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The Watchlist: February 2021

By Tobias Carroll


Each month, Tobias Carroll shares a handful of recently released or forthcoming titles in translation that he’s especially excited about. February's selection includes books translated from Arabic, Russian, French, Swedish, and Japanese.

 

From Other Press | In the Company of Men by Véronique Tadjo, translated from the French by the author and John Cullen | Fiction | 160 pages | ISBN 9781635420951 | US$14.99

What the publisher says: “In a series of moving snapshots, Véronique Tadjo illustrates the terrible extent of the Ebola epidemic, through the eyes of those affected in myriad ways: the doctor who tirelessly treats patients day after day in a sweltering tent, protected from the virus only by a plastic suit; the student who volunteers to work as a gravedigger while universities are closed, helping the teams overwhelmed by the sheer number of bodies; the grandmother who agrees to take in an orphaned boy cast out of his village for fear of infection.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Tadjo humanizes the crisis, and the most resonant scenes bear witness to the virus as it spreads in ‘silence, a thick, threatening silence, auguring even more harrowing days to come.’ Brief and haunting, this makes for a timely testament to the destructive powers of pandemics.”

What I say: Is it disorienting to be reading a book set during one pandemic while living through another? Oh yes. But Tadjo’s novel is also profoundly moving in the ways it addresses mortality and the natural world, for good and for ill. That this short novel can encompass both documentary-like passages and more philosophical musings is further evidence of its power. One of the essential reads of 2021.

 

From University of Texas Press | A Bed for the King’s Daughter by Shahla Ujayli, translated from the Arabic by Sawad Hussain | Fiction | 60 pages | ISBN 9781477322284 | US$16.00

What the publisher says: “A groundbreaking collection of experimental short fiction by Syrian author and Booker International Prize for Arabic Fiction nominee Shahla Ujayli, A Bed for the King’s Daughter uses surrealism and irony to examine women’s agency and the decline of modern collective life.”

What Chicago Review of Books says: “How do you sharply round out a story that is headed for a cliff? How do you make the sudden feel inevitable, circumventable, then over, as if all at once? Repeatedly, Ujayli manages, if not to square the circle, then to circle the square and so every square within it.”

What I say: Don’t let the relatively brief length of this collection fool you—these stories offer readers a fascinating cross-section of styles, tones, and themes. Some grapple with the political and social struggles of the present day, while others address more timeless themes. The end result is a memorable showcase for Ujayli’s skills as a writer.

 

From Peirene Press | Nordic Fauna by Andrea Lundgren, translated from the Swedish by John Litell | Fiction | 160 pages | ISBN 9781908670632 | UK£12.00

What the publisher says: “In these six short stories, Andrea Lundgren explores a liminal space where the town meets the wilderness and human consciousness meets something more animalistic.”

What Peakreads says: “The translation is superb: John Litell conveys brilliantly the unease and menace both explicit and implicit in the stories as well as really getting inside the heads and the hearts of the narrators to give us the emotional timbre of the stories too.”

What I say: One of the stories in Lundgren’s collection opens with the mercy killing of a critically injured cat, a harrowing scene described in unflinching terms. Throughout Nordic Fauna, Lundgren’s characters ponder the natural world, economic uncertainty, and humanity’s place in the world. What makes these stories distinctive are the ways they balance the familiar and the unknown, creating tension that runs throughout the book.

 

 

From New Directions | In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova, translated from the Russian by Sasha Dugdale | Nonfiction | 400 pages | ISBN 9780811228831 | US$19.99

What the publisher says: “In dialogue with writers like Roland Barthes, W. G. Sebald, Susan Sontag, and Osip Mandelstam, In Memory of Memory is imbued with rare intellectual curiosity and a wonderfully soft-spoken, poetic voice. Dipping into various forms—essay, fiction, memoir, travelogue, and historical documents—Stepanova assembles a vast panorama of ideas and personalities and offers an entirely new and bold exploration of cultural and personal memory.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “In a work that crosses the boundaries of fiction and nonfiction, Russian poet and journalist Stepanova recounts the lives of her ancestors, rural Russian Jews who, on moving to Moscow, could never quite go home again.”

What I say: In Memory of Memory features a stunningly ornate structure and a rigorous handling of the past, making for a thoroughly unique look at a thoroughly unique family. Throughout the book, Stepanova’s own words are in dialogue with both other literary works and with her family’s history; that she pulls it off is an impressive feat.

 

From Dedalus Press | A Gap in the Clouds: A New Translation of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu by various authors, translated from the Japanese by James Hadley and Nell Regan | Poetry | 144 pages | ISBN 9781910251836 | EU€20.00

What the publisher says: “Compiled around 1235, the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, or Ogura’s 100 Poems by 100 Poets, is one of the most important collections of poetry in Japan.”

What I say: The authors of the short poems contained in this volume pondered life, human connection, and the natural world centuries ago. In this concise and evocative translation, their musings give a fine sense of the time and place in which they were written while also resonating withs the present moment.


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


Disclosure: Words Without Borders is an affiliate of Bookshop.org and will earn a commission if you use the links above to make a purchase.


Published Feb 26, 2021   Copyright 2021 Tobias Carroll

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