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The Watchlist: October 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 Valancourt Books | The Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories, Vol. 1 by James D. Jenkins and Ryan Cagle (editors), translated from multiple languages by multiple translators | Fiction | 420 pages | ISBN 9781948405645 | US$19.99

What the publisher says: “For this groundbreaking volume, the first of its kind, the editors of Valancourt Books have scoured the world, reading horror stories from dozens of countries in nearly twenty languages, to find some of the best contemporary international horror stories.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Jenkins and Cagle cast their net wide to cull stories that would distinguish any compilation in which they appeared. This book is a must for horror fans and the start of an exciting new series.”

What I say: If you’re looking to have your horizons of horror fiction expanded, look no further. The stylistic range of these stories is impressive—you’ll find everything from monsters to body horror to the flat-out surreal within, with a genuinely global scope. The editors repeatedly refer to their hopes that this anthology will spark an increase in translated work from many of these writers; I second that sentiment.


From Coffee House Press | Ramifications by Daniel Saldaña París, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney | Fiction | 176 pages | ISBN 9781566895965 | US$16.95

What the publisher says: “Folding and refolding origami frogs, extracting the symmetrical veins from leaves, retreating to an imaginary world in his closet: after Teresa walked out the door one July afternoon in 1994, her son filled the void she left with a series of unusual rituals. Twenty-three years later, he lies in bed, reconstructing the events surrounding his mother’s disappearance.”

What Longleaf Review says: “París—a poet in his own right—employs craft components one might see in an epic poem. Returning to the theme of folding origami acts as a sort of refrain, a place the reader can go back to that takes on new meaning with each repetition.”

What I say: Ramifications is both a novel drenched in memory and a novel about the limits of memory; that it’s able to function on both levels is a testament to París’s skill as a writer. He deftly addresses political and class issues throughout, ultimately giving a full sense of decades of one family’s history in a modest page count. The result is an utterly stunning read, and one of the year’s best novels.


From Peirene Press | The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili, translated from the Georgian by Elizabeth Heighway | Fiction | 168 pages | ISBN 9781908670601 | UK£12.00

What the publisher says: “On the outskirts of Tbilisi, in a newly independent Georgia, is the Residential School for Intellectually Disabled Children—or, as the locals call it, the School for Idiots. Abandoned by their parents, the pupils here receive lessons in violence and neglect. At eighteen, Lela is old enough to leave, but with nowhere to go she stays and plans, both for her own escape and for the future she hopes to give Irakli, a young boy at the school.”

What Lunate says: “In The Pear Field, Ekvtimishvili offers a clear-sighted view of a place the world forgot, and a group of abandoned children in desperate need of protection. The matter-of-fact prose style belies the heart-rending, often shocking events of the story, mirroring Lela’s resigned acceptance of the only world she has ever known.”

What I say: In the wrong hands, the narrative of The Pear Field could well have been the stuff of an overly sentimental novel. Instead, Ekvtimishvili provides readers with a layered plot in which the prospect of redemption comes at odd angles and the weight of history threatens to stifle all sense of hope.


From Soft Skull Press | Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda, translated from the Japanese by Polly Barton | Fiction | 288 pages | ISBN 9781593766900 | US$16.95

What the publisher says: “In this witty and exuberant collection of linked stories, Aoko Matsuda takes the rich, millenia-old tradition of Japanese folktales—shapeshifting wives and foxes, magical trees and wells—and wholly reinvents them, presenting a world in which humans are consoled, guided, challenged, and transformed by the only sometimes visible forces that surround them.”

What NPR says: “All of the stories in Matsuda's collection are based, loosely, on traditional Japanese stories of yōkai, ghosts and monsters that figure prominently in the country's folklore. But Matsuda puts her own clever spin on them, and each of her stories feels original and contemporary.”

What I say: Where the Wild Ladies Are borrows elements from folktales and recent history to create something decidedly new. To describe this book as contemporary retellings of ancient stories wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Instead, Matsuda creates compelling variations on a theme, a kind of literary jazz that makes for moments of quiet delight when this collection is at its best.


From Charco Press | The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara, translated from the Spanish by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre | Fiction | 188 pages | ISBN 9781916465664 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “In a unique reformulation of history and literary tradition, Gabriela Cabezón Cámara, with humor and sophistication, rewrites Martín Fierro from a feminist, LGBT, postcolonial point of view. She creates a hilarious novel that is nevertheless incisive in its criticism of the way societies come into being, and the way they venerate mythical heroes.”

What the New York Times says: “It’s easy to categorize ‘China Iron’ at first as magical realism, but it’s something else entirely, a historical novel that reminds us, in Cabezón Cámara’s entrancing poetry, how magical and frankly unpleasant it is to live through history. The book is also a masterly subversion of Argentine national identity.”

What I say: Gabriela Cabezón Cámara’s The Adventures of China Iron is a sprawling period piece, a surreal road novel that’s also about love, intimacy, and self-actualization. Readers unfamiliar with Martín Fierro might want to brush up on said narrative before venturing in; regardless, this novel’s strengths are distinctly its own.


From Tilted Axis Press | Women Dreaming by Salma, translated from the Tamil by Meena Kandasamy | Fiction | 388 pages | ISBN 9781911284468 | UK£9.99

What the publisher says: “In this tiny Muslim village in Tamil Nadu, the lives of these women are sustained by the faith they have in themselves, in each other, and the everyday compromises they make. Salma’s storytelling—crystalline in its simplicity, patient in its unravelling—enters this interior world of women, held together by love, demarcated by religion, comforted by the courage in dreaming of better futures.”

What Perumal Murugan says: “Salma deftly shows these women navigate their sad, emotional landscape, holding time in their hands, gradually stepping outside their sorrows. Everything here is fresh, including their feminine language. Traditionalist mindsets may not be taken in by this novel where stories emerge from under the blanket of tradition, revealing that a break with the old order is inevitable.”

What I say: Set in a small town, Women Dreaming offers an array of characters struggling with their own ambitions and desires and wrestling with the more stifling elements of tradition. The end result is a thoroughly lived-in novel in which the characters’ dilemmas are both tactile and deeply felt.

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 Oct 29, 2020   Copyright 2020 Tobias Carroll

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