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The Watchlist: October 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 Other Press | I Will Never See the World Again: The Memoir of an Imprisoned Writer by Ahmet Altan, translated from the Turkish by Yasemin Çongar | Nonfiction | 224 pages | ISBN 9781635420005 | US$15.99

What the publisher says: “Confined in a cell four meters long, imprisoned on absurd, Kafkaesque charges, novelist Ahmet Altan is one of many writers persecuted by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s oppressive regime. In this extraordinary memoir, written from his prison cell, Altan reflects upon his sentence, on a life whittled down to a courtyard covered by bars, and on the hope and solace a writer’s mind can provide, even in the darkest places.”

What NPR says: “This remarkable, touching memoir—which Altan wrote entirely from his prison cell and snuck out in notes he gave to his lawyers—is a collection of experiences, thoughts, conversations, internal debates. All are trying to cope with the senselessness of an authoritarian regime and processing the loss of freedom and contact with loved ones.”

What I say: Ahmet Altan’s memoir begins with an unsettling account of his arrest on spurious charges, and moves gradually into thoughts on prison life, justice, and literature. The result makes for a fascinating discussion of intuition and writing. Altan’s text abounds with quiet victories—at one point, he writes, “I have never woken up in prison—not once.” But the reader is never left unaware of the injustice that resulted in his imprisonment.


From A Public Space | Geometry of Shadows by Giorgio de Chirico, translated from the Italian by Stefania Heim | Poetry | 124 pages | ISBN 9780998267548 | US$15.00

What the publisher says: “Translating his iconic visual imagination into literary form, Geometry of Shadows is a gorgeous document celebrating the elasticity and innate potential of language, by an artist ever in pursuit of deeper understanding.”

What the translator says (in the Paris Review): “Juxtaposition and elision are some of poetry’s most fundamental building blocks—a potent, maybe inevitable outlet for his metaphysical collisions. In this particular arena of linguistic play, de Chirico seemed to find, too, ground for working out some questions concerning his own feelings about all of those objects and landscapes from his memory.”

What I say: The poetry of Giorgio de Chirico immerses the reader in landscapes that are at once tactile and full of mysticism. At their best, these works carry with them an infectious enthusiasm: “Cities of undreamed dreams / Constructed by demons with holy patience, / You, faithful, I will sing!” It’s a fascinating look at the places where verse and vision converge.


From Wakefield Press | A Death: Notes of a Suicide by Zalman Shneour, translated from the Yiddish by Daniel Kennedy | Fiction | 176 pages | ISBN 9781939663450 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “Written in Yiddish in 1905 and published with immediate success in Warsaw in 1909, A Death utilizes the influences of Dostoyevsky and Schopenhauer to depict a distinctly Jewish experience of homelessness and uprooted modernity. Zalman Shneour’s short novel presents a much lesser-known strand of Jewish decadent literature and an authorial voice that has been buried for too long.”

What I say: Atmosphere abounds in this short, bleak novel. Its narrator’s descriptions hew toward the grotesque, which heightens the stylization of the work. His sublime indifference toward the world around him makes for some chilling passages, as with this description of a revolver: “I’ve got death itself in my pocket and I am its master, its commander: like clay in a potter’s hand, so death is in mine.”


From New Directions Publishing | The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada, translated from the Japanese by David Boyd | Fiction | 128 pages | ISBN 9780811228855 | US$13.95

What the publisher says: “Told in three alternating first-person narratives, The Factory casts a vivid—if sometimes surreal—portrait of the absurdity and meaninglessness of modern life. With hints of Kafka and unexpected moments of creeping humor, Hiroko Oyamada is one of the boldest writers of her generation.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Scenes jump in time and loop back, and perspectives shift mid-chapter; at one point Ushiyama starts proofreading a report on the factory’s fauna authored by a child—the same child who asked Furufue to read that same report after Furufue took him on the moss hunt.”

What I say: At one point in Hiroko Oyamada’s novel, one character informs another that “[t]he factory is a big place, bigger than you know.” That might win some sort of award for literary understatement of the year: The Factory abounds with awkward convergences and dream logic. Given the long descriptions of bizarre fauna found in and around the factory, “nightmare logic” might be more apt.


From New Vessel Press | And the Bride Closed the Door by Ronit Matalon, translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen | Fiction | 128 pages | ISBN 9781939931757 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “A young bride shuts herself up in a bedroom on her wedding day, refusing to get married. In this moving and humorous look at contemporary Israel and the chaotic ups and downs of love everywhere, her family gathers outside the locked door, not knowing what to do.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “Matalon (The Sound of Our Steps, 2015, etc.), an award-winning Israeli writer who died in 2017, describes Margie’s situation with great humor as well as pathos. At first, Matti is desperate to get that door open. ‘Margie!’ he shouts. ‘Do you even care what I’m going through with this whole mess you’ve made?’ But as the hours pass, Matti himself starts to feel more and more ambivalent about their wedding.”

What I say: The premise of Ronit Matalon’s final novel recalls Ali Smith’s There But For The—albeit with more of a tendency toward farce, at least initially. But gradually, Matalon uses the wedding-day setting to scrape back the layers of her characters, discovering uneasy truths and offering some broader societal observations.


From HarperVia | It Would Be Night in Caracas by Karina Sainz Borgo, translated from the Spanish by Elizabeth Bryer | Fiction | 240 pages | ISBN 9780062936868 | US$23.99

What the publisher says: “Told with gripping intensity, It Would Be Night in Caracas chronicles one woman’s desperate battle to survive amid the dangerous, sometimes deadly, turbulence of modern Venezuela and the lengths she must go to secure her future.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “The novel alternates scenes of present-day chaos with Adelaida’s memories of her loving mother, and Sainz Borgo infuses both sections with heartbreaking details that stay with the reader: the squeal of a pet turtle as it’s boiled to death, heirloom plates smashed with malice.”

What I say: From the early pages of her novel, Karina Sainz Borgo creates a sense of personal menace and societal dysfunction that runs throughout. Sentences like “The banking system was a fiction” and “I started to ration everything to avoid having to go out and find it” point to the collapse of institutions. As the novel proceeds into its second half, its plot ramps up, making for a genuinely unnerving conclusion.

Published Oct 10, 2019   Copyright 2019 Tobias Carroll

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