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The Watchlist: March 2016

By M. Bartley Seigel

Every month, from the reviews desk to you, M. Bartley Seigel shares a handful of forthcoming titles he's excited about and thinks you should be excited about, too.

From New Directions, A Little Lumpen Novelita by Roberto Bolaño, translated from the Spanish by
Natasha Wimmer; ISBN 9780811225151; US$13.95. 

Says the publisher: "'Now I am a mother and a married woman, but not long ago I led a life of crime': so Bianca begins her tale of growing up the hard way in Rome. Orphaned overnight as a teenager—'our parents died in a car crash on their first vacation without us'—she drops out of school, gets a crappy job, and drifts into bad company. Her younger brother brings home two petty criminals who need a place to stay. As the four of them share the family apartment and plot a strange crime, Bianca learns how low she can fall. Electric and tense with foreboding, A Little Lumpen Novelita—the last novel Roberto Bolaño published in his lifetime—delivers a surprising, fractured tale of taking control of one’s fate."

Says NPR: "A Little Lumpen Novelita, while short, is among Bolaño's most intoxicating works. Obsessive and ambiguous, its open-ended nature is reflective not only of the protagonist but of the author himself. And it further cements him as a master of the form, of any form."


From East Slope Publishing Ltd. by way of Columbia University Press, The Kite Family by Hon Lai-chu, translated from the Chinese by Andrea Lingenfelter; ISBN 9789881604798; US$18.00.

Says the publisher: "A patient escapes from an asylum, to spend his life as the perfect mannequin in a department store display; when living alone is outlawed, a woman who resides quietly with her cat is assigned by bureaucrats to a role in an artificially created 'family;' a luckless man transforms himself into a chair so people can, literally, sit on him. These are just a few of the inhabitants of Hon Lai-chu's stories, where surreal characters struggle to carve out space for freedom and individuality in an absurd world. The Chinese version of The Kite Family won the New Writer's Novella first prize from Taiwan's Unitas Literary Association, was one of 2008's Books of the Year according to Taiwan's China Times, was selected as one of the Top 10 Chinese Novels Worldwide, and was awarded a Translation Grant from the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts." 

Says Asian Review of Books: "A collection of short fiction with a heavy dose of surrealism...Kafka seems much in evidence. Absurd and satirical...the stories communicate less by plot or characterization than by atmosphere, one that is on the whole insalubrious and oppressive. There is much that is dystopian; the result is usually disturbing."   


From Phoneme Media, Baho! by Roland Rugero, translated from the French by Chris Schaefer; ISBN 9781939419620; US$16.00.

Says the publisher: "In Baho!, the first Burundian novel ever translated into English, the 28-year-old Roland Rugero uses elements of fable and oral tradition to explore the themes of miscommunication and justice in his war-torn Central African nation. When Nyamugari, an adolescent mute, attempts to ask a young woman in rural Burundi for directions to an appropriate place to relieve himself, his gestures are mistaken as premeditation for rape. To the young woman's community, his fleeing confirms his guilt, setting off a chain reaction of pursuit, mob justice, and Nyamugari's attempts at explanation."

Says Lithub lists: Look here or here. No reviews yet, though. Still, let's face it, Phoneme Media is sexy as __________ and you can read an excerpt right here at Words without Borders, published last July in our special section "Burundi: Writing from the State of Sleep," and decide for yourself. 


From Yale University Press's series Margellos World Republic of Letters, Graveyard Clay by Máirtín Ó Cadhain, translated from the Irish by Liam Mac Con Iomaire and Tim Robinson; ISBN 9780300203769; US$25.00.

Says the publisher: "In critical opinion and popular polls, Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s Graveyard Clay is invariably ranked the most important prose work in modern Irish...a novel of black humor, reminiscent of the work of Synge and Beckett. The story unfolds entirely in dialogue as the newly dead arrive in the graveyard, bringing news of recent local happenings to those already confined in their coffins. Avalanches of gossip, backbiting, flirting, feuds, and scandal-mongering ensue, while the absurdity of human nature becomes ever clearer. This edition of Ó Cadhain’s masterpiece is enriched with footnotes, bibliography, publication and reception history, and other materials that invite further study and deeper enjoyment of his most engaging and challenging work."

Says the Irish Times: "Ireland will have heard of it. It has been flagged as the greatest Irish novel, just as Ulysses is recognised as the greatest Anglo-Irish novel. These positions are not incontrovertible, but it would take a lot of argumentation and some prejudice to dislodge them. League-table renderings of merit in literature are always crass and stupid, but it is unlikely that both Cré na Cille and Ulysses would not figure in any list that any bilingual Irish person would read."  

Words Without Borders reviewed Yale University Press's original translation of Cré na Cille (published as Dirty Dust and translated by Alan Titley).


From Bloodaxe Books, Centres of Cataclysm: Celebrating 50 Years of Modern Poetry in Translation, edited by Sasha Dugdale, David Constantine, and Helen Constantine; ISBN 9781780372648; £15.00. 

Says the publisher: "Centres of Cataclysm covers the fifty-year history of Modern Poetry in Translation, one of the UK's most innovative and prestigious poetry magazines. Founded in 1965 by Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort, MPT has published some of the first translations of the twentieth century's most significant poets, among them Zbigniew Herbert, Yehuda Amichai, Marina Tsvetaeva and Miroslav Holub. MPT was intended, in Ted Hughes's words, as an 'airport for incoming translations,' so they might find more permanent residence in English-language poetry. This celebratory and inspiring anthology includes excellent and various poems from the MPT archive together with responses to those poems by English-language poets and writers. Included here also are letters concerning the magazine's history as well as short essays on the art of translating poetry.

Says me because of course no one is talking about this book, not yet, because it's poetry, and worse, it's poetry in translation. But take my word for it, this is an important anthology for what should be obvious reasons, and since you're reading this watchlist in the first place, I probably needn't say more. If you're anywhere near Kings College London in May, go to here.   


From Black Ocean, I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju, translated from the Korean by Jake Levine; ISBN 9781939568144; US$14.95.

Says the publisher: "Kim Kyung Ju’s poetry operates in a world where no one seems to belong: 'the living are born in the dead people’s world, and the dead are born in the living.' Already in its thirtieth edition in Korea, I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World is one of the most important books in the movement Korean critics have called Miraepa or future movement. Destructive forces like social isolation, disease, and ecological degradation are transformed into gateways to the sublime—where human action takes on the mythic and chaotic quality of nature. Conflating human agency with the natural order, Kim’s poems have been called by critics both a blessing and a curse to Korean literature. This book will be a startling English-language debut for one of the best-known poets writing in Korean today."

Says Asymptote Journal, where you can read two excerpted poems and listen to the author read them in Korean.   


From Guernica Editions, A Still Life: Selected Poems (1960-2010) by Bernlef, translated from the Dutch by Scott Rollins; ISBN 9781771831086; US$20.00. 

Says the publisher: "His poems make you forget what poetry is. Bernlef's secret is in the way he looks at things. His attention to the ordinary, to the marginal, the so-called extra literary has not only enlarged the realm of the poetic but challenges the hierarchies and preconceived notions about what is or is not considered literary."

Says Bernlef himself: "I embrace the words like smoke light and carefree not because I love them but because they're in my way and no avoiding it. With my nose pressed against a word the typesetting comes loose and I get entangled in the moustaches and beards of words."


From Archipelago Books, Something Will Happen, You’ll See by Christos Ikonomou, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich; ISBN 9780914671350; US$16.00

Says the publisher: "Something Will Happen, You’ll See is a heart-wrenching elegy on the impoverished working-class Greeks populating the neighborhoods around Piraeus, the large port southwest of Athens. Ikonomou’s luminous and poignant short stories center around laid-off steelworkers, warehousemen, families, pensioners, and young couples faced with sudden loss and turmoil. Between docks, in tenement buildings, and on city streets Ikonomou’s men and women sustain their traumas on flickers of hope in the darkness and on their deep faith in humanity. An illuminating examination of the human condition, Ikonomou’s award-winning book has become the literary emblem of the Greek crisis; stories so real, humane, and haunting that they will stay with the reader long after the final page."

Says The Nation: "A gripping collection of short stories... In Ikonomou’s concrete streets, the rain is always looming, the politicians’ slogans are ignored, and the police remain a violent, threatening presence offstage. Yet even at the edge of destitution, his men and women act for themselves, trying to preserve what little solidarity remains in a deeply atomized society, and in one way or another finding their own voice. There is faith here, deep faith—though little or none in those who habitually ask for it."

Read an excerpt of Something Will Happen, You'll See on Words Without Borders.

Published Mar 2, 2016   Copyright 2016 M. Bartley Seigel

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