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The Watchlist: October 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 Dorothy, a publishing project | The Taiga Syndrome by Cristina Rivera Garza, translated from the Spanish by Suzanne Jill Levine and Aviva Kana | Fiction |128 pages | ISBN 9780997366679 | US$16.00

What the publisher says: “A fairy tale run amok, The Taiga Syndrome follows an unnamed ex-detective as she searches for a couple who has fled to the far reaches of the earth. A betrayed husband is convinced by a brief telegram that his second ex-wife wants him to track her down—that she wants to be found.”

What the Los Angeles Review of Books says: “Rivera Garza’s work seems to be coming into English translation in full force, finally catching up with her long intellectual relationship with the United States.”

What I say:The Taiga Syndrome begins in a way that will be familiar to readers of detective fiction: after a long conversation about absence and loss, the narrator is hired to seek someone who’s gone missing. The narrative heads into subsequent permutations of the surreal from there as the landscape through which the story’s protagonist moves grows strange and the narrative dissonances become more pronounced. In both this novel and Rivera Garza’s recently-translated The Iliac Crest, readers will discover a master class in literary ambiguity and the powerful emotional effects it can summon.”


From Two Lines Press | Mina by Kim Sagwa, translated from the Korean by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton | Fiction | 240 pages | ISBN 978-1931883740 | US$14.95

What the publisher says: “In this shocking English debut, award-winning Korean author Kim Sagwa delivers an astonishingly complex portrait of modern-day adolescence. With pitch-perfect dialogue and a precise eye for detail, Kim creates a piercingly real teen protagonist—at once powerful, vulnerable, and utterly confused.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Kim’s English-language debut shines a light on the unique pressures faced by Korean teenagers and the darker sides of adolescent rage.”

What I say: “Crystal, the teenage protagonist of this novel, finds herself emotionally connected to her friend Mina and Mina’s brother Minho. And while this is a story of shifting loyalties in the teenage years, this novel is one that ventures into some emotionally bleak places as Crystal’s constant need for success has harrowing consequences. The result is a psychologically rich, often visceral novel that builds to several searing moments.”


From Soft Skull Press | Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou, translated from the French by Helen Stevenson | Fiction | 162 pages | ISBN 9781593763077 | US$16.95

What the publisher says: “A brand-new edition of an irreverent, allusive, scatological, tragicomic masterpiece from one of our greatest living Francophone writers.”

What the Guardian says: “Although its cultural and intertextual musings could fuel innumerable doctorates, the real meat of Broken Glass is its comic brio, and Mabanckou’s jokes work the whole spectrum of humor.”

What I say: “A man sits in a bar, ruminating on his own failures and conversing with an ensemble of memorable characters that pass in and out of the same space. It’s archetypal stuff, but Mabanckou transforms it into a work that intimately inhabits its narrator’s mind even as it makes a host of bold literary allusions, from Paul Laurence Dunbar to Eugène Ionesco. A new introduction to this edition by Uzodinma Iweala offers varied and nuanced insights into the novel’s themes as well as the initial reception it received when it first appeared in translation.”


From Other Press | Chroniques: Selected Columns 2010-2016 by Kamel Daoud, translated from the French by Elizabeth Zerofsky | Nonfiction | 312 pages | ISBN 9781590519561 | US$28.95

What the publisher says: “Whether he is criticizing political Islam or the decline of the Algerian regime, embracing the hope kindled by Arab revolutions or defending women’s rights, Daoud does so in his own inimitable style: at once poetic and provocative, he captures his devoted followers with fresh, counterintuitive arguments about the nature of humanity, religion, and liberty.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “In a selection of commentary published between 2010 and 2016, journalist and novelist Daoud (The Meursault Investigation, 2015), columnist for the French-language Algerian newspaper Le Quotidien dOran as well as contributor to many international publications, offers unsparing critiques of political Islam, Arab dictatorships, Western complicity, and social and cultural repression.”

What I say: “In this collection of newspaper columns, most of which appeared in the Algerian newspaper Le Quotidien d’Oran, the author of The Mersault Investigation provides a pocket history of recent developments in the Middle East, along with observations about European debates concerning immigration. The span of time included here allows readers to get a fuller sense of Daoud’s position on various issues and also showcases a moment in which his novel’s success makes him the subject of the news, not only a commenter on it.”


From Tin House Books | The Gradual Disappearance of Jane Ashland by Nicolai Houm, translated from the Norwegian by Anna Paterson | Fiction | 240 pages | ISBN 9781947793064 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “At once elegant and gripping, The Gradual Disappearance of Jane Ashland moves seamlessly between Jane’s life in America and the extraordinary landscape of the Norwegian mountains.”

What the Atlantic says: “The title of this slim book sounds like a virtuosic magic act, and the Norwegian writer Nicolai Houm delivers. In the first of his three novels to appear in English, his legerdemain is remarkable. He builds suspense even as he splinters his plot into nonlinear fragments.”

What I say: “Houm’s novel follows a familiar trajectory: someone who’s grappled with grief ventures to a distant land, hoping to either shake loose those feelings or subsume themselves in a vast landscape. In this case, it’s the title character, an American novelist who embarks on a journey to Norway—first to connect with a branch of her family there, and then to uncover a deeper understanding of herself. Houm’s elliptical structure blends timelines hauntingly, to moving effect.”


From World Editions | Craving by Esther Gerritsen, translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchison | Fiction | 192 pages | ISBN 9781642860023 | US$15.99

What the publisher says: “Elisabeth is dying. Coco jumps at this chance to prove her love, and promptly moves in with her deteriorating mother. A venture that quickly sends both parties spiraling out of control.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “Gerritsen’s searching story of alienation and separation may well engender discomfort in the reader, yet there’s empathy too, especially in Elisabeth’s slow fade from the picture.”

What I say: “Bleak humor and extended ruminations on mortality converge in Gerritsen’s novel about the fraught relationship between Elizabeth and her grown daughter, Coco—made even more complex when Elizabeth is diagnosed with terminal cancer. As Coco aims to care for her mother—not always succeeding—both women ponder their own frustrations with life, missed opportunities, and enduring connections.”


From New Directions | On Haiku by Hiroaki Sato | Nonfiction | 320 pages | ISBN 9780811227414 | US$19.95

What the publisher says: “In On Haiku, Hiroaki Sato explores the many styles and genres of haiku on both sides of the Pacific, from the classical haiku of Basho, Issa, and Zen monks, to modern haiku about swimsuits and atomic bombs, and to the haiku of famous American writers such as J. D. Salinger and Allen Ginsburg.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Addressing the historical tradition, poetic form, and craft of haiku, the essays also perform close readings of specific examples, such as the celebrated seventeenth-century poet Matsuo Basho’s frog haiku, of which Sato once collected 140 different English translations.”

What I say: “The haiku may be a modest-looking literary form, but its history is vast, and Sato’s book provides a comprehensive look at both the craft of haiku and its literary connections. This includes the numerous ways in which it’s found Anglophone adherents, the means by which haiku have been translated in radically different forms, and—in some of the book’s best sections—the way haiku have been used as everything from evocations of war to heartbreaking surveys of living with illness.” 


Further Reading

Read an excerpt from Esther Gerritsen’s Craving, translated by Michele Hutchison, on Words Without Borders

Read an essay by Hiroaki Sato on Words Without Borders

Published Oct 16, 2018   Copyright 2018 Tobias Carroll

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