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The Watchlist: February 2018

By Tobias Carroll

We are pleased to welcome Tobias Carroll as the new curator of WWB’s Watchlist. Each month, Tobias will share a handful of recently released or forthcoming titles in translation that he’s especially excited about. (Check out our Q&A with Tobias to learn more about his experiences as a reader, writer, and editor.)


From Vintage Books | Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck, translated from the Swedish by the author | fiction | 178 pages | ISBN 9781101973974 | US$16.00

What the publisher says: “A child is born in a tin can. A switchboard operator finds himself in hell. Three corpulent women float somewhere beyond time. Welcome to the weird world of Karin Tidbeck, the visionary Swedish author of literary sci-fi, speculative fiction, and mind-bending fantasy who has captivated readers around the world. Originally published by the tiny press Cheeky Frawg—the passion project of Ann and Jeff VanderMeer—Jagannath has been celebrated by readers and critics alike, with rave reviews from major outlets and support from lauded peers like China Miéville and even Ursula K. Le Guin herself. These are stories in which fairies haunt quiet towns, and an immortal being discovers the nature of time—stories in which anything is possible.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “A man in a troubled romantic relationship with an airship and the horror of being suicidally depressed in the presence of a merciful and loving God are just two of the intensely memorable stories in the English-language debut of Swedish fantasist Tidbeck (Vem är Arvid Pekon?).”

What I say: “Tidbeck’s novel Amatka was a heady, unpredictable read—a blend of an archetypal science-fictional narrative about people in a strange place encountering the uncanny with a haunting, almost metafictional account of a landscape seeking to shape the narrative on its own. (Alternately: imagine the middle ground between Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hainish Cycle and Renee Gladman’s Ravicka novels.) These stories show that Tidbeck’s fiction is capable of great restraint and austerity along with visceral, sometimes unsettling flights of fancy. Here, the science fictional sits beside the mythological, and the end result is a gripping and highly original vision. One story brings transcendence; the next fuels your nightmares. It’s no small feat.”


From Liveright Publishing Corporation | Farewell to the Horse: A Cultural History by Ulrich Raulff, translated from the German by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp | nonfiction | 449 pages | ISBN 9781631494321 | US$35.00

What the publisher says: “Horses and humans share an ancient, profoundly complex relationship. Once our most indispensable companions, horses were for millennia essential in helping build our cities, farms, and industries. But during the twentieth century, in an increasingly mechanized society, they began to disappear from human history. In this esoteric and rich tribute, award-winning historian Ulrich Raulff chronicles the dramatic story of this most spectacular creature, thoroughly examining how they’ve been muses and brothers in arms, neglected and sacrificed in war yet memorialized in paintings, sculpture, and novels—and ultimately marginalized on racetracks and in pony clubs. Elegiac and absorbing, Farewell to the Horse paints a stunning panorama of a world shaped by hooves, and the imprint left on humankind.”

What the Guardian says: “As you pick up the reins of this book—trying to get a sense of what sort of a ride it is to be—it becomes evident within three paragraphs that you have never read a book like it.”

What I say: “For certain writers, a particularly refined subject can nonetheless tell an expansive, globe-spanning story. Such is the case in Raulff’s Farewell to the Horse, which opens with a lament for the point in human history where horses were an essential part of everyday life, labor, and transportation. What follows is a survey of the role horses have played in a wide range of human activities. Raulff’s survey encompasses multitudes, from how ideologically different regimes have alluded to the majesty of a leader on horseback to how artists from George Stubbs to Lucien Freud have translated equine life onto the canvas. Sprawling and melancholic, this is a fascinating vantage point from which to consider several centuries’ worth of history and human progress.” 


From Canongate Books | Anna by Niccolò Ammaniti, translated from the Italian by Jonathan Hunt | fiction | 261 pages | ISBN 9781782118343 | US$15.00

What the publisher says: “It is four years since the virus came, killing every adult in its path. Not long after that the electricity failed. Food and water started running out. Fires raged across the country. Now Anna cares for her brother alone in a house hidden in the woods, keeping him safe from ‘the Outside.’ But, when the time comes, Anna knows they must leave their world and find another.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Ammaniti (I’m Not Scared) conjures a solemn dystopia in this picturesque view of a world gone wrong. Four years after a virus wipes out all adults, thirteen-year-old Anna Salemi spends her days foraging in the ruins of a Sicilian landscape ravaged by fires, looting, and violence.”

What I say: “Ammaniti’s novel is set in southern Italy in the very near future—specifically, one in which a devastating plague has killed all adults, and will do the same to children once they’ve hit puberty. Several years into the plague, the title character takes care of her younger brother, knowing that their time together is limited. Through flashbacks, Ammaniti reveals something of their family history, along with the story of the dog who joins them. While it’s gut-wrenchingly bleak at times—this is, after all, a book whose primary characters are children facing an early death—the handful of glimpses of hope are hard-earned. And one segment, focused on a chaotic enclave of children, is dizzying in its phantasmagorical imagery and harrowing in its implications.”


From New York Review Books | Memoirs From Beyond the Grave: 1768-1800 by François-René de Chateaubriand, translated from the French by Alex Andriesse | nonfiction | 550 pages | ISBN 9781681371290 | US$19.95

What the publisher says: “Written over the course of four decades, François-René de Chateaubriand’s epic autobiography has drawn the admiration of Baudelaire, Flaubert, Proust, Barthes, and Sebald. Here, in the first books of his massive Memoirs, spanning the years 1768 to 1800, Chateaubriand looks back on the already bygone world of his youth. He recounts the history of his aristocratic family and the first rumblings of the French Revolution. He recalls playing games on the beaches of Saint-Malo, wandering in the woods near his father’s castle in Combourg, hunting with King Louis XVI at Versailles, witnessing the first heads carried on pikes through the streets of Paris, meeting with George Washington in Philadelphia, and falling hopelessly in love with a young woman named Charlotte in the small Suffolk town of Bungay. The volume ends with Chateaubriand’s return to France after seven years of exile in England.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Writing decades after the actual events, Chateaubriand displays the sense of destiny, swirling ambition, and ego that marked his long, distinguished career. This memoir, ably translated by Andriesse with an introduction from historian Anka Muhlstein, reveals to English-speaking readers the famously aphoristic and flamboyant style that other French writers, including Baudelaire and Proust, admired and sought to emulate.”

What I say: “Books over a century old don’t often feel this fresh, but Andriesse’s translation of de Chateaubriand’s memoirs (at least, the first part of them) turns the account of a nobleman, writer, and explorer into an unexpectedly resonant work. Some of this comes from de Chateaubriand’s candor as a writer: even as he traces the contortions of France as it goes through its revolutionary period, and spends some time in the newly independent United States, he’s just as rigorous as he charts his own personal evolution on matters ranging from governments to religion. His deftness and expansive range makes for a compelling read, and a memorable voyage into history.”


From Dalkey Archive Press | Abrupt Mutations by Enrique Luis Revol, translated from the Spanish by Priscilla Hunter | fiction | 305 pages | ISBN 9781628972313 | US$21.00

What the publisher says:Abrupt Mutations leads the reader on a humorous, meandering tour of 1960s Megalopolis, at the heart of which is a hotly anticipated gathering of the city’s culturati at the home of O Jango, a Brazilian billionaire and aesthete equally revered and reviled by his fellow Megalopolitans. Parodying a number of literary styles, including the detective novel and science fiction, Revol’s novel is first and foremost a Menippean satire of the cosmopolitan west in the sixties, detailing hilariously but humanely the lives of intellectual and artistic émigrés who have fled from dictatorships and found in their adopted city opportunities for personal freedom and pleasure they previously could never have dreamed of.”

What critic and novelist Luis Chitarroni said: “Revol was a Cordobese Professor of English Literature, as well as a magnificent translator of English poetry into Spanish . . . A subtle and delicious e-mail arrived from Dalkey Archive [Press] a few days ago. A kind lady was enquiring about Revol’s novel, and it is now remotely possible that his strange, neglected book will be translated into English.”

What I say: “Early in Revol’s 1971 novel, there’s an allusion to a critical study of Julio Cortazár’s novel Hopscotch that’s ‘some four hundred pages longer than the novel itself.’ In other words, this is a book with a very literary strain of satire in mind. And in telling the story of several interwoven intellectual lives in the city of Megalopolis, Revol intersperses found narratives and, late in the book, adds an ‘entirely fictitious’ character into the mix. This layering of different strata of fiction at times recalls Flann O’Brien, but largely ventures into its own territory—sometimes intellectually restrained, sometimes raw and tragic.”


From Farrar, Straus and Giroux | Theory of Shadows by Paolo Maurensig, translated from the Italian by Anne Milano Appel | fiction | 179 pages | ISBN 9780374273804 | US$23.00

What the publisher says: “With the atmosphere of a thriller, the insight of a poem, and a profound knowledge of the world of chess (‘the most violent sport there is,’ according to the Russian world champion Garry Kasparov), Paolo Maurensig’s Theory of Shadows leads us through the life and death of Alekhine: not so much trying to figure out whodunit as using the story of one infuriating and unapologetic genius to tease out ‘that which the novel alone can discover.’”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “Furst meets Nabokov: an atmospheric blend of historical fact and detective-tale speculation against the backdrop of international chess.”

What I say: “At the center of Maurensig’s novel is a real-life event: the mysterious 1946 death of chess champion Alexander Alekhine in Portugal. Via a framing device, an author—presumably Maurensig or a metafictional stand-in—investigates Alekhine’s death, with the longest section covering the final days of his life. What emerges is a portrait of ambiguous allegiances and compromised talent. At the time of his death, Alekhine was something of a pariah due to his ties to the Nazi regime during the war. Whether he was merely trying to survive, or was far more ideologically compromised, is at the center of this book—a kind of literary chess game in which Alekhine’s own defense may be against the revelation of his own worst impulses. It’s a familiar narrative arc, but the method by which this story is told keeps things unpredictable.”

Published Feb 26, 2018   Copyright 2018 Tobias Carroll

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