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The Watchlist: November 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 Semiotext(e) | Seasonal Associate by Heike Geissler, translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire | Nonfiction | 240 pages | ISBN 9781635900361 | US$16.95

What the publisher says: “No longer able to live on the proceeds of her freelance writing and translating income, German novelist Heike Geissler takes a seasonal job at Amazon Order Fulfillment in Leipzig. But the job, intended as a stopgap measure, quickly becomes a descent into humiliation, and Geissler soon begins to internalize the dynamics and nature of the post-capitalist labor market and precarious work.”

What the New Yorker says: “Geissler’s aim is to communicate that . . . laborers are individuals. In that sense, Seasonal Associate belongs to the long literary tradition of social-problem novels, which includes Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath—all of which attempt to reveal, in their careful, humanizing treatment of character, fully realized protagonists caught within stultifying and impersonal industrial mechanisms.”

What I say: “There’s a lot to ponder in Geissler’s book, from her subtly experimental narrative techniques to her rigorous chronicles of the ambiguities of how people perceive a certain omnipresent online retailer. But even more broadly, Geissler is exploring questions of labor and identity in the twenty-first century and the ways in which work does and does not define us. If this book was simply a chronicle of her time working at Amazon, it would be compelling enough—but the narrative risks she takes pay off, making it so much more.”

***

Soft Skull Press | The Lonesome Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya, translated from the Japanese by Asa Yoneda | Fiction | 224 pages | ISBN 9781593766788 | US$16.95

What the publisher says: “In these eleven stories, the individuals who lift the curtains of their orderly homes and workplaces are confronted with the bizarre, the grotesque, the fantastic, the alien—and find a doorway to liberation.”

What the New York Times says: “To get at the deeper themes of strained marriages, traditional gender roles and love, Motoya subverts tropes and allows her characters to inhabit bizarre and metaphorical trajectories.”

What I say: “In Motoya’s collection, bodies and identities exist to be blurred, transformed, and shifted into something more surreal. The physical and spiritual crises that her characters face are both real and serious, but the methods by which they’re transposed into these fictional settings leave plenty of space for a sense of playfulness. It’s a study in contrasts that pays off dramatically over the course of the collection.”

Read fiction by Yukiko Motoya on WWB

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From Open Letter Books | Camellia Street by Mercè Rodoreda, translated from the Catalan by David H. Rosenthal | Fiction | 186 pages | ISBN 9781940953861 | US$14.95

What the publisher says:Camellia Street, published in 1966, is the starkest of all Rodoreda’s works. It chronicles the life and, obliquely, the times of Cecília C., a street-corner prostitute and later a kept woman in numb, exhausted postwar Barcelona.”

What Ploughshares says: “In the face of the essential agony of the human condition, our books tell us, we can do only one of two things: offer the feeling up in prayer, or tell stories about it. Mercè Rodoreda, with Camellia Street, reminds us that even if prayer seems to have failed, stories have not.”

What I say: “This new edition of Rodoreda’s stark and harrowing novel blends a stylized sense of the ambiguities of memory with a bleak look at life on the margins. Even after completing the book, it was difficult to shake the protagonist, Cecilia. This story of life’s frustrations, hopes, and tragedies conveys a fantastic sense of its place and time but also feels hauntingly timeless.”

Read fiction by Mercè Rodoreda on WWB

***

From Deep Vellum Publishing | Mephisto’s Waltz: Selected Short Stories by Sergio Pitol, translated from the Spanish by George Henson | Fiction | 244 pages | ISBN 9781941920831 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “From the renowned Mexican literary master and author of the Trilogy of Memory comes Mephisto’s Waltz, bringing together the best short stories from celebrated writer Sergio Pitol’s oeuvre. The collection includes the titular story, Pitol’s personal favorite, that was awarded the renowned Xavier Villaurrutia prize upon publication in 1984.”

What the Paris Review says: “His literature reflects the droll and ironic constant of his observations. Since his return to Mexico, perhaps from the dawn of the world, Pitol knew how to see others, and he managed to reconcile and reflect very different worlds.”

What I say: “This collection spans decades in PItol’s career, and the stories found within it are set in numerous countries, giving a fantastic sense of the dizzying life of their author. Pitol’s storytelling often takes storytelling itself as the subject, and the winding and complex tales here fantastically evoke different modes of memory and narrative.”

***

From Oneworld Publications | In Half by Jasmin B. Frelih, translated from the Slovenian by Jason Blake | Fiction | 336 pages | ISBN 9781786073907 | US$26.95

What the publisher says: “With its experimental style and sharp focus on the contradictions of modernity, In/Half is a powerful statement on the perils of the future, and on the nature of the novel, by an outstanding voice from the new generation of writers.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “This story of trauma, family, and ambition sustains its ghostly, ethereal tone and will be appreciated by readers looking for a mind-bending puzzle.”

What I say: “There’s a lot to ponder in Frelih’s sprawling novel, from its near-future setting, to a long meditation on communities and communications, to the shocking events that befall the characters. The effect can be overwhelming at times, but the blend of technologies old and new results in a uniquely speculative and philosophical novel.”

***

From Dalkey Archive Press | Head Full of Joy by Ognjen Spahić, translated from the Montenegrin by Will Firth | Fiction | ISBN 978-1628972733 | US$19.95

What the publisher says: “In prose rich with Nabokovian detail and barroom humor, Spahić paints a portrait of a world so strange, it could only exist in the twenty-first century.”

What World Literature Today says: “In this collection of sixteen short stories, Montenegrin writer Ognjen Spahić, winner of the 2014 European Union Prize for Literature, snapshots the ordinary but also the extraordinary stories he seems to see in each corner of the land.”

What I say: “Spahić’s stories venture from stark realism to metafictional homage to the fantastical. There are few other collections that come to mind that are able to contain both a meditation on vampirism and a parody of (or homage to) the works of Raymond Carver; this one’s got both. The result is an impressive survey of one writer’s range, both thematically and technically.” 


Published Nov 28, 2018   Copyright 2018 Tobias Carroll

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