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The Watchlist: May 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 Scribe US | Familiar Things by Hwang So-Yong, translated from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell | Fiction | 224 pages | ISBN 978-1947534049 | US$14.95

What the publisher says: “Vibrant and enchanting, Familiar Things depicts a society on the edge of dizzying economic and social change, and is a haunting reminder to us all to be careful of what we throw away.”

What the Guardian says: “The narrative of East Asia’s economic success is far better known than the consequences of the region’s rapid development. In Familiar Things, translated by Sora Kim-Russell, one of South Korea’s most venerated novelists urgently examines the darker side of modernization through the micro-society of a rubbish dump.”

What I say: “The starkly realistic meshes brilliantly with the surreal and uncanny in this novel of a mother and son grappling with poverty in a strange landscape. The family at the heart of the novel relocates to a shantytown situated on a landfill where they slowly make connections within their new community and struggle to adjust to their new surroundings. Added to the mix is the presence of spectral beings, suggesting another strata of existence. These wildly different aspects come together at the novel’s climax, resulting in a deeply moving conclusion.”


From Coach House Books | Little Beast by Julie Demers, translated from the French by Rhonda Mullins | Fiction | 125 pages | ISBN 978-1552453667 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “It’s 1944, and a little village in rural Quebec sits quietly beside an aging mountain and an angry river. The air tastes of kelp, and the wind keeps knocking over the cross. Beside that river an eleven-year-old girl lives with her parents. Her mother is very sad, and her father has vanished because he can’t bear to look at his own daughter. You see, this little girl has suddenly sprouted a full beard.”

What Foreword Reviews says: “The protagonist drifts through the Canadian woods like a wraith. A magical quality infuses her inner monologue; it is borderline stream of consciousness at times. There is an appropriate childlike innocence to her musings, even in the face of death and human corruption.

What I say: “Demers’s short novel blends a tactile sense of place with an unruly surrealism. It opens in Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula in the 1930s with the narrator’s birth. The bulk of the book focuses on her at the age of eleven, when she grows a beard to the shock and confusion of those around her. Demers evokes the perspective of a child quite effectively, even as she addresses larger questions of identity and conformity. The result is a strange and haunting book.”


From Soho Crime | Cult X by Fuminori Nakamura, translated from the Japanese by Kalau Almony | Fiction | 505 pages | ISBN 9781616957865 | US$27.95

What the publisher says: “Inspired by the 1995 sarin gas terrorist attack on the Tokyo subway, Cult X is an exploration of what draws individuals into extremism. It is a tour de force that captures the connections between astrophysics, neuroscience, and religion; an invective against predatory corporate consumerism and exploitative geopolitics; and a love story about compassion in the face of nihilism.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Though lengthy digressions in the form of transcribed lectures about faith and science demand some patience, and some readers may be uncomfortable with the explicit sex scenes, this noirish thriller will resonate with Ryu Murakami fans.”

What I say: “This sprawling novel begins in a way that is familiar to many a reader of crime fiction: a man meets with a world-weary detective about an investigation and suggests that this is a case that can destroy anyone who comes close. Then things take an operatic turn as a man in search of his lost love enters a world of rival cults with their dueling factions, secret conspiracies, and a host of disturbing scenes of violence in numerous forms. Add in a structure that interpolates found documents and leaves plenty of space for philosophical rumination on the nature of reality and the result is a magnificently unsettling work.”


From Bellevue Literary Press | Mourning by Eduardo Halfon, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman and Daniel Hahn | Fiction | 160 pages | ISBN 978-1942658450 | US$15.99

What the publisher says: “In Mourning, Eduardo Halfon’s eponymous narrator travels to Poland, Italy, the US, and the Guatemalan countryside in search of secrets he can barely name. He follows memory’s strands back to his maternal roots in Jewish Poland and to the contradictory, forbidden stories of his father’s Lebanese-Jewish immigrant family, specifically surrounding the long-ago childhood death by drowning of his uncle Salomón. ”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “In this follow-up to The Polish Boxer (2012) and Monastery (2014), Halfon constructs a kind of postmodern memorial to his grandfathers, who outlived the horrors of the Holocaust but not its searing emotional aftereffects.”

What I say: “Halfon’s novel deftly moves across continents, tracking its narrator’s journey from place to place, along with the complexities of his family’s past, some of which has been lost in time. From the opening pages, when the book’s narrator hears news of various personages named Hoffman, questions of identity and mortality venture to the forefront of the novel. The elegant and meditative result serves as an inquiry into questions without concrete answers, as well as an exploration of how their presence can affect familial dynamics and personal evolution.”


From Ugly Duckling Presse | Moss & Silver by Jure Detela, translated from the Slovene by Raymond Miller with Tatjana Jamnik | Poetry | 124 pages | ISBN 978-1937027940 | US$18.00

What the publisher says: “Jure Detela—poet, activist, and mystic—was a key figure in the vibrant avant-garde movement that defined Slovenian culture in the 1980s. The forty-four poems of Moss & Silver anticipate the radical environmentalism and animal rights activism of the twenty-first century while engaging in a passionate dialogue with a wide array of poets from William Wordsworth to Kobayashi Issa.”

What Yellow Rabbits says: “That Detela’s work in 2018 may be a posthumous climax to a legendary life speaks volumes to the settings and contexts of Slovenia and the surrounding regions. That Detela’s work in 2018 is also receiving international attention and being moved from its country and cultures of origin to a foreign, distanced reality and context only highlights the impact and universality of a poet whose poems reflect life, reflect joy, and reflect respect.”

What I say: “First published in 1983 and only now translated into English, this collection of poems vividly evokes the natural world and gives a strong sense of the ethical underpinnings of Detela’s work. (When it was first published, Detela requested that the book not be made using the byproducts of dead animals; that’s also the case for this edition.) Nature, the personal, and the transcendental all converge here; the resulting work evokes both a particular literary moment and the concerns that fueled the book.”


From Farrar, Straus and Giroux | My German Brother by Chico Buarque, translated from the Portuguese by Alison Entrekin | Fiction | 208 pages | ISBN 978-0374161200 | US$25.00

What the publisher says:My German Brother is the renowned Brazilian musician and author Chico Buarque’s attempt to reconstruct through fiction his obsessive lifelong search for a lost sibling.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “The narrative’s liveliest moments have nothing to do with the search: teenagers Ciccio and Thelonious stealing a car; adult Ciccio imagining great authors attending his father’s funeral; an unliterary policeman named Jorge Borges rifling through Ciccio’s father’s library.”

What I say: “In the hands of certain writers, Buarque’s novel might have been more straightforward. Certainly, the basic setup is practically archetypal: a young Brazilian man discovers evidence that his father has another son living in Germany and becomes fixated on the possible lives that this possible sibling might be experiencing. The emerging narrative moves between reality and the imagination, factoring in mid-twentieth-century German history, as well as aspects of Buarque’s own life, en route to a moving conclusion.”

Published May 14, 2018   Copyright 2018 Tobias Carroll

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