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The Watchlist: June 2021

By Tobias Carroll

Each month, Tobias Carroll shares a handful of recently released or forthcoming titles in translation that he’s especially excited about. This month's selection includes translated books from Haiti, Mexico, Egypt, Spain, and Poland.


From Open Letter Books | Foucault in Warsaw by Remigiusz Ryziński, translated from the Polish by Sean Gasper Bye | Nonfiction | 220 pages | ISBN 9781948830362 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “Nominated for the Nike Literary Award, Foucault in Warsaw reconstructs a vibrant, engaging picture of gay life in Poland under communism—from the joys found in secret nightclubs, to the fears of not knowing who was a secret informant.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “The admirably taut translation by Bye brings the hunt through Warsaw's archives to life. Readers will welcome this vivid and empathetic excavation of an historical footnote.” 

What I say: I’ve read a fair amount of contemporary political writers expounding upon Michel Foucault’s influence on modern political thought this year, all of which put Remigiusz Ryziński’s new book firmly in the zeitgeist. (Or at least a zeitgeist.) All told, it’s a fascinating look both at a specific period of Polish history and at a formative experience in Foucault’s life, told with assurance and complexity.

Read an excerpt of Foucault in Warsaw on WWB. 


From Enchanted Lion/Unruly | The True Story of a Mouse Who Never Asked for It by Ana Cristina Herreros and Violeta Lópiz, translated from the Spanish by Chloe Garcia Roberts | Fiction | 108 pages | ISBN 9781592703203 | US$22.95

What the publisher says: “With its feminist themes, braided narrative, and complex visuals, The True Story of a Mouse Who Never Asked for It stakes itself as an exploration and conversation between word and image that exists beyond the category of children’s picture book.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “Deceptively simple, midcentury-style illustrations use a muted color palette of red, blue, gray, beige, white, and black to focus on the details of domestic objects before widening the lens to the bigger picture.”

What I say: This collaboration between writer Ana Cristina Herreros and artist Violeta Lópiz takes on a haunting quality as it progresses. At times, the linkage between words and images is clear; at others, what seems at first to be a kind of dissonance takes on greater weight. And the final images arrive at a thoroughly unsettling place. I’m not quite sure how to classify this, but I do know that it works.


From Transit Books | Migratory Birds by Mariana Oliver, translated from the Spanish by Julia Sanches | Nonfiction | 136 pages | ISBN 9781945492525 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “With an abiding curiosity and poetic ease, Oliver leads us through the underground city of Cappadocia, explores the vicissitudes of a Berlin marked by historical fracture, recalls a shocking childhood exodus, and recreates the intimacy of the spaces we inhabit.”

What Foreword Reviews says: “Mariana Oliver touches down in various times and places, showing how people described their difficulties there and then, and revealing what changes in language arose from these events. From Normandy to Neverland, the through line of this excellent collection is movement, and the essays meander around history in an appealing way.”

What I say: Early on in my reading of Mariana Oliver’s Migratory Birds, I encountered what seemed to be stand-alone vignettes, short dispatches on—as the title suggests—birds, migration, or some combination of the two. The way Oliver brings these seemingly disparate strands together over the course of this book is highly effective, making for a resonant read.

Read an excerpt of Migratory Birds on WWB. 


From Two Lines Press | Slipping by Mohamed Kheir, translated from the Arabic by Robin Moger | Fiction | 260 pages | ISBN 9781949641165 | US$16.95

What the publisher says: “Musical and parabolic, Slipping seeks nothing less than to accept the world in all its mystery. An innovative novel that searches for meaning within the haze of trauma, it generously portrays the overlooked miracles of everyday life, and attempts to reconcile past failures—both personal and societal—with a daunting future.”

What Culture Honey says: “The story moves calmly, tragically onward in a soft, slow beat. It doesn’t have the pace of many other novels set with similar adventures. The sense of awe that the settings instill is a quiet one, almost a reserved admiration.”

What I say: Shifting between stark realism and the mythic, Mohamed Kheir’s Slipping avoids easy categorization. It’s one of a growing number of fictional takes on real-world conflict that move into the uncanny to illustrate the extreme experiences of civilians, and that dizzying aesthetic is used to powerful effect here.


From Schaffner Press | The Mediterranean Wall by Louis-Philippe Dalembert, translated from the French by Marjolijn de Jager | Fiction | 352 pages | ISBN 9781943156962 | US$17.95

What the publisher says: “Following the lives of three women in their flight from their respective homelands—Shoshana from Nigeria, the Eritrean soldier Semhar, and Dima, a well-to-do housewife from Syria—Dalembert compassionately depicts their struggle and the bond they form together in their attempt to cross the sea via an overcrowded, dilapidated fishing trawler.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “While the interpersonal conflict can feel a bit contrived, Dalembert powerfully conveys the impact on the three women of the shared realization that their homes can no longer provide a future for them.”

What I say: In The Mediterranean Wall, Louis-Philippe Dalembert tells the stories of three different women who converge at one intense moment in time. Both narratively and thematically, this is an ambitious work, abounding with echoes of real-life horrors. The way it moves from bracing to harrowing and back again adds to the sense of empathy for its central trio.


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

Disclosure: Words Without Borders is an affiliate of and will earn a commission if you use the links above to make a purchase.

Published Jun 23, 2021   Copyright 2021 Tobias Carroll

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