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The Watchlist: March 2020

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 Milkweed Editions | When the Whales Leave by Yuri Rytkheu, translated from the Russian by Ilona Yazhbin Chavasse | Fiction | 136 pages | ISBN 9781571311313 | US$14.00

What the publisher says: “Buoyantly translated into English for the first time by Ilona Yazhbin Chavasse, this new entry in the Seedbank series is at once a vibrant retelling of the origin story of the Chukchi, a timely parable about the destructive power of human ego—and another unforgettable work of fiction from Yuri Rytkheu . . .”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Though the plot and characters can feel underdeveloped, Rytkheu’s folkloric prose and Chavasse’s enchanting translation succeed in reimagining indigenous and biblical tales. This worthy fable offers profound considerations about stewardship of and people’s relationship to the natural world.” 

What I say: I can’t say I’ve read much that I can compare Yuri Rytkheu’s When the Whales Leave to. It’s an intimate family saga, a fantastical tale of transformations amidst a shifting landscape, and a haunting tale about the divide (or lack thereof) between humanity and the natural world. Everything clicks into place neatly, and the result is a captivating blend of the mythic and the quotidian.


From University of Texas Press | Animals at the End of the World by Gloria Susana Esquivel, translated from the Spanish by Robin Myers | Fiction | 144 pages | ISBN 9781477320167 | US$19.95

What the publisher says: “Animals at the End of the World begins with an explosion, which six-year-old Inés mistakes for the end of the world that she has long feared. In the midst of the chaos, she meets the maid’s granddaughter, María, who becomes her best friend and with whom she navigates the adult world in her grandparents’ confined house.”

What Marion Hill says: “I hope this novella finds an American audience and I’m looking forward to reading more of Gloria Susana Esquivel’s fiction translated in English.”

What I say: When telling a story from a child’s perspective, some writers can veer into the cloying or the sentimental. Thankfully, Gloria Susana Esquivel avoids that particular pitfall in her novel Animals at the End of the World. She offers a kids’ eye view on a fragmented family, but she also uses her young protagonist to explore the blinders of race and class that exist within her world. It’s a meticulously written book that doesn’t feel meticulous at all, adding to its charm.


From Deep Vellum | Girls Lost by Jessica Schiefauer, translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel | Fiction | 186 pages | ISBN 9781941920954 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “An award-winning, magical contemporary novel about three teenage girls whose exploration of fantasy threatens everything they know of reality.”

What Books and Bao says: “The way that the novel evolves into something so philosophically addictive and intriguing—with regards to gender and sexuality—while remaining a viscerally intense and poetically written novel, is a stroke of genius and a testament to how carefully and considerately Schiefauer has drawn out the lines of her story.” 

What I say: While its plot is relatively easy to summarize—three teenagers discover that a mysterious plant can change them from boys to girls—Jessica Schiefauer’s Girls Lost doesn’t avoid the complexities that could arise from such a scenario. The ways in which desire and identity converge within the pages of this book have the power to haunt, even as the narrative moves forward at a rapid pace. It’s a page-turner that lingers.


From Tin House | That Hair by Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida, translated from the Portuguese by Eric M. B. Becker | Fiction | 200 pages | ISBN 9781947793415 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “In layered, intricately constructed prose, That Hair enriches and deepens a global conversation, challenging in necessary ways our understanding of racism, feminism, and the double inheritance of colonialism, not yet fifty years removed from Angola’s independence.” 

What Kirkus says: “Almeida writes long, destabilizing, often disorienting paragraphs, where successive sentences can shift radically in time and space. But the reader is pulled along throughout by a sly, evasive humor—where unreliable memory ends, Almeida seems to say, storytelling begins.”

What I say: There’s a lot to ponder in Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida’s That Hair, which at first seems to be a quietly ruminative tale of one woman’s life and which rapidly accrues a greater thematic weight. That Hair uses a relatively quotidian memory to address questions of identity and the legacy of colonialism—and it handles these complex subjects in a uniquely immersive way. (Note: That Hair was translated by WWB editor Eric M. B. Becker.)


From Grove Press | Three Brothers by Yan Lianke, translated from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas | Memoir | 224 pages | ISBN 9780802148087 | US$26.00

What the publisher says: “In this heartfelt, intimate memoir, Yan Lianke brings the reader into his childhood home in Song County in Henan Province, painting a vivid portrait of rural China in the 1960s and ’70s and chronicling the extraordinary lives of Yan Lianke’s father and uncles, as well as his own.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “In this loving, episodic memoir, Chinese novelist Lianke (The Explosion Chronicles) recalls his family’s experiences—specifically that of his father’s two brothers—during the 1960s and ’70s Cultural Revolution.”

What I say: Told episodically, Yan Lianke’s Three Brothers tells a moving story of family, loss, and self-discovery. This memoir spans several decades and offers a moving take on the generation of relatives that preceded its author—including their connections, their flaws, and their presence in his life. Lianke also explores his own path toward becoming a writer, which makes for some of this book’s most memorable moments.


From Other Press | Serenade for Nadia by Zülfü Livaneli, translated from the Turkish by Brendan Freely | Fiction | 416 pages | ISBN 9781635420166 | US$17.99

What the publisher says: “In this heartbreaking Turkish novel based on the real-life sinking of a refugee ship during World War II, an elderly professor leaves America to revisit the city where he last glimpsed his beloved wife.”

What PopMatters says: “The book thus manages to incorporate elements of mystery, political thriller, as well as a hefty dose of Turkish and world history. These elements help make it a riveting page-turner, but it's the emotional aspect of the novel which renders it so endearing.”

What I say: There’s a lot going on in Zülfü Livaneli’s Serenade for Nadia, from an exploration of early twenty-first-century Turkish politics to a rigorous exploration of a historical tragedy. Some of the political parallels that Livaneli draws within the novel aren’t terribly subtle, but then—sometimes subtlety isn’t what’s called for. A slightly melodramatic plot element toward the end of the novel feels tonally out of step with what surrounds it, but otherwise this makes for an engaging trip into history.

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

Published Mar 24, 2020   Copyright 2020 Tobias Carroll

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