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The Watchlist: February 2020

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 Two Lines Press | b, Book, and Me by Kim Sagwa, translated from the Korean by Sunhee Jeong | Fiction | 134 pages | ISBN 9781931883962 | US$16.95

What the publisher says: “In a piercing, heartbreaking, and astonishingly honest voice, Kim Sagwa’s b, Book, and Me walks the precipice between youth and adulthood, reminding us how perilous the edge can be.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “The girls are straddling childhood and young adulthood without guidance or help. And when Rang inadvertently exposes b's poverty, their friendship ends with devastating abruptness and pushes them separately toward the dreaded End.”

What I say: Kim Sagwa’s Mina was a tale of young adult frustration that suddenly broke open and featured one of the most unsettling scenes I’ve encountered in fiction in a while. Needless to say, I was curious to see what her next book in translation would be—and b, Book, and Me clearly establishes its author’s skill at conveying restlessness on the page. Here, too, there are a few moments that jar and shock the reader, but they’re of a very different nature than what was encountered in Mina—and this book displays a very different side of its author’s considerable skill.


From Open Letter | Garden by the Sea by Mercè Rodoreda, translated from the Catalan by Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent | Fiction | 230 pages | ISBN 9781948830089 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “The novel that defined Mercè Rodoreda’s most prolific period is finally available in English for the first time. Set in 1920s Spain, Garden by the Sea takes place over six summers at a villa by the sea inhabited by a young couple and their beautiful, rich, joyous friends. They swim, drink, tease each other, and fully enjoy themselves. All the while, the guests are observed by the villa’s gardener, a widow[er] who’s been tending the garden for several decades.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Though the laid-back narrative’s lack of stakes may make some readers fidgety, others will revel in the easy, unhurried passage of years and light intrigues at the villa.”

What I say: Garden by the Sea abounds with a sense of place—which, given that its central character is a gardener with an intimate knowledge of his surroundings, makes a whole lot of sense. The overall effect is not unlike a hybrid of Fitzgerald and Ishiguro: precise distillations of class conflict with measured amounts of repression and mostly-buried sorrow.


From Transit Books | Include Me Out by María Sonia Cristoff, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver | Fiction | 140 pages | ISBN 9781945492303 | US$16.95

What the publisher says: “Bold, subversive, and threaded through with acerbic wit, Include Me Out is an homage to silence and the impossibility of achieving it.”

What The Woven Tale Press says: “For such a slim volume that begins with particularly minute observations on a fly, there’s certainly a lot inside: a novel, a mystery, a research project on the history of Argentina, a world travelogue, a meditation on performance art as dissent, a study of Criollo horses, a philosophical examination of the silence-language spectrum, a peek into the process of translation, and a comparison of collective action versus individual protest.”

What I say: Cristoff’s short novel packs a powerful emotional punch. At its heart is a character with a penchant for unexpected observations and left-field connections between seemingly disparate subjects. As a result, this novel does in 140 pages what many can’t accomplish in double or triple that.


From Deep Vellum Publishing | The Love Story of the Century by Märta Tikkanen, translated from the Finnish by Stina Katchadourian | Fiction/Poetry | 152 pages | ISBN 9781941920930 | US$14.95

What the publisher says: “A classic Swedish-Finnish novel, haunting, profoundly personal, evocative novel, written in verse, dissecting one woman’s fraught relationship with her alcoholic husband.”

What the Nerd Daily says: “Although her words are spare, Tikkanen uses her time with the reader thoroughly. She explores the varied roles the unnamed narrator must take on with her husband: wife, mother, doctor, savior, voice of reason, and at times even accomplice.”

What I say: Harrowing and singular, this novel charts the unsettling experience of being in a thoroughly flawed marriage, its title looming ominously over the proceedings. But then Tikkanen offers glimpses of better days, and the reader has a sense of how this particular marriage has curdled over time. It’s a haunting look at the fault lines of a relationship.


From Restless Books | My Part of Her by Javad Djavahery, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan | Fiction | 240 pages | ISBN 9781632062437 | US$17.99

What the publisher says: “In exiled Iranian author Javad Djavahery’s captivating English debut, a youthful betrayal during a summer on the Caspian Sea has far-reaching consequences for a group of friends as their lives are irrevocably altered by the Revolution.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “At times reminiscent of Giorgio Bassani’s Garden of the Finzi-Continis, Djavahery’s novel is an aching evocation of a paradise lost, one that is impossible to regain, even in our narrator’s searching dreams.”

What I say: Reading Javad Djavahery’s My Part of Her is an intentionally dislocating experience. Its first half finds the novel’s narrator enmeshed in complex familial dynamics, power struggles, and the riddles of his own desires. In its second half, those intimate betrayals and deceptions play out on a grander historical scale; the result is a powerful work of fiction.


From Bitter Lemon Press | The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda, translated from the Japanese by Alison Watts | Fiction | 320 pages | ISBN 9781912242245 | US$14.95

What the publisher says: “The Aosawa Murders takes the classic elements of the mystery genre but steers away from putting them together in the usual way, instead providing a multi-voiced insight into the psychology of contemporary Japan, with its rituals, pervasive envy, and ever so polite hypocrisy. But it’s also about the nature of evil and the resonance and unreliability of memory.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Onda’s unusual narrative technique, which presents differing perspectives by giving only the responses to the interviewer’s questions, enhances the nesting-doll plot. American readers will appreciate why this puzzle mystery won the annual Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Fiction.”

What I say: Riku Onda’s The Aosawa Murders chronicles a crime and its aftermath—and, really, the aftermath of that aftermath. Its structure, featuring multiple narrators, found documents, and a novel within the novel, can seem imposing at first. It’s not a traditional detective story, but the ways in which it evades expectations make for a memorable read.

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

Published Feb 28, 2020   Copyright 2020 Tobias Carroll

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