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The Watchlist: February 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 Farrar, Straus and Giroux | Death Is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa, translated from the Arabic by Leri Price | Fiction | 192 pages | ISBN 9780374135737 | US$25.00

What the publisher says: “Khaled Khalifa’s Death Is Hard Work is the new novel from the greatest chronicler of Syria’s ongoing and catastrophic civil war: a tale of three ordinary people facing down the stuff of nightmares armed with little more than simple determination.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “Suggestive at times of a modern Decameron and a skillfully constructed epic that packs a tremendous amount of hard-won knowledge into its pages.”

What I say: “There have been many stories told in which estranged siblings are brought together by the death of a parent. Khaled Khalifa’s Death Is Hard Work takes a particularly harrowing perspective on this plot, though: the siblings are tasked by their deceased father with burying his body in a particular location, a task made more challenging by the civil war happening around them. Khalifa blends nuanced details about various characters with a sense of the visceral; the result is a haunting narrative.”


From River Books | The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth by Veeraporn Nitiprapha, translated from the Thai by Kong Rithdee | Fiction | 208 pages | ISBN 9786164510135 | US$11.99

What the publisher says: “Attuned to the addictive rhythms of a Thai soap opera and written with the consuming intensity of a fever dream, this novel opens an insightful and truly compelling window onto the Thai heart.”

What the Asian Review of Books says: “This is the first book-length translation of Veeraporn’s fiction in English. The novel is a poetic and surrealistic reimagining of the Thai romance, where the main characters are lost between unrequited desires and fantastical dreams that are realer than their everyday lives.”

What I say: “At its core, this novel from Veeraporn Nitiprapha has a simple dynamic: the tension between two sisters, and the young man whose life interweaves with each of theirs. What makes this novel unique is its attention to the granular, whether it’s the music that several of its characters obsess over or its author’s tendency to fill in the history or future of a specific character at a moment’s notice.”


From Biblioasis | Rain and Other Stories by Mia Couto, translated from the Portuguese by Eric M. B. Becker | Fiction | 168 pages | ISBN 9781771962667 | US$19.95

What the publisher says: “Shifting masterfully between forms—creation tale to meditation, playful comedy to magical twist—these stories grapple with questions of what’s been lost and what can be reclaimed, what future exists for a country that broke the yoke of colonialism only to descend into internecine war, what is Mozambican and what is Mozambique.”

What A Geography of Reading says: “Each story captures in its own way a very different life, a different experience and yet Couto manages in every single one to seduce me with language and then upend my expectations.”

What I say: “Readers who are only familiar with Couto’s fiction in the form of his novels will find another side to his work in this collection of short stories. Rain and Other Stories encompasses everything from unlikely confessionals to dreamlike forays outside of realism; it’s a concise and wide-ranging demonstration of Couto’s authorial range.” (Rain and Other Stories was translated by WWB editor Eric M. B. Becker)

Read fiction by Mia Couto in WWB


From Deep Vellum | “Muslim”: A Novel by Zahia Rahmani, translated from the French by Matthew Reeck | Fiction | 145 pages | ISBN 9781941920756 | US$14.95

What the publisher says:‘Muslim': A Novel is a genre-bending, poetic reflection on what it means to be Muslim from one of France’s leading writers. In this novel, the second in a trilogy, Rahmani’s narrator contemplates the loss of her native language and her imprisonment and exile for being Muslim, woven together in an exploration of the political and personal relationship of language within the fraught history of Islam.”

What the New York Times says: “A poetic novel reflecting on Islamic history and what it means to be Muslim.”

What I say: “‘I was born into a minor language and escaped from a distant nowhere that didn’t want me,’ Zahia Rahmani writes in this chronicle of the numerous forms isolation can take—and the numerous ways that identity can be both claimed and projected onto someone. This novel is brief in length, but Rahmani’s approach to it allows for a constant mutability of its form and a series of limitless stylistic renewals.”

Read fiction by Zahia Rahmani in WWB


From Restless Books | I Am God by Giacomo Sartori, translated from the Italian by Frederika Randall | Fiction | 224 pages | ISBN 9781632062147 | US$17.99

What the publisher says: “A sly critique of the hypocrisy and hubris that underlie faith in religion, science, and macho careerism, I Am God takes us on a hilarious and provocative romp through the Big Questions with the universe’s supreme storyteller.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “On page after laugh-out-loud page, this articulate God—and author—cover just about every cynical and lofty concept concerning one’s own existence that humans ever pondered.”

What I say:I Am God is a comedy of manners, in which the central character is an anti-authoritarian atheist and the pompous narrator—whose obsession with the main character borders on stalking—happens to be the creator of the entire universe. ‘I am God, not a peeping Tom,’ he writes, ‘Or some kamikaze friar raring to detox the little planet from its poisonous techno-consumer drug habit, its allergy to transcendence in any shape or form, and its obsession with sexual gratification.’ Sartori finds abundant humor in the gulf between his narrator’s omnipotence and his numerous foibles.”


From Guillotine | The Amphitheater of the Dead by Guy Hocquenghem, translated from the French by Max Fox | Science-fiction Memoir | 112 pages | US$12.00

What the publisher says: “A science-fiction memoir by the French thinker Guy Hocquenghem, written in the last months of his life with the intention of prolonging it. From May to the end of June 1988, Hocquenghem worked on this last book, writing in pen from his bed until complications from AIDS developed into paralysis and ‘his hand no longer responded to commands from his brain,’ as his comrade Roland Surzur writes in the preface.”

What I say: “The overlap of science fiction and autofiction isn’t a massive literary space, but this work from Guy Hocquenghem nestles perfectly in there. Knowing the circumstances of this book’s writing lend it a deeply bittersweet quality: it’s a man at the end of his life imagining himself at the end of a much longer life, a scenario that abounds with melancholy. But the manner in which Hocquenghem traces his own intellectual evolution also abounds with nuance and verve, and it’s one of many delights to be found within these pages.”


From Jewish Storyteller Press | The Dark Young Man by Jacob Dinezon, translated from the Yiddish by Tina Lunson; adapted and edited by Scott Hilton Davis | Fiction | 308 pages | ISBN 9780979815638 | US$19.95

What the publisher says: “Infusing European literary realism into a Russian-Jewish love story, Jacob Dinezon’s The Dark Young Man relates the efforts of a ruthless husband determined to preserve his authority over his wife’s family by destroying the reputation of her younger sister’s prospective bridegroom. Shady matchmakers and criminal intrigues conspire to keep the young lovers apart.”

What the Jewish Book Council says: “First published in 1877, Jacob Dinezon’s Yiddish novel The Dark Young Man, with its blend of romance and realism, launched him as a major voice in the Jewish literary world.”

What I say: “The essential conflict at the center of Jacob Dinezon’s novel is an almost archetypal one: a pair of star-crossed lovers and a malicious figure, close to both, who devotes himself to the utter destruction of any happiness they might have. That in combination with Dinezon’s passionate feelings about religious hypocrisy and the flaws of arranged marriages makes for a fine blend of philosophy and melodrama. (Unfortunately, one aspect of this novel that’s aged quite poorly is the number of references to the dark complexion of the novel’s villain.)” 


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

Published Feb 11, 2019   Copyright 2019 Tobias Carroll

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