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The Watchlist: March 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 the Feminist Press | Mars by Asja Bakić, translated from the Croatian by Jennifer Zoble | Fiction | 168 pages | ISBN 9781936932481 | US$16.95

What the publisher says:Mars showcases a series of unique and twisted universes, where every character is tasked with making sense of their strange reality. One woman will be freed from purgatory once she writes the perfect book; another abides in a world devoid of physical contact. With wry prose and skewed humor, an emerging feminist writer explores twenty-first century promises of knowledge, freedom, and power.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “Bakić’s stories are perfectly of the American short-fiction zeitgeist—dark, sometimes indeterminate, sidestepping realism—but as the afterword points out, there are few writers from the Balkans that make use of the speculative or the dystopian in their work, which makes this collection all the more darkly alluring.”

What I say:Mars opens with ‘Day Trip to Durmitor,’ a story which begins as an off-key version of the afterlife and gradually transforms into a very metafictional tale of zombies. That stylistic deftness and unpredictability continues throughout this collection. Bakić is after answers to questions that defy explanation, with themes ranging from storytelling to memory to place. Whether she’s delving into the fantastical or exploring the quotidian, Bakić immerses the reader in the world of her story.”


From New Vessel Press | The Goose Fritz by Sergei Lebedev, translated from the Russian by Antonina W. Bouis | Fiction | 322 pages | ISBN 9781939931641 | US$17.95

What the publisher says: “The book tells the story of a young Russian named Kirill, the sole survivor of a once numerous clan of German origin, who delves relentlessly into the unresolved past . . . Kirill’s investigation takes us through centuries of turmoil during which none of the German’s nine children or their descendants can escape their adoptive country’s cruel fate.”

What A Bookish Type says:The Goose Fritz is . . . an erudite book that blends history and fiction together. It’s not a typical novel at all, with hardly any dialogue. Instead, The Goose Fritz is an epic. It places a family against the most tumultuous years of Russian and Soviet history.”

What I say:The Goose Fritz is one of several recent books to memorably undermine the clichés of the multigenerational family saga. Lebedev’s novel abounds with the sweep of history, but by filtering the experience of several generations through the perspective of one deeply introverted character, he achieves a decidedly intimate take on the form. Hanging over the proceedings is a question of national identity, which adds another dimension to the narrative.” 


From New Directions Publishing | River of Fire by Qurratulain Hyder, translated from the Urdu by the author | Fiction | 448 pages | ISBN 9780811222198 | US$19.95

What the publisher says: “The most important novel of twentieth-century Urdu fiction, Qurratulain Hyder’s River of Fire encompasses the fates of four recurring characters over two-and-a-half millennia. These characters become crisscrossed and strangely inseparable over different eras, forming and reforming their relationships in romance and war, in possession and dispossession.”

What Bookslut says:River of Fire begins in 400 BC on the Gangetic plain of India, and follows a set of characters living at the height of several different civilizations as they grow, thrive, and then shrivel and fade away. Though reincarnation is never specifically mentioned, the main characters from the various eras have the same names and many of the same qualities.”

What I say:River of Fire is a sprawling book that covers thousands of years of history over the course of its pages. The temporal breadth contrasts sharply with the human scale of Hyder’s novel, which shows various moments in history through an array of characters, some of whom exit the narrative in unexpected and surprising ways. “

Read fiction by Qurratulain Hyder in WWB


From Yale University Press | Sentence to Hope: A Sa'dallah Wannous Reader by Sa'dallah Wannous, translated from the Arabic by Robert Myers and Nada Saab | Plays and Essays | 464 pages | ISBN 9780300221343 | US$38.00

What the publisher says: “Sa'dallah Wannous is acknowledged to be one of the Arab world’s most significant playwrights, writers, and intellectuals of the twentieth century. This is the first major English-language collection that brings together his most significant plays and essays.”

What Derek Goldman, director of Georgetown University’s Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics, says, “It is a gift to have these politically trenchant and philosophically rich works by Syria’s most justly celebrated playwright available in these fresh, vital new translations. An important and timely contribution.”

What I say: “This edition brings together a quartet of Wannous’s plays, along with several essays and speeches that the author gave over the course of his life. Sentence to Hope offers an interesting perspective on one writer’s artistic evolution, and also provides—via the translators’ introduction—an incisive look at how Middle Eastern politics shaped the works contained within.”


From Oneworld Publications | Zuleikha by Guzel Yakhina, translated from the Russian by Lisa C. Hayden | Fiction | 496 pages | ISBN 9781786073495 | US$26.95

What the publisher says: “Zuleikha, the ‘pitiful hen,’ is living in the home of her brutal husband and despotic mother-in-law in a small Tatar village. When her husband is executed by communist soldiers for hiding grain, she is arrested and sent into exile in Siberia. In the first grueling winter, hundreds die of hunger, cold, and exhaustion. Yet forced to survive in that harsh, desolate wilderness, she begins to build a new life for herself and discovers an inner strength she never knew she had. Exile is the making of Zuleikha.”

What the New York Times says: “As we watch its heroine’s existence devolve from an oppressive domestic servitude into something disastrously worse, Guzel Yakhina’s sprawling, ambitious first novel, Zuleikha, reminds us just how brutal the Soviet system was.”

What I say: “The story of Zuleikha—novel and character both—is a harrowing one. The novel takes its protagonist from an abusive marriage to life in a gulag, and gradually expands its scope to allow a number of disparate figures to enter the narrative. This is a novel where hallucinations abut reality and the dead are never far away; that porousness makes for some of the book’s most memorable moments.”


From Other Press | Article 353 by Tanguy Viel, translated from the French by William Rodarmor | Fiction | 160 pages | ISBN 9781590519332 | US$15.99

What the publisher says: “This atmospheric noir novel retraces the steps that led to a murder off the coast of Brittany, probing the relationship between law and justice.”

What Ploughshares says: “Viel’s power . . . is in inverting the rationale of law, and in taunting those who are complicit in its finality. Article 353 is a subtle interrogation of the ways justice is conceived of and delivered. For Kermeur, after all, more than the rigors of the method, it is a matter of capricious fortune.”

What I say:Article 353 isn’t quite a whodunit; given that the narrator expresses his dislike for the dead man at the heart of the novel very early on, it’s not even a whydunit. But in this tautly structured novel, Viel uses the tools of the crime novel to create an indictment of a certain kind of criminal capitalist and to probe at the limits of justice—all of which make it the best kind of crime novel, really.”


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

Published Mar 21, 2019   Copyright 2019 Tobias Carroll

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