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The Watchlist: July 2018

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 Coffee House Press | Comemadre by Roque Larraquy, translated from the Spanish by Heather Cleary | Fiction | 152 pages | ISBN 978-1566895156 | US$16.95

What the publisher says: “The world of Comemadre is full of vulgarity, excess, and farce: strange ants that form almost perfect circles, missing body parts, obsessive love affairs, and flesh-eating plants. Here the monstrous is not alien, but the consequence of our relentless pursuit of collective and personal progress.”

What the Los Angeles Review of Books says: “Part of the horrifying joy of this novel is how safely you can rest in the hands of a maniac as the narrative world is built and burned down around you.”

What I say: “In Larraquy’s taut, unsettling novel, two story lines separated by a century converge in unsettling ways. One focuses on bizarre medical experiments, while the other is centered on a transgressive artist. Both derive a visceral and unnerving power from the malleability of the human body and include a plant with bizarre and grotesque properties. Larraquy ventures into the gothic here, only to push beyond it into an even more disquieting realm of obsession, transformation, and the monstrous unknown.”


From Oneworld Publications | Lala by Jacek Dehnel, translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones | Fiction | 400 pages | ISBN 978-1786073570 | US$24.99

What the publisher says: “Lala has lived a dazzling life. Born in Poland just after the First World War and brought up to be a perfect example of her class and generation—tolerant, selfless, and brave—Lala is an independent woman who has survived some of the most turbulent events of her times. As she senses the first signs of dementia, she battles to keep her memories alive through her stories, telling her grandson tales of a life filled with love, faithlessness, and extraordinary acts of courage.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “First-time novelist Dehnel uses his grandmother’s life and reminiscences as a springboard for a sweep through Poland’s turbulent twentieth century, mingled with musings on the nature of storytelling.”

What I say: “First impressions can be deceiving. Dehnel’s novel initially seems to follow a familiar trajectory as its narrator tells the story of his beloved grandmother’s life, which spans much of the twentieth century and includes the shifting fortunes of Poland during that time. But underlying it are deeper and more complex ideas: the fallibility of memory, for one, and the arbitrary way that many people construct narratives from the lives of those around them, which adds a hint of conscious artifice to the nominally organic way in which this book unfolds.” 


From Editorial Argonáutica | The Owls Are Not What They Seem by Bernardo Esquinca, translated from the Spanish by Tanya Huntington | Fiction | 231 pages | ISBN 9786079757236

What the publisher says: “Bernardo Esquinca’s writing is characterized by its fusion of the supernatural with crime fiction. He is the author of the Horror Trilogy, made up of the short-story collections Los niños de paja, Demonia, and Mar Negro, and the Casasola Saga, made up of the novels La octava plaga, Toda la sangre, Carne ataúd, and Inframundo. He has been part of the Mexican National System of Creators, and in 2017 he received the National Prize for Noir Fiction.”

What Yuri Herrera says: “This book is like the adventure of an erudite who decides to go into a thickly dark room just to enjoy the fright of being touched by beasts unknown.”

What I say: “Esquinca’s collection abounds with unsettling moments, whether he’s creating a meticulously sustained sense of dread or venturing directly into the territory of the supernatural. Over the course of these stories, a memorable balance is established, due in no small part to Esquinca’s ability to evoke a sense of place—the works of Robert Aickman would be a solid point of comparison. Whether the source of fear is an ageless creature or an ethereal vision, Esquinca memorably establishes the resulting stakes and dangers.”


From Unnamed Press | Hunting Party by Agnès Desarthe, translated from the French by Christiana Hills | Fiction | 240 pages | ISBN 978-1944700713 | US$16.99

What the publisher says: “The unsuspecting member of a hunting party in the French countryside, Tristan is out of place . . . Tristan’s companions are Pastis-swilling tough guys with designs beyond catching dinner. Gentle, reflective Tristan has no intention of killing anything, so when his shot inadvertently grazes a rabbit, he saves the animal and hides it in his bag before the others notice. Tristan soon finds himself deeply connected to the wounded rabbit, whose voice comes alive to share its wisdom with the young man.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “In this spirited novel, a well-meaning wife convinces her sensitive husband, Tristan, to embark on a hunting trip with a few overzealous locals from their new hometown in the French countryside. Opening with a marvelously clever passage told from the point of a view of a rabbit, the early chapters establish Tristan’s inability to connect with his rugged fellow hunters, especially the outspoken and aggressive Dumestre.”

What I say: “You might think that you know what to expect when reading about a human bonding and communicating with an animal—something heartwarming or life-affirming, perhaps. In the case of Desarthe’s novel, the interspecies dialogue is surreal and philosophical, and it serves as one of several aspects of a story that includes an emotionally wrenching chamber drama, a harrowing tale of man versus nature, and an ominous depiction of nearly apocalyptic weather. A deceptive narrative hook draws the reader in and an unsettling interplay of characters and repressed violence holds their attention.” (Hunting Party includes an introduction by WWB Daily editor Jessie Chaffee.)


From Restless Books | Condomnauts by Yoss, translated from the Spanish by David Frye | Fiction | 208 pages | ISBN 978-1632061867 | US$16.99

What the publisher says: “Indirectly investigating current sexual mores, Cuban science fiction rock star Yoss plays upon stereotypes while making it clear that under Communist Cuba what is daring is not always funny and vice versa. Following the success of Super Extra Grande and A Planet for Rent, Yoss brings us another uproarious space adventure with Condomnauts, a wildly inventive and unapologetic tale that would make even Barbarella blush.”

What World Literature Today says: “As Condomnauts attests, Yoss melds criticism of imperialism and colonialism, capitalism and communism, heterosexuality and the sex trade, and more with an intimate knowledge of literary history and American science fiction, invoking such figures as Ursula K. Le Guin, Clifford Simak, and Philip José Farmer, to name a few.”

What I say: “In the hands of a different writer, the premise of Yoss’s novel Condomnauts might be the stuff of bawdy comedy—namely that in its futuristic setting, contact between spacefaring civilizations involves intimate relations. And while there are certainly lighthearted moments in the book, Yoss also turns a number of science fiction narrative conventions on their heads, adds a welcome sex-positive element to things, and meticulously spins a plot that’s more complex (and occasionally bleaker) than it seems.”


From New Directions | I Didn’t Talk by Beatriz Bracher, translated from the Portuguese by Adam Morris | Fiction | 160 pages | ISBN 978-0811227360 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “A professor prepares to retire—Gustavo is set to move from São Paulo to the countryside, but it isn’t the urban violence he’s fleeing: what he fears most is the violence of his memory. But as he sorts out his papers, the ghosts arrive in full force. He was arrested in 1970 with his brother-in-law Armando: both were viciously tortured. He was eventually released; Armando was killed. No one is certain that he didn’t turn traitor: I didn’t talk, he tells himself, yet guilt is his lifelong harvest.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “[Gustavo] protests, in the end, too much, and the reader is left to mistrust a narrator who has rationalized for half a century that his comrade and friend, though not deserving death, brought his fate on himself. Bracher’s story turns in on itself, revisiting those long-ago moments from the point of view of an old, tired man consumed by the deeds and misdeeds of youth.”

What I say: “Fragmented memories and recollections of literature are smashed together in this short, experimentally-structured novel about the aftereffects of trauma. Bracher’s story abounds with narrative and thematic contradictions and encompasses everything from the gulf between our own self-image and how others perceive us to the flaws that can arise when one attempts to apply literary analysis to a life. The resulting narrative is unpredictable and its dissonances resonate powerfully.”

Published Jul 16, 2018   Copyright 2018 Tobias Carroll

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