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The Watchlist: July 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 Open Letter Books | This Could Have Become Ramayan Chamar's Tale: Two Anti-Novels by Subimal Misra, translated from the Bengali by V. Ramaswamy | Fiction | 296 pages | ISBN 9781948830157 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “Together these two anti-novels are a direct assault on the vast conspiracy of not seeing that makes us look away from the realities of our socio-political order."

What Hindustan Times says: “Misra’s book is a harrowing portrait of how the structures of power and politics have completely failed those that they were established to protect. It uses the poignant description of a funny monkey attempting to scale a slippery bamboo—he climbs four feet only to slide down five.”

What I say: What happens when political engagement, righteous anger, and formal experimentation converge in a work of literature? This collection of two short anti-novels by Subimal Misra offers a thrilling answer to that question. There’s an exciting boldness to the way Misra draws seemingly disparate elements together, and while some of the formal techniques can be jarring, the awareness of injustice that infuses these works is deeply felt.

 

From Restless Books | Red Dust by Yoss, translated from the Spanish by David Frye | Fiction | 208 pages | ISBN 9781632062468 | US$17.00

What the publisher says: “As he did in his brilliantly funny and sharp science-fiction parables A Planet for Rent, Super Extra Grande, and Condomnauts, Yoss makes the familiar strange and the strange familiar in Red Dust, giving us an unforgettable half-human hero and a richly imagined universe where the bad guys are above the laws of physics.” 

What BookPage says: “Within Yoss’s succinct 150 pages, the reader follows an eccentric robot obsessed with noir fiction named Raymond after Raymond Chandler. Yoss goes beyond a reliance on overused storytelling methods to craft an entire story from overwrought science fiction tropes slamming into detective noir cliches.” 

What I say: The closest comparison I can make to Yoss’s Red Dust is probably the film Hot Fuzz; at least it would be if Simon Pegg were an android and Nick Frost had the ability to alter reality. Both works are commentaries on entire subgenres of crime fiction while also being successful examples of the same. In other words, both Yoss and his narrator know the tropes of this world well, but it doesn’t stop them from being satisfyingly deployed over the course of the book.

 

From New Directions | The Complete Works of Alberto Caeiro by Fernando Pessoa, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Patricio Ferrari | Poetry | 288 pages | ISBN 9780811227803 | US$18.95

What the publisher says: “This imaginary author was a shepherd who spent most of his life in the countryside, had almost no education, and was ignorant of most literature; yet he (Pessoa) wrote some of the most beautiful and profound poems in Portuguese literature.”

What Asymptote Journal says: “If Pessoa’s literary universe is a gala ball, peopled with his pseudonyms, then Alberto Caeiro must be a most charming guest, always encircled by the crowd. This book provides you with a panoramic view of Caeiro’s flourishing life, not only of his complete poetic collection—revealing a refreshing and original voice—but also with a series of additional prose pieces.”

What I say: A collection of hauntingly pastoral poetry from Fernando Pessoa’s heteronym Alberto Caeiro. Much like Pessoa’s work published elsewhere, these poems can feel both contradictory and passionately sincere. What does it take to create a writer who’s every bit your equal? This edition offers a sense of exactly that.

 

From Transit Books | Mansour’s Eyes by Ryad Girod, translated from the French by Chris Clarke | Fiction | 140 pages | ISBN 9781945492365 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “Set over the course of a single day in the Saudi Arabian capital, Mansour’s Eyes weaves together several historical pasts: the time of Mansour’s great-grandfather, the Emir Abdelkader; that of Algerian independence; and that of another Mansour, Mansur Al-Hallaj, a Sufi mystic executed in 922. In this lyrical and ambitious novel, Ryad Girod looks at the post–Arab Spring world as its drive toward modernity threatens to sever its relationship with the ethos of Sufi thought and mysticism.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Girod’s incisive, sometimes terrifying tale illuminates colonial history and the fraught nature of Mansour’s ideals, gleaming as brightly in the believer’s eyes as on the blade above his head.”

What I say: Ryad Girod’s Mansour’s Eyes falls into a rarefied category: a short novel that packs centuries’ worth of history into a slim volume. Here, Girod finds a host of historical echoes in the case of the title character, who faces his own execution as the novel opens. That Girod is able to blend political and historical sweep with a more intimately personal narrative in such a concise way is another testament to his skill as a writer.

 

From HarperVia | The Aunt Who Wouldn't Die by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha | Fiction | 160 pages | ISBN 9780062976321 | US$22.00

What the publisher says: “The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die is a frenetic, funny, and fresh novel about three generations of Mitra women who are surprising at every turn and defy all expectations. They may be guarding a box of gold, but they are the true treasures in this gem of a novel.”

What World Literature Today says: “This translation—of a difficult text to translate—possesses the rare quality of being appealing to both the English-speaking reader and to the audience who can understand the Bengali language. I’ve had a chance to read the original Bengali text as well, and the work has been successfully transferred, cultural flavor and all, into a rather curt and mercantile language like English.” 

What I say: Its title might evoke a work of 1950s pulp horror, but The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die ultimately has more rooted concerns at its heart. That’s not to say that there isn’t a restless phantom found within its pages; there certainly is. But Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s novel also wrestles with complex questions of social mores, class unrest, and gender expectations. If you think that might benefit from the addition of an angry ghost, well, you might have found your next read.


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 Jul 28, 2020   Copyright 2020 Tobias Carroll

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