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The Watchlist: November 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 Feminist Press | The Living Days by Ananda Devi, translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman | Fiction | 174 pages | ISBN 9781936932702 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “A chance encounter on Portobello Road incites an unsettling, magnetic attraction between Mary, a seventy-five-year-old white British spinster, and Cub, a thirteen-year-old Jamaican boy from Brixton. Mary increasingly clings to phantoms as dementia overtakes her reality, latching on to Cub and channeling all of her remaining energy into their relationship. But their macabre romance comes to a horrific climax, as white supremacy, poverty, and class conflict explode on the streets of London.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Devi’s telling of their relationship is brutal and entirely believable, a gorgeous and haunting depiction of London and the real lives and memories of those unseen within it.”

What I say: Devi’s novel is an unsettling read—but that is, as the saying goes, a feature rather than a bug. Is this a book about two people who form an unlikely and occasionally unnerving bond, a hallucinatory portrait of a city in flux, or a disquieting take on power dynamics? Devi deftly takes the reader through all of these permutations, creating a narrative that gets under the skin and stays there.

Read an interview with Jeffrey Zuckerman about translating Ananda Devi

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From Small Stations Press | The Things of Ramón Lamote by Paco Martín, translated from the Galician by Jonathan Dunne | Fiction | 112 pages | ISBN 9789543840007 | US$13.99

What the publisher says: “In The Things of Ramón Lamote, a modern classic of Galician literature and one of the first works in Galician to win the Spanish National Book Award, we are invited to witness the sublime and ordinary, the comic and absurd features of life in a provincial city.”

What I say: These taut and charming stories follow the adventures of the title character as he makes his way around the city, engaging in conversations with a broad swath of society. Martín’s book moves from the absurdist (Lamonte is trapped in an awkward conversation for a day) to the fantastical (Lamonte encounters a series of strange creatures), but never loses its deadpan perspective on the world.

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From Deep Vellum Press | Seven Samurai Swept Away in a River by Jung Young Moon, translated from the Korean by Yewon Jung | Fiction | 168 pages | ISBN 9781941920855 | US$14.95

What the publisher says: “In his inimitable, recursive, meditative style that reads like a comedic zen koan but contains universes, Seven Samurai Swept Away in a River recounts Korean cult writer Jung Young Moon’s time spent at an artists and writers residency in small-town Texas.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “It’s a jumble of legends, travel notes, and odd disquisitions—one in which Moon explains, after a fashion, how he’d previously placed the samurai in a story about a cat that, on its face, had nothing whatever to do with medieval Japan but everything to do with the talismans of the imagination that Moon holds dear.”

What I say: A free-associative book on writing, Texas, and the feeling of being far from home, Seven Samurai Swept Away in a River is like little else you’ve read before. It’s the sort of digressive book that may frustrate readers who prefer a more controlled narrator—but for those who delight in language and unexpected connections between disparate concepts, there are delights aplenty to be found in this slim volume.

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From Farrar, Straus and Giroux | The Mutations by Jorge Comensal, translated from the Spanish by Charlotte Whittle | Fiction | 192 pages | ISBN 9780374216535 | US$25.00

What the publisher says: “The Mutations, by Jorge Comensal, is a comedy tracing the metastasis of Ramón’s cancer through his body and in the lives of his family members, colleagues, and doctors, dissecting the experience of illness and mapping the relationships both strengthened and frayed by its wake.”

What Library Journal says: “[T]his book remains a chilling reminder of the suffering, both physiological and psychological, that cancer patients and their families endure. For those who have cared for a cancer patient or have been victims themselves, it hits very close to home, reminding many that its gravity trumps humor.”

What I say: The premise of The Mutations could easily turn into the sort of overly cloying plotline that sparks a dozen tearjerkers: an ailing middle-aged lawyer bonds with the parrot purchased for him as he faces an uncertain future. Instead, Comensal takes a more roundabout route, moving in and out of the lives of the supporting cast and balancing the transcendental with the pessimistic.

***

From Amazon Crossing | Mama Hissa’s Mice by Saud Alsanousi, translated from the Arabic by Sawad Hussain | Fiction | 399 pages | ISBN 9781542042161 | US$14.95

What the publisher says: “Snaking through decades of Kuwaiti history well into a cataclysmic twenty-first century, Mama Hissa’s Mice is a harrowing, emotional, and caustic novel of rebellion. It also speaks to the universal struggle of finding one’s identity and a reason to go on, even after the sky has fallen.”

What NPR says: “Mama Hissa's Mice is a rich and resonant book that asks more questions than it (or anyone) can answer: What do stories—of past grudges, of present loves, of friendship despite historical differences—mean? How do they shape our realities? How much power do we have to change these stories?”

What I say: Saud Alsanousi’s multilayered novel poses a series of nested questions about memory, storytelling, and the divisions that exist within societies. It blends a near-future narrative with a manuscript that explores Kuwait’s recent history, a heady structure that clicks into place in a few powerful ways. The end result is a novel where the structural elements resonate just as much as the human-scale moments do.

Read fiction by Saud Alsanousi

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From Graywolf Press | The Colonel’s Wife by Rosa Liksom, translated from the Finnish by Lola Rogers | Fiction | 168 pages | ISBN 9781644450086 | US$16.00

What the publisher says: “As both the marriage and the war turn increasingly dark and destructive, Rosa Liksom renders a complex and unsavory character in a prose style that is striking in its paradoxical beauty. The Colonel’s Wife is both a brilliant portrayal of an individual psychology and a stark warning about the perils of nationalism.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “The narrator’s reminiscences are frank and unadorned, but still moving; her descriptions of the torture she witnesses by the Nazis, and of that she endures by her husband, are made more chilling by their lack of sentimentality.”

What I say: The Colonel’s Wife is an unsettling novel for numerous reasons: it deals with questions of abuse, political extremism, and the legacy of fascism, among a host of disturbing topics. But Liksom’s narrator possesses a strong narrative voice, and the novel’s structure allows for a number of jarring moments in which horrifying secrets are laid bare. It’s not an easy read but it’s all the more powerful for it.

 

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


Published Nov 21, 2019   Copyright 2019 Tobias Carroll

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