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The Watchlist: June 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 Liveright | The Collected Stories of Machado de Assis by Machado de Assis, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson | Fiction | 960 pages | ISBN 978-0871404961 | US$35.00

What the publisher says: “Drawn to the master’s psychologically probing tales of fin-de-siècle Rio de Janeiro, a world populated with dissolute plutocrats, grasping parvenus, and struggling spinsters, acclaimed translators Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson have now combined Machado’s seven short-story collections into one volume, featuring seventy-six stories, a dozen appearing in English for the first time.”

What the New York Times says: “To Stefan Zweig, Machado was Brazil’s answer to Dickens. To Allen Ginsberg, he was another Kafka. Harold Bloom called him a descendant of Laurence Sterne, and Philip Roth compared him to Beckett. Others cite Gogol, Poe, Borges, and Joyce. In the foreword to The Collected Stories of Machado de Assis, published this month, the critic Michael Wood invokes Henry James, Henry Fielding, Chekhov, Sterne, Nabokov, and Calvino—all in two paragraphs.”

What I say: “Afficionados of the well-composed short story will find plenty to delight in in this comprehensive compilation of the works Machado produced during his long career. A host of overlapping strengths is on display here, from the writer’s piercing eye for satire and social mores to his playfulness with form—the collection includes a handful of stories that venture into the realm of metafiction. Machado also has a flair for the grotesque and the gothic, and the resulting combination of his various styles helps to keep each of the many stories distinct.”


From Other Press | In the Distance With You by Carla Guelfenbein, translated from the Spanish by John Cullen | Fiction | 406 pages | ISBN 978-1590518700 | US$17.95

What the publisher says: “This Chilean literary thriller tells the story of three lives intertwined with that of an enigmatic author, whose character is inspired by the groundbreaking Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector.”

What Nylon says: “This novel spans several tumultuous decades in the life of an enigmatic Chilean author, Vera Sigall (who is based on enigmatic Brazilian author Clarice Lispector), only it’s told not sequentially, but in reveal after reveal, as several of Sigall’s young admirers try to better understand the mysterious past of their idol.”

What I say: “There’s something about a good literary mystery that can satisfy a reader on multiple levels. Guelfenbein’s novel has plenty of compelling elements, as three distinct narrators attempt to puzzle out the life of Vera Sigall, an acclaimed Chilean writer. Adding to the sense of drama is the presence of real-life totalitarian horrors of the twentieth century, which recur painfully throughout the narrative. Though the parallels drawn between Sigall and Clarice Lispector are pretty clear—down to a passage about Lispector biographer Benjamin Moser having written about Sigall—the real power here comes from the overlapping plotlines, which venture into some unexpected places.”


From Grove Press | Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori | Fiction | 176 pages | ISBN 978-0802128256 | US$20.00

What the publisher says: “Sayaka Murata brilliantly captures the atmosphere of the familiar convenience store that is so much part of life in Japan. With some laugh-out-loud moments prompted by the disconnect between Keiko’s thoughts and those of the people around her, she provides a sharp look at Japanese society and the pressure to conform, as well as penetrating insights into the female mind.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “Murata provides deceptively sharp commentary on the narrow social slots people—particularly women—are expected to occupy and how those who deviate can inspire bafflement, fear, or anger in others. Indeed, it’s often more interesting to observe surrounding characters’ reactions to Keiko than her own, sometimes leaving the protagonist as a kind of prop.”

What I say: “Keiko Furukura, narrator and protagonist of Murata’s novel, makes for a fascinating central character: she’s emotionally detached from the people around her and has a way of echoing aspects of their personalities to present a more normal face to the world. As her comfortable life working in a convenience store is upended by the arrival of an antisocial colleague, her observations on societal expectations, toxic masculinity, and conformity lend the novel an unexpected bite.”


From Farrar, Straus and Giroux | History of Violence by Édouard Louis, translated from the French by Lorin Stein | Nonfiction novel | 224 pages | ISBN 978-0374170592 | US$25.00

What the publisher says: “A bestseller in France, History of Violence is a short nonfiction novel in the tradition of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, but with the victim as its subject. Moving seamlessly and hypnotically between past and present, between Louis’s voice and the voice of an imagined narrator, History of Violence has the exactness of a police report and the searching, unflinching curiosity of memoir at its best.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Louis’s visceral story captures the overwhelming emotional impact and complicated shame of surviving sexual assault.”

What I say: “Louis’s nonfiction novel is precisely arranged and quietly devastating as it narratively circles the horrific act of violence at its center. Louis focuses on a series of human interactions while expanding the book’s scope, encompassing questions of institutional racism, the legacy of trauma, and the flaws of human connection. The end result is a deeply unsettling work that painstakingly reconstructs a terrible event and its aftereffects.”


From And Other Stories | Brother In Ice by Alicia Kopf, translated from the Catalan by Mara Faye Lethem | Fiction | 320 pages | ISBN 9781911508205 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “This hybrid novel—part research notes, part fictionalized diary, and part travelogue—uses the stories of polar exploration to make sense of the protagonist’s own concerns as she comes of age as an artist, a daughter, and a sister to an autistic brother. Conceptually and emotionally compelling, it advances fearlessly into the frozen emotional lacunae of difficult family relationships.”

What the Guardian says: “Kopf frequently juxtaposes science with the metaphysical, or with quotidian banality. Set against the growing body of ‘facts’ and ‘documents’ that preoccupy the narrator, the status of the personal material is less certain; is it fiction or nonfiction, and does it matter? How much can we ever trust what we are told in a novel; is the writer looking in or out?”

What I say: “Blending aspects of memoir, fiction, travelogue, and art project, Kopf’s book transforms the geographic into the metaphorical (and vice versa), all the while retaining an awareness of the nature of the process that it took to create it. While not all of the parallels that Kopf evokes in this book entirely click, the boldness of the project and the distinct voice with which it’s told make for a thoroughly thought-provoking read.”


From Two Lines Press | The Tidings of the Trees by Wolfgang Hilbig, translated from the German by Isabel Fargo Cole | Fiction | 112 pages | ISBN 978-1931883726 | US$12.95

What the publisher says: “One of celebrated German author Wolfgang Hilbig’s most accessible and resonant works, The Tidings of the Trees is about the politics that rip us apart, the stories we tell for survival, and the absolute importance of words to nations and people. Featuring some of Hilbig’s most striking, poetic, and powerful images, this flawless novella perfectly balances politics and literature.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Personal history is inconsequential here; the political remnants of a shadowy history are far more important. The garbagemen are living in the detritus of an erased nation (coffee grinders and party membership files, among other refuse).”

What I say: “Hilbig’s novels carry within them a pronounced sense of place, the setting as much of a character as any of the human figures on display. In The Tidings of the Trees, the barren landscape that he describes, and the ominous figures that populate it, creates a sustained atmosphere of desperation and ruin. Throughout, Hilbig evokes a tactile feeling of alienation, blending the surreal and the quotidian into one stylized narrative.”

Published Jun 13, 2018   Copyright 2018 Tobias Carroll

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