Skip to content
Give readers a window on the world. Click to donate.

The Watchlist: November 2021

By Tobias Carroll

Each month, Tobias Carroll shares a handful of recently released or forthcoming titles in translation that he’s especially excited about. This month's selection includes books translated from Polish, French, Japanese, Hebrew, Italian, and Galician.


From Spurl Editions | Arthur’s Whims by Hervé Guibert, translated from the French by Daniel Lupo | Fiction | 124 pages | ISBN 9781943679140 | US$17.50

What the publisher says: “Arthur and his beloved Bichon—a young man who, after drinking Arthur’s tears, becomes pregnant with his child—drift through a stream of identities and circumstances: birdcatchers for a French taxidermist; sailors shipwrecked in an ice fortress; explorers of the Isles of Traitors, Babies, and Sadness; famous magicians in Oklahoma; religious and medical marvels.”

What Edmund White says: “Even here, however, Guibert’s constant inventiveness, his ease and pleasure in writing, his pétillant style are present, as they are in all his texts, even the least successful.”

What I say: This short novel, offered here along with an essay by Guibert, reads like a madcap picaresque—one in which bodies can transform, the pace is constantly accelerating, and geography proves to be malleable. A gloriously surreal account of an unexpected voyage.


From Soft Skull Press | People from My Neighborhood by Hiromi Kawakami, translated from the Japanese by Ted Goossen | Fiction | 176 pages | ISBN 9781593767112 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “In twenty-six ‘palm of the hand’ stories—fictions small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand—Hiromi Kawakami creates a universe ruled by mystery and transformation.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “The result is a book that evokes Italo Calvino’s worldly fabulism and Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s Grimms-ian domestic surrealism, but with a cultural lexicon that is distinctly Japanese. [. . .] An engaging and winsome book that charms without diminishing the precise unease created by Kawakami’s spare prose.”

What I say: There’s a long and storied tradition of short story collections focusing on recurring characters from a single community, and People from My Neighborhood is a fine addition to that category. Hallucinatory in places and all too familiar in others, it’s nevertheless a neighborhood that you might want to settle down in for a while.


From Drawn & Quarterly | Tunnels by Rutu Modan, translated from the Hebrew by Ishai Mishory | Fiction | 284 pages | ISBN 9781770464667 | US$29.95

What the publisher says: “When a great antiquities collector is forced to donate his entire collection to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Nili Broshi sees her last chance to finish an archaeological expedition begun decades earlier—a dig that could possibly yield the most important religious artifact in the Middle East.”

What The Guardian says: “How to describe this complex and thrilling book? Think of it as Raiders of the Lost Ark as reimagined by a feminist Hergé, with a few light top notes of Raja Shehadeh thrown in for good measure . . .”

What I say: Tunnels begins with a few nods to screwball comedy and ends in a far bleaker place—while also offering glimpses of hope and resonant aspects of satire. It’s the most ambitious work to date from Modan, bringing together histories both personal and political and offering an escalating plot that’s hard to tear oneself away from.


From Small Stations Press | and they say by Susana Sanches Arins, translated from the Galician by Kathleen Marsh | Prose Poem/Essay | 250 pages | ISBN 9789543841233 | US$16.99

What the publisher says: “It is the recuperation of the collective memory of the Spanish Civil War (1936–39) and its aftermath, when fugitives were caught and bodies thrown into ditches, when it was dangerous to answer your door at night. it is an essay that records testimonies, acknowledged and anonymous, of some of the dark nights that characterize this period of Spanish history.”

What Portico of Galician Literature says: “[Arins] is best known, however, for her narrative book seique (and they say), which escapes genre classification and recuperates memory of the victims of the Spanish Civil War (1936–39) and its aftermath. Only through remembering the atrocities of the past, committed by fellow citizens of a country, the author argues, can mourning be undertaken and the healing process begin.”

What I say: Structurally innovative and candid in what they convey, the short passages that make up and they say take on a greater weight over the course of this narrative. This is a book that avoids easy categorization; instead, it pushes forward into history and memory, on its way toward disquieting truths.


From OHM Editions | Crops by Grzegorz Kwiatkowski, translated from the Polish by Peter Constantine | Poetry | 32 pages | ISBN n/a | US$10.00

What the publisher says: “These poems’ voices are woven together in a subtle and ruthless tapestry: farmers speak of recurring massacres as if they were seasonal crop cycles; German soldiers remember the droll image of desperate people foolishly running in circles as they are hunted down in the fields; a six-year-old girl named Buzia reports in a brief and stark obituary how she was murdered.”

What 3 Quarks Daily says: “[Kwiatkowski’s] minimalist poems explore not only conflicted pasts of Eastern Europe—for example, the Nazi euthanasia program—but also the paradoxes of contemporary genocides—Rwanda, for instance. His poems have been perceived as quasi-testimonies, provocative and lyrical utterances delivered by the dead.”

What I say: How do you address a legacy of genocide through art? Crops has a daunting task before it, and what makes these works particularly impressive is the way that Kwiatkowski’s stark use of language offers a sense of absence throughout the book. This is haunting work in more ways than one.


From Europa Editions | Trust by Domenico Starnone, translated from the Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri | Fiction | 144 pages | ISBN 9781609457037 | US$17.00

What the publisher says: “Starnone is a master storyteller and a novelist of the highest order. His gaze is trained unwaveringly on the fault lines in our public personas and the complexities of our private selves. Trust asks how much we are willing to bend to show the world our best side, knowing full well that when we are at our most vulnerable we are also at our most dangerous.”

What the Washington Post says: “The latest novel from Domenico Starnone wrangles its players into a knot of unease. Trust puts the focus on a Roman husband and wife, their work, their passions—and their nagging sense of doom, even as things seem ever more solid.”

What I say: Trust begins as a carefully modulated psychological novel, exploring its protagonist’s innermost thoughts and ethical dilemmas. That’s wholly gripping on its own, but then there’s a shift in the narrative that puts a very different spin on what’s come before. Intimate, gripping, and thought-provoking, both for the themes it wrestles with and the way it addresses them.

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

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

Published Nov 24, 2021   Copyright 2021 Tobias Carroll

Leave Your Comment

comments powered by Disqus
Like what you read? Help WWB bring you the best new writing from around the world.