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The Watchlist: November 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 Comma Press | God 99 by Hassan Blasim, translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright | Fiction | 288 pages | ISBN 9781905583775 | UK£9.99

What the publisher says: “The characters in Hassan Blasim’s debut novel are not the inventions of a wild imagination, but real-life refugees and people whose lives have been devastated by war. Interviewed by Hassan Owl, an aspiring Iraq-born writer, they become the subjects of an online art project, a blog that blurs the boundaries between fiction and autobiography, reportage and the novel.”

What The Guardian says: “Blasim’s blunt rhetoric, macabre humor, and blurring of reality and imagination can feel overwhelming, but the refugee experience is traumatic: language is bewildering, memories are clouded, and truth is often distorted to save lives. Blasim perfectly captures that sense of alienation.”

What I say: Reading Hassan Blasim’s God 99 can be dizzying at times. This is a novel that blends literary forms and prose styles, juxtaposing passages about the horrors of war with a running commentary on Italo Calvino’s fiction. The sum total of that makes for one of the most singular reading experiences I’ve had lately; Blasim has found a fascinating space in which to operate.

 

From Ugly Duckling Presse | Life in Space by Galina Rymbu, translated from the Russian by Joan Brooks and others | Poetry | 232 pages | ISBN 9781946433329 | US$22.00

What the publisher says: “Galina Rymbu’s poems employ history as a discursive tool to understand the present—stories of revolution, movement in time and space, life, and livelihood emerge. Rymbu seeks a radical feminist and leftist poetics that does not condescend to the oppressed, but rather embraces the complexity of every emotion and political position, and of language itself.”

What Columbia Journal says: “In this sense, poetry for Rymbu is meaning-making outside of the constraints of illusory politics, where slogans and propaganda predominate. Instead, Rymbu democratizes her poetry by reflecting on the quotidian travails of labor.”

What I say: In “May 2015,” Rymbu memorably blends the visceral and the political with lines like “you spit out blood, in the toilet of an internet café / you write a short post about it, in a little puddle of puke you scream / my revolution.” That blend of meticulously constructed verse, visceral imagery, and righteous anger offers a good sense of what to expect from this wide-ranging collection.

 

From Two Lines Press | Harmada by João Gilberto Noll, translated from the Portuguese by Edgar Garbelotto | Fiction | 168 pages | ISBN 9781949641059 | US$14.95

What the publisher says: “Told using Noll’s characteristic fragmented logic and spirited prose, Harmada traces the life of this nameless man on a voyage that takes him from aimless outcast to revered director of avant-garde theater, from asylum patient to father to God, conjuring along the way essential questions about the power of art and storytelling, the vanity of glory, and the meaning of freedom.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “The late Brazilian novelist Noll (1946–2017) returns with the provocative and outlandish story of a washed-up actor drifting through the fantastical city of Harmada. Propelled through protean events and bizarre sexual phantasmagoria, the narrator sometimes appears as surprised by the book’s twists and turns as the reader.”

What I say: Now that several of João Gilberto Noll’s novels have been translated into English, the author’s use of dream logic and unexpected narrative shifts isn’t quite as jarring for readers familiar with his work. But the ways in which he uses those elements differ from book to book. Here, he ruminates on a particular kind of masculinity, along with class; the presence of theatrical settings within the novel adds yet another layer to things, making for a genuinely haunting read.

 

From Open Letter Books | The Age of Skin by Dubravka Ugrešic, translated from the Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursać | Essays | 220 pages | ISBN 9781948830225 | US$16.95

What the publisher says: “The collapse of Yugoslavia, and the author’s subsequent exile from Croatia, leads to reflections on nationalism and the intertwining of crime and politics. Ugrešic writes at eye level, from a human perspective, in portraits of people from the former Eastern Bloc, who work as cleaners in the Netherlands or start underground shops with products from their country of origin.”

What Ploughshares says: “[Ugrešic’s] occasionally lurid daydreams often arrive without warning, but are a welcome swerve. It’s a great credit to Ellen Elias-Bursać’s nimble translation that the transitions between analytical, philosophical, colloquial, and comedic are swift and easy to follow.”

What I say: This newly translated essay collection from Dubravka Ugrešic ventures into a wide variety of subjects, from soccer and nationalism to sexism in the literary world to the way different languages do and don’t differentiate between skin and leather. Binding them all together are a powerful set of observations about alienation, whether personal, cultural, or national.

 

From Small Stations Press | Feral River by Xelís De Toro, translated from the Galician by John Rutherford | Fiction | 256 pages | ISBN 9789543841059 | US$16.99

What the publisher says: “A boat with the charred body of a man crucified on its mast turns up at the mouth of the river in Romero, a town on the frontier. The boat belongs to the owner of the printing firm that publishes the local newspaper. He engages Marqués, who is from the east coast and claims that he can write, to head upriver to find out the causes of the boatman’s death.”

What I say: With some explicit parallels to Heart of Darkness, Feral River summons up a world of stories atop stories, where questions of mortality and identity vary depending on which characters are to be believed. De Toro blends life-or-death stakes with memorably described settings; the resulting novel is a compelling paradox, an ambiguous search for truth.


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


Disclosure: Words Without Borders is an affiliate of Bookshop.org and will earn a commission if you use the links above to make a purchase.


Published Nov 24, 2020   Copyright 2020 Tobias Carroll

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