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The Watchlist: June 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 Seagull Books | Ice by Sonallah Ibrahim, translated from the Arabic by Margaret Litvin | Fiction | 256 pages | ISBN 9780857426505 | US$21.50

What the publisher says: "Based on Ibrahim’s own experience studying at the All-Russian Institute of Cinematography in Moscow from 1971 to 1973, Ice offers a powerful exploration of Arab confusion, Soviet dysfunction, and the fragility of leftist revolutionary ideals.”

What Jadaliyya says: “The protagonist is haunted by the hollowness of his relationships, and it is this alienation that is arguably the main theme of the novel. For 200 pages, Ibrahim explores the truism that we never feel so alone as we do in a crowd. As the title of the novel suggests, the experience is chilling.”

What I say: From the short, fragmented chapters that make up Ice, readers gradually get a sense of its narrator’s isolation: he’s a man far from home, watching the region in which he grew up erupt into war, and grappling with political ideologies and the reality of life in the Soviet Union. Some of the most intriguing parts of Ice are the quotidian descriptions of life in Moscow, providing a window into a world unfamiliar for many readers. And there are a few extemporaneous thoughts on the writings of Thorton Wilder, which are always welcome.


From NYRB Poets | Vasko Popa by Vasko Popa, translated from the Serbo-Croatian by Charles Simic | Poetry | 160 pages | ISBN 9781681373362 | US$16.00

What the publisher says: “Vasko Popa is widely recognized as one of the great poets of the twentieth century, a riddling fabulist, whose work, taking its bearings from the songs and folklore of his native Serbia and from surrealism, has a dark gnomic fatalistic humor and pathos that are like nothing else. Charles Simic, a master of contemporary American poetry, has been translating Popa’s work for more than a quarter century. This revised and greatly expanded edition of Simic’s Popa is a revelation.”

What Bookslut says: “What do you do when you live in a nightmare? Well, you reread Vasko Popa, and you sing him back to yourself in the wrong language, even if it gives you more nightmares, I guess. I can’t think of anything better to do.”

What I say: Vasko Popa’s poetry abounds with naturalistic imagery and the sweep of history and mythology. That leads to a deeply unsettling selection of poems, however: for all that the images conveyed through them are rich, they’re also frequently ominous or disquieting. Also, this would make an excellent gift for the heavy metal fan in your life. Consider these lines, from “St. Sava the Blacksmith”: “From the surrounding hills/ The wolves call out to him/ Their backbones on fire.” Sunn 0))) has nothing on Vasko Popa.


From Other Press | Beyond All Reasonable Doubt by Malin Persson Giolito, translated from the Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles | Fiction | 452 pages | ISBN 9781590519196 | US$16.00

What the publisher says: “From the award-winning author of Quicksand, a gripping legal thriller that follows one woman’s conflicted efforts to overturn what may be a wrongful conviction.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “This meticulously crafted novel proves Segerstad’s bitterly ironic claim made at the time he asks Sophia to take on the case: “How could Stig Ahlin be innocent? Our police always tell the truth, our prosecutors are never careless, and the opinions of our judges never fail. Everything is perfect in our country.” Fans of Nordic noir won’t want to miss this one.”

What I say: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, about one lawyer’s attempts to get a retrial for a man notoriously convicted of a horrific murder, begins with a slow burn, but it’s one that largely pays off. The characters within the novel are thorny and bristle against one another, creating a realistic dynamic throughout. The gulf between ideals and reality plays out in a number of ways here, to memorable effect—but the ending relies on a couple of decisions by minor characters which ultimately reduces some of its power. 


From Scribe | Among the Lost by Emiliano Monge, translated from the Spanish by Frank Wynne | Fiction | 368 pages | ISBN 9781947534797 | US$17.00

What the publisher says: “In the desolate wastelands between the sierra and the jungle, under an all-seeing, unforgiving sun, a single day unfolds as relentlessly as those that have gone before. People are trafficked and brutalised, illegal migrants are cheated of their money, their dreams, their very names, even as countless others scrabble to cross the border, trying to reach a land they call El Paraíso.”

What The Guardian says: “In an odyssey of relentless human cruelty, Emiliano Monge, one of the many linguistically adroit writers currently at work in what is an exciting era for Mexican fiction, spares no one. That he can succeed in generating any sympathy for his frenetic lovers is entirely due to the ferocious eloquence of his prose, which has been magnificently well served by translator Frank Wynne’s Miltonic register.”

What I say:  Blending a sense of the archetypal with a deeply contemporary story, Among the Lost is an utterly harrowing read that takes numerous artistic and structural risks across its pages. Those risks are themselves thrilling, but the effectiveness when they do click—which is often—makes for a wholly immersive, deeply surreal read. Here, bodies and identities blur and a miasma of corruption surrounds the proceedings. It’s a grand and unsettling work. 


From New Directions | The Dry Heart by Natalia Ginzburg, translated from the Italian by Frances Frenaye | Fiction | 96 pages | ISBN 9780811228787 | US$12.95

What the publisher says: “The Dry Heart begins and ends with the matter-of-fact pronouncement: “I shot him between the eyes.” As the tale—a plunge into the chilly waters of loneliness, desperation, and bitterness—proceeds, the narrator’s murder of her flighty husband takes on a certain logical inevitability. Stripped of any preciousness or sentimentality, Natalia Ginzburg’s writing here is white-hot, tempered by rage.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “To say that she’s understated is itself a serious understatement. This slim, swift book—closer in length to a novella than a novel—was first published in Italy in 1947, but it feels chillingly modern in its structure, subject matter, and tone.”

What I say: This short novel taps into the bleak and primal energy of classic noir, albeit with an Italian setting. Ginzburg’s narrator grapples with society’s limitations and the fundamental dishonesty of her husband, but the novel frequently ventures into even bleaker emotional territory—and this, remember, comes from a book that opens with an act of murder. 


From Two Lines Press | The Skin Is the Elastic Covering that Encases the Entire Body by Bjørn Rasmussen, translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken | Fiction | 120 pages | ISBN 9781931883856 | US$12.95

What the publisher says: “A feverish combination of stream of conscious, autobiography, collage, and narrative, Skin marks the arrival of a truly original literary voice. Reminiscent of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, it is as omnivorous as the bodies within it, as unrestrained as the appetites, terrors, and trysts that celebrated author Bjørn Rasmussen evokes in poetic detail.”

What the Danish Arts Foundation says: “The idiosyncratic yet highly assured prose and poetry is wild, untrammeled and defies all taboos. And despite its reckless confrontation with despair, it manages to move, fascinate and shock the reader with its glittering, undeniable beauty.”

What I say: From its title onward, The Skin Is the Elastic Covering that Encases the Entire Body creates a frenzied world of bodies, flesh, and alienation. Sometimes those bodies are making an emotional or sexual connection; at others, the bodies are dead or ailing. Tracking the different body motifs in this taut book becomes rewarding: Rasmussenunderstands that both transcendence and decay possess aspects of transformation. The kinetic voice that sets this book in motion keeps things in a state of constant flux, both structurally and in terms of its imagery. 

Looking for more reading suggestions? Check out Tobias Carroll’s recommendations from last month.

Published Jun 24, 2019   Copyright 2019 Tobias Carroll

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