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The Watchlist: July 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 Counterpoint Press | Inhabitation by Teru Miyamoto, translated from the Japanese by Roger K. Thomas | Fiction | 312 pages | ISBN 9781640092174 | US$16.95

What the publisher says: “In 1970s Osaka, college student Tetsuyuki moves into a shabby apartment to evade his late father’s creditors. But the apartment’s electricity hasn’t been reconnected yet, and Tetsuyuki spends his first night in darkness. Wanting to hang up a tennis cap from his girlfriend, Yōko, he fumbles about in the dark and drives a nail into a pillar. The next day he discovers that he has pierced the body of a lizard, which is still alive. He decides to keep it alive, giving it food and water and naming it Kin.”

What The Japan Times says: “Thomas’ translation highlights the deep symbolism and existential dread of Miyamoto’s novel without ever descending into the absurdist misery of true existentialist literature.” 

What I say: Inhabitation is a story of a young man coming of age, dealing with the troubling legacy of his father, and falling in love. Inhabitation is also a transgressive story of an isolated young man bonding with the lizard he’s accidentally nailed to a column in his apartment. Balancing the familiar and disturbing elements in this narrative requires a sustained sense of balance; that’s exactly what emerges from immersing oneself in this haunting, unsettling novel. 


 

From Transit Books | Accomodations by Wioletta Greg, translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft | Fiction | 120 pages | ISBN 9781945492235 | US$16.95

What the publisher says: “Accommodations follows Wiola after she leaves her childhood village, a close-knit agricultural community in Poland where the Catholic calendar and local gossip punctuate daily life. Her new independence in the nearby city of Czestochowa is far from a fresh start, as she moves between a hostel and a convent brimming with secrets, taking in the stories of those around her.” 

What Publishers Weekly says: “This slim, offbeat volume from Greg (Swallowing Mercury) is a coming-of-age story of dichotomies: city and country, Russia and Poland, and the spiritual and the corporeal.”

What I say: Wioletta Greg’s followup to her acclaimed autobiographical novel Swallowing Mercury takes protagonist Wiola from the rural area in which she was raised to a busier urban setting. The year is 1994, and while the tumult that enveloped eastern Europe is largely referenced in passing, its presence is still felt in the ways Wiola becomes aware of a larger world—and gradually discerns that the traditions in which she was raised no longer hold true. 


 

From Candlewick Press | My Sweet Orange Tree by José Mauro de Vasconcelos, translated from the Portuguese by Alison Entrekin | Fiction | 272 pages | ISBN 9781536203288 | US$17.99

What the publisher says: “When Zezé grows up, he wants to be a poet in a bow tie. For now the precocious young boy entertains himself by playing clever pranks on the residents of his Rio de Janeiro neighborhood, stunts for which his parents and siblings punish him severely. Lately, with his father out of work, the beatings have become harsher. Zezé’s only solace comes from his time at school, his hours secretly spent singing with a street musician, and the refuge he finds with his precious magical orange tree.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “First published in 1968, this autobiographical novel is at once a bleak portrayal of emotional and physical abuse and an affecting examination of the healing powers of imagination and of nurturing friendship.” 

What I say: On one hand, My Sweet Orange Tree is a neatly-observed story of a young boy growing up in poverty in a sprawling city, told by a precocious narrator. On the other hand, there’s the novel’s subtitle: “The story of a little boy who discovered pain.” This is a work that evokes the experience of childhood without sugarcoating it. Narrator Zezé is intelligent and observant, but he also can be terribly cruel to those around him (and vice versa) — which makes this one of the more realistic and honest depictions of childhood you’re likely to read. That bitterness makes a handful of genuinely heartfelt moments resonate even more powerfully, however.

 

From Syracuse University Press | The Book of Disappearance by Ibtisam Azem, translated from the Arabic by Sinan Antoon | Fiction | 248 pages | ISBN 9780815611110 | US$19.95

What the publisher says: “The Book of Disappearance grapples with both the memory of loss and the loss of memory for the Palestinians. Presenting a narrative that is often marginalized, Antoon’s translation of the critically acclaimed Arabic novel invites English readers into the complex lives of Palestinians living in Israel.”

What Molly Crabapple says: “Using a magical realism as cool and lacerating as that of Borges, Azem builds the story of a young Israeli journalist and his vanished Palestinian friend into a devastating exploration of the nakbah, betrayal, erasure, and love of home.”

What I say: The Book of Disappearance has at its center a high-concept notion—the mass disappearance of Palestinians, possibly due to supernatural means—but Ibtisam Azem’s novel roots this surreal event in history and philosophy. At its center are two neighbors, one Palestinian and one Israeli, who each in their own way grapple with the complexities of the region in which they live. While the novel can feel overly metaphorical in a few places, the overall effect is unquestionably powerful.

 


 

From Amazon Crossing | Stars in His Eyes by Martí Gironell, translated from the Catalan by Adrian Nathan West | Fiction | 208 pages | ISBN 9781542040624 | US$24.95

What the publisher says: “From the concrete valleys of the Bronx to the sun-soaked hills of California, Jean crosses paths with legendary superstars, political powerhouses, and dangerous mobsters as he flees his past and pursues his dreams. With friends like Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, and James Dean to see him through, Jean soon gets his own taste of stardom, opening his glamorous Beverly Hills restaurant, La Scala, to nightly swarms of celebrities.”

What Authorlink says: “Stars In His Eyes is a telling contribution to European literature. Gironell has produced an engrossing story of one man’s life in the heady days of 50s and 60s California.” 

What I say: The protagonist of Stars in His Eyes flees Franco-era Spain for a better and safer life in the United States, where he briefly embraces the Puerto Rican community in New York City before venturing to the opposite coast and embarking on a career as a restauranteur. Gironell’s novel explores weighty themes, from identity to the allure of celebrity, but the array of cameos from cinematic luminaries occasionally detracts from the story at the core of the novel: its protagonist’s shifting sense of self, and the way that it can become untethered. 

 


 

From Spiegel & Grau | The Way Through the Woods: On Mushrooms and Mourning by Long Litt Woon, translated from the Norwegian by Barbara J. Haveland | Memoir | 320 pages | ISBN 9781984801036 | US$26.00

What the publisher says: “The Way Through the Woods tells the story of parallel journeys: an inner one, through the landscape of mourning, and an outer one, into the fascinating realm of mushrooms—resilient, adaptable, and essential to nature’s cycle of death and rebirth.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “The book is more a collection of edifying tales and facts than smooth narrative, but it’s entertaining nonetheless. Learning about glow-in-the-dark jack-o’-lanterns, puffballs that 'smoke' when you smash them, or toothy hedgehog mushrooms never gets old.” 

What I say: You might not expect a tale of grief and rebirth to fit neatly alongside the story of one woman finding her way in the mushroom-hunting community, but the two halves of Long Litt Woon’s memoir click in unexpectedly resonant ways. Perhaps it’s the way mushrooms emerge from decay; perhaps it’s through its author’s anthropological training, which allows her to analyze both the groups of mushroom aficionados she encounters along with her relationship with her late husband. What emerges is something not unlike the fungi she writes so rapturously about: a work that eludes easy categorization, but nonetheless taps into something essential. 


Published Jul 17, 2019   Copyright 2019 Tobias Carroll

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