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The Watchlist: January 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 And Other Stories | Tentacle by Rita Indiana, translated from the Spanish by Achy Obejas | Fiction | 144 pages | ISBN 978-1911508342 | US$13.99

What the publisher says:Tentacle is an electric novel with a big appetite and a brave vision, plunging headfirst into questions of climate change, technology, Yoruba ritual, queer politics, poverty, sex, colonialism, and contemporary art. Bursting with punk energy and lyricism, it’s a restless, addictive trip: The Tempest meets the telenovela.”

What the Guardian says:Tentacle shape-shifts dizzyingly around three time spans and a loosely connected group of characters, and takes on huge themes, including race and gender, the impact of tourism, apocalyptic events, and ecological disaster.”

What I say: “Where to begin? Rita Indiana’s Tentacle has the settings, themes, and expansiveness of a much larger book, but it blends that ambition with a host of irreverence (along with some nods to the music of Giorgio Moroder, which is never a bad thing). It’s a time-travel story, a meditation on gender and sexuality, and an art-world satire—as well as, arguably, a satire of ‘chosen one’ narrative tropes. To say that this is unlike anything else you’ll read this year is probably stating the obvious.”


From Open Letter Books | Night School: A Reader for Grownups by Zsófia Bán, translated from the Hungarian by Jim Tucker | Fiction | 270 pages | ISBN 9781940953885 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “A story collection masquerading as an encyclopedia of life, Night School makes our all-too-familiar world appear simultaneously foreign and untamed, and brings together lust, taboos, and the absurd in order to teach us the art of living, all in a wildly clever way.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “Acerbic, playful, full of quick-witted philosophy, and unstintingly original, this is a varied and unsettling reader for our varied and unsettling times.”

What I say: “Zsófia Bán’s Night School abounds with literary and historical references, and the number of styles incorporated demonstrates the author’s range. There’s a bleak humor to several of the stories, and images both artistic and satirical (including Renaissance art, a ping-pong diagram, and a South Park character) serve as counterpoints to the narratives. The ‘reader’ device comes complete with a slew of discussion questions as well, i.e. ‘CALCULATE how many angels can fit on the head of a pin if each angel is approximately 45mm and faithless.’ Some of the stories click better than others, but it’s hard to shake the talent on display here.”

Read fiction by Zsófia Bán in WWB


From Phoneme Media | The Freedom Factory by Ksenia Buksha, translated from the Russian by Anne O. Fisher | Fiction | 220 pages | ISBN 9781944700157 | US$15.00

What the publisher says: “Ksenia Bushka’s The Freedom Factory tells the story of a real-life military factory through monologues collected from anonymized workers, managers, and engineers. Not exactly realism, the novel combines poetry and documentary in unique proportion to transport its reader to the harsh and magnetic factory floor.”

What Foreword Reviews says: “This collection of vignettes blurs the line between realism and poetry. Separate personal histories form a narrative portrait of the Freedom Factory during its tenure as a Soviet manufacturing facility and into its inevitable decline.”

What I say: “Some histories are told in a straightforward manner; others arise out of context based on seemingly disparate information. Ksenia Buksha’s The Freedom Factory offers a very particular window into several decades’ worth of history in the Soviet Union through the experiences of workers at the factory that gives the book its title. The result is a reflection of how history shapes quotidian experiences, from the humdrum to the harrowing.”


From Granta Books | Jokes for the Gunmen by Mazen Maarouf, translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright | Fiction | 176 pages | ISBN 9781846276675 | US$14.85

What the publisher says: “A brilliant collection of fictions in the vein of Roald Dahl, Etgar Keret, and Amy Hempel. These are stories of what the world looks like from a child's pure but sometimes vengeful or muddled perspective. These are stories of life in a war zone, life peppered by surreal mistakes, tragic accidents, and painful encounters.”

What the Irish Times says: “Mazen Maarouf’s Jokes for the Gunmen is a debut collection that returns over and over again to the subject of humor as its characters try to make sense of life in a Lebanese warzone . . . By mixing the domestic with the horrific, the irreality of war comes through as we watch his characters live through unimaginable violence.”

What I say: “Many of the stories in Mazen Maarouf’s Jokes for the Gunmen are centered around the perspectives of children, and many bear witness to unspeakable violence and corruption. This dynamic suffuses the book with an unpredictable tension, one in which a precocious child could reveal unsettling layers or a beatific moment might arise out of the midst of chaos.”

Read poetry by Mazen Maarouf in WWB


From University of Texas Press | The Enlightened Army by David Toscana, translated from the Spanish by David William Foster | Fiction | 232 pages | ISBN 9781477317778 | US$19.95

What the publisher says: “After spending decades attempting to vindicate his supposed triumph and claim the medal, Matus seeks an even bigger vindication—he will reconquer Texas for Mexico! Recruiting an army of ‘los iluminados,’ the enlightened ones, Matus sets off on a quest as worthy of Don Quixote as it is doomed.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “Toscana’s postmodern satire explores the darker side of Mexico’s impression of the United States and Mexico’s own place ‘toward the bottom where the crumbs are handed out.’ The jokes are obvious, but the message is subtle and deft.”

What I say: “What makes for a welcome window into history? The experiences of the frustrated hero of David Toscana’s novel The Enlightened Army and his quixotic quest to both conquer Texas and receive his due for his long-distance running achievements offer plenty of them. It’s no coincidence that much of the action of this novel overlaps with the 1968 Summer Olympics, and the handful of temporal jumps forward add an unexpected sense of tragedy to the proceedings.”


From Penguin Books | Adèle by Leila Slimani, translated from the French by Sam Taylor | Fiction | 240 pages | ISBN 9780143132189 | US$16.00

What the publisher says: “Driven less by pleasure than compulsion, Adèle organizes her day around her extramarital affairs, arriving late to work and lying to her husband about where she’s been, until she becomes ensnared in a trap of her own making. Suspenseful, erotic, and electrically charged, Adèle is a captivating exploration of addiction, sexuality, and one woman’s quest to feel alive.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Though some readers might feel the novel waits too long to explore why its protagonist feels compelled to behave the way she does, this is nevertheless a skillful character study. Slimani’s ending is the perfect conclusion to this memorable snapshot of sex addiction.”

What I say: “Haunted and compulsive, the title character of Leila Slimani’s Adéle comes from a long line of self-destructive literary figures whose actions are nonetheless gripping to read about. Slimani eschews overly pat psychological explanations for the behavior of both Adèle and her husband, which adds to the tension here. The issues that each of them face, and which threaten their marriage, are not ones that can be easily managed—which in turn imparts an unsettling atmosphere to this book.” 

Published Jan 15, 2019   Copyright 2019 Tobias Carroll

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