Kalyan Raman | Fiction | 192 pages | ISBN 9780802147516 | US$16.00

What the publisher says: “From one of India’s best-known writers and the author of the National Book Award–longlisted One Part Woman comes a charming and surprising tale of an orphaned goat and the family that decides to take care of her, despite the potential cost to them.” 

What Kirkus Reviews says: “Murugan can be openly comic about this, as when he satirizes the endless bureaucratic lines goats and their keepers endure. But he’s mostly straight-faced, in the tradition of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a similar allegorical tale; translator Raman notes the connection to the classic, and, as with Orwell, the story is straightforward as a fable while open to interpretation.” 

What I say: Had The Story of a Goat gone a little further in one direction or the other, it might have been difficult to take seriously; there’s always the risk, when putting animals front and center in a novel, of coming off as sympathetic or cloying. That’s not the case here; instead, in centering this novel around a goat, Murugan creates a narrative that goes beyond the humanistic toward a broader sense of universal empathy. Intimate and realistic in certain areas and mythic in others, this one might surprise you.


From Tilted Axis Press | Every Fire You Tend by Sema Kaygusuz, translated from the Turkish by Nicholas Glastonbury | Fiction | 272 pages | ISBN 9781911284291 | UK£9.99

What the publisher says: “In 1938, in the remote Dersim region of Eastern Anatolia, the Turkish Republic launched an operation to erase an entire community of Zaza-speaking Alevi Kurds. Inspired by those brutal events, and the survival of Kaygusuz’s own grandmother, this densely lyrical and allusive novel grapples with the various inheritances of genocide, gendered violence, and historical memory as they reverberate across time and place from within the unnamed protagonist’s home in contemporary Istanbul.” 

What the Arts Desk says: “The novel, which grapples with memories that are both an obligation and a burden, is a brave rejoinder to an ideology and a nation that continues to insist, even today, upon the ‘uniform homogeneity’ of its citizens.” 

What I say: Kaygusuz’s novel blends the personal with the folkloric in a number of intriguing ways; its scope is such that grand philosophical and theological concepts dovetail with the quotidian and specific details of one person’s life. It can at times feel overwhelming, but then again, isn’t that true of most of the ways in which history and life overlap? 


From Syracuse University Press | Gaia, Queen of Ants by Hamid Ismailov, translated from the Uzbek by Shelley Fairweather-Vega | Fiction | 216 pages | ISBN 9780815611158 | US$19.95

What the publisher says: “One of Ismailov’s few novels written in Uzbek, Gaia, Queen of Ants offers a rare portrait of a complex and little-known part of the world. A plot centered on political corruption and ethnic conflict is punctuated with Sufi philosophy and religious gullibility. As Ismailov’s characters grapple with questions of faith, power, sex, and family, Gaia, Queen of Ants presents a moving tale of universal themes set against a Central Asian backdrop in the twenty-first century.” 

What Asymptote Journal says: “Language invites the voice of the narrator to address directly the reader; it suddenly contracts into verses, reminding the reader that this story is a shamanistic tale.”

What I say: In telling a story in which three central characters each circle one another warily, Ismailov demonstrates the interconnectedness of life—both in terms of the odd ways individual lives can converge and the way nations’ histories careen off of and influence one another. A meditative, globe-trotting novel.


From Ugly Duckling Presse | The Last Innocence/The Lost Adventures by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated from the Spanish by Cecilia Rossi | Poetry | 64 pages | ISBN 9781946433619 | US$15.00

What the publisher says: “The Last Innocence and The Lost Adventures are Alejandra Pizarnik’s second and third collections of poetry. Published in Buenos Aires shortly after The Most Foreign Country—which she would later disavow—these early poems blend the real and the imaginary, demonstrating the inner torment, deep solitude, and acute vulnerability that would plague Pizarnik throughout her short life.” 

What [PANK] says: “Cecilia Rossi’s sensitive translations will widen Pizarnik’s readership and contribute to the increasingly common recovery projects of female writers and visual artists forgotten, lost, passed over, overpowered, or dismissed. Too many of these women lived or died tragically; the least we can do is to honor their work.” 

What I say: This collection of two short volumes of poetry carries significant emotional weight. Pizarnik’s verse movingly conveys a sense of melancholy and depression, but frequently offers glimpses of transcendence as well. In the end, these works give a tremendous sense of their author’s worldview and deftness with language.


From NYRB Classics | Free Day by Inès Cagnati, translated from the French by Liesl Schillinger | Fiction | 160 pages | ISBN 9781681373584 | US$14.95

What the publisher says: “In the marshy, misty countryside of southwestern France, fourteen-year-old Galla rides her battered bicycle from the private Catholic high school she attends on scholarship to the rocky, barren farm where her family lives. It’s a journey she makes every two weeks, forty miles round trip, traveling between opposite poles of ambition and guilt, school and home.” 

What the translator says: “[Cagnati’s] novels and short stories about the Italian immigrant community in France in the middle of the twentieth century resurrect a transitional era that might otherwise have passed without leaving a trace. Her quietly devastating debut novel, Free Day, which won France’s Prix Roger Nimier in 1973, offers an insider’s view of what it feels like to be an outsider, not only in the land in which you live but in the family to which you were born.” 

What I say: Free Day is ambitious in scope, blending the very particular life experiences of its protagonist with more universal questions of coming of age, as well as thoughts on class and education. The result is a thematically fraught narrative out of which the novel’s narrator struggles to summon some level of control. A moving, lived-in work.


From New Directions | The Last Wolf & Herman by László Krasznahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes and John Batki | Fiction | 128 pages | ISBN 9780811229050 | US$13.95

What the publisher says: “The Last Wolf (translated by George Szirtes) is Krasznahorkai in a maddening nutshell—it features a classic obsessed narrator, a man hired (by mistake) to write the true tale of the last wolf of Spain . . . Herman (translated by John Batki), ‘a peerless virtuoso of trapping who guards the splendid mysteries of an ancient craft gradually sinking into permanent oblivion,’ is asked to clear a forest’s last ‘noxious beasts.’” 

What the New Inquiry says: “Krasznahorkai’s apocalypse, in the end, does not take the form of a great disaster. Instead, it revels slowly in the destruction of distinction, the homogenization of the world. This is the horrible realization at the heart of Krasznahorkai’s books: the day of judgment has already passed, there is no other hell than this.” 

What I say: If you’re fond of the ways language and mood can inform one another, Krasznahorkai has plenty to offer. These two novellas offer a pair of brief forays into what he’s capable of, conveying a sense of barely sublimated violence and conflict between humans and the natural world. It’s a disconcerting read, even as you’re left stunned by the virtuosity of the storytelling. 


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

Published Dec 23, 2019   Copyright 2019 Tobias Carroll

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