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The Watchlist: March 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 Alfred A. Knopf | Aetherial Worlds by Tatyana Tolstaya, translated from the Russian by Anya Migdal | Fiction | 256 pages | ISBN 9781524732776 | US$25.95

What the publisher says: “Ordinary realities and yearnings to transcend them lead to miraculous other worlds in this dazzling collection of stories. A woman’s deceased father appears in her dreams with clues about the afterlife; a Russian professor in a small American town constructs elaborate fantasies during her cigarette break; a man falls in love with a marble statue as his marriage falls apart; a child glimpses heaven through a stained-glass window. With the emotional insight of Chekhov, the surreal satire of Gogol, and a unique blend of humor and poetry all her own, Tolstaya transmutes the quotidian into aetherial alternatives.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “A poet of silences and small gestures, Tolstaya often writes of love, if sometimes love that has gone off the rails because one or the other of the partners is either not listening or asking the wrong questions; says Eric, the illicit lover of one émigré academic, “Tell me something surprising about your alphabet. The Russian alphabet.” Answering that it has a letter that represents, yes, “a certain type of silence,” she wonders why he wants to know, inasmuch as he has no intention of learning Russian and therefore no need for that bit of information. And what of mere curiosity? Well, that way lies trouble.”

What I say: “Tolstaya’s novel The Slynx remains a high point for contemporary dystopian fiction, at once gripping, horrifying, and irreverent in its themes and images. The stories collected in Aetherial Worlds show off a very different side of this author. Some delve into a realistic mode, while others take a turn for the satirical. What makes them resonate most deeply, however, is Tolstaya’s ability to convey the sense of a place whether it’s one that’s been a constant across generations or an idiosyncratic space that’s entered someone’s life more recently. Across this collection, Tolstaya finds the space where the inner life turns physical and tactile, and whether she’s opting for the surreal or the heartfelt, the impact of these stories is felt.”

***

From Graywolf Press | Waiting For Tomorrow by Nathacha Appanah, translated from the French by Geoffrey Strachan | Fiction | 156 pages | ISBN 9781555978037 | US$16.00

What the publisher says: “With the careful observation, vivid description, and emotional resonance that are the hallmarks of her previous novel, The Last Brother, in Waiting for Tomorrow, Nathacha Appanah investigates the life of the artist, the question of cultural differences within a marriage, and the creation and the destruction of a family.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “The novel begins and ends with Adèle’s death, but the true tragedy, Appanah implies, is the inherent imbalance that exists in any relationship and how easily it is exploited.”

What I say: “Some tragedies come out of nowhere; others are told deliberately, with a terrible event unfolding in slow motion, waiting for the reader to reach it. That’s certainly the case with Waiting For Tomorrow: from the opening pages, we know that the couple at the heart of it, Adam and Anita, are separated due to Adam’s imprisonment. We also know that another woman, Adèle, is dead, but her relationship to Adam and Anita (and their daughter) remains a mystery. Appanah meticulously brings the narrative back in time and then forward, deliberately parceling out pieces of information as the narrative awaits its own unsettling conclusion.”

***

From Tilted Axis Press | The Devils’ Dance by Hamid Ismailov, translated from the Uzbek by Donald Rayfield | Fiction | 296 pages | ISBN 9781911284130 | £9.99

What the publisher says:The Devils’ Dance—by an author banned in Uzbekistan for twenty-seven years—brings to life the extraordinary culture of nineteenth-century Turkestan, a world of lavish poetry recitals, brutal polo matches, and a cosmopolitan and culturally diverse Islam rarely described in Western literature. Hamid Ismailov’s virtuosic prose recreates this multilingual milieu in a digressive, intricately structured novel, dense with allusion, studded with quotes and sayings, and threaded through with modern and classical poetry.”

What the Economist says: “Like his hero’s fables, Hamid Ismailov, an exiled Uzbek dissident and journalist with the BBC World Service, turns this double plot into ‘a fairy story, adapted for ordinary men’s minds.’ Both strands—the purge of the 1930s, the imperial maneuvers of a century before—draw on actual events and characters, such as the now-revered Qodiriy and the English adventurers Stoddart and Conolly.”

What I say: “Ismailov’s novel blends parallel narratives in a sometimes dizzying fashion. At the center of this is a haunting real-life story: that of the Uzbek writer Abdulla Qodiriy, who was detained by the Soviet Union in the late 1930s. As Qodiriy grapples with his imprisonment and the very real possibility of death, Ismailov juxtaposes that story with Qodiriy’s attempts to retell a historical novel on which he was working—one that echoes his current situation, and the geopolitics that surround it, in numerous and powerful ways. Throughout these parallel stories, Ismailov finds moments of utter horror and of quiet relief, making for an emotionally exhausting tale.”

***

From Amazon Crossing | GO by Kazuki Kaneshiro, translated from the Japanese by Takami Nieda | Fiction | 164 pages | ISBN 9781503937376 | US$14.75

What the publisher says: “For two teens, falling in love is going to make a world of difference in this beautifully translated, bold, and endearing novel about love, loss, and the pain of racial discrimination.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Kaneshiro integrates themes of ethnic heritage, prejudice, identity, and belonging into Sugihara’s relationships with his parents, friends, and girlfriend (from whom he withholds his given name, Lee, for fear of losing her).”

What I say:GO’s narrator Sugihara is someone for whom questions of identity have a powerful resonance. His family are Zainichi: his parents were born in Korea and now live in Japan, leaving him feeling at odds with both his parents’ community and the larger society. GO is the story of him figuring out his own identity, falling in love, and discovering what matters to him in this world. It’s a coming of age story—and, as Sugihara puts it on the first page, “a love story”—that’s bolstered by its unique sociopolitical backdrop. But for all that GO deals in grand themes, the scenes of Sugihara figuring out the art and music that mean the most to him resonate for their specificity, making the idea of someone young finding their place in the world feel granular rather than archetypal.”

***

From Other Press | The Diamond Setter by Moshe Sakal, translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen | Fiction | 298 pages | ISBN 9781590518915 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “Following Sabakh’s winding path, The Diamond Setter ties present-day events to a forgotten time before the establishment of the State of Israel divided the region. Moshe Sakal’s poignant mosaic of characters, locales, and cultures encourages us to see the Middle East beyond its violent conflicts.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “As the reader learns about this mysterious diamond and the lives it’s touched, the backdrop is a vivid rendering of the time just before the founding of the State of Israel and explores the deepening conflict that developed concurrently.”

What I say: “As the title of Sakal’s book suggests, there’s a diamond at the heart of this story—literally. And in telling the story of a host of interwoven lives across generations, Sakal makes room for his narrative to encompass huge issues: the geopolitics of the Middle East, gentrification, sexuality, borders, aging, and the bonds of family. Yet this book never feels ponderous: Sakal keeps things moving briskly throughout. The presence of a metafictional element—narrator Tom is writing a book that has more than a few similarities to the book in which he’s a character—overcomplicates things somewhat, but the charm of the novel’s characters and the humanism with which Sakal tells this story go a long way.”

***

From Graywolf Press | Encircling 2: Origins by Carl Frode Tiller, translated from the Norwegian by Barbara J. Haveland | Fiction | 445 pages | ISBN 9781555978013 | US$16.00

What the publisher says: “With a carefully scored polyphony of voices and an unwavering attention to domestic life, Tiller shows how deeply identity is influenced by our friendships. The Encircling Trilogy is an innovative portrayal of one man’s life that is both starkly honest and unnervingly true.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “This volume of Tiller’s trilogy (Encircling, 2017) follows the format of the first: three people respond to a letter that a man named David has placed in the paper asking for details about his life—he’s had an accident-induced bout of amnesia—while relating details of their own lives. We hear from Ole, a childhood friend who is flailing at his efforts to manage his drug-dealing teenage stepson; Tom Roger, a friend from David’s teen years with a history of criminality and domestic abuse; and Paula, a friend of David’s mother who has a few clues about the novel’s central question of the identity of David’s father.”

What I say: “Two volumes into his trilogy, Tiller has established something of a precedent for the scope of these books: both the first and second volumes feature a trio of reminiscences by people who knew David, the amnesiac figure who’s at the center of both books and nonetheless frequently feels like a cipher. And while each of the trio here is compelling (though not always likable: the abusive, hard-drinking Tom Roger is perhaps the trilogy’s most toxic character to date), the narrative effect creates a moving, complex portrait. While this book raises questions of David’s motives in this project, it also gets at an uncomfortable truth: though we may view ourselves as the heroes of our own stories, we’re little more than supporting players in everyone else’s.” 


Published Mar 27, 2018   Copyright 2018 Tobias Carroll

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