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The Watchlist: October 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 Irish, Korean, Galician, Arabic, Spanish, and Dutch.


From Drawn & Quarterly | The Waiting by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, translated from the Korean by Janet Hong | Graphic novel | 248 pages | ISBN 9781770464575 | US$24.95

What the publisher says: “Keum Suk Gendry-Kim was an adult when her mother revealed a family secret: she was separated from her sister during the Korean War. It’s not an uncommon story—the peninsula was split down the 38th parallel, dividing one country into two. As many fled violence in the north, not everyone was able to make it south. Her mother’s story inspired Gendry-Kim to begin interviewing her and other Koreans separated by the war; that research fueled a deeply resonant graphic novel.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Gendry-Kim’s considerable powers as a graphic storyteller breathe life into the tragic tale of Song Gwija, who grew up during the war in what would later become North Korea under constant threat from invading Japanese soldiers. [. . .] Throughout, Gendry-Kim’s inky brushwork evokes a rich sense of place, from the hostile, scrubby landscape of North Korea to the crowded alleyways of modern-day Seoul.”

What I say: The Waiting combines a layered narrative of one family with some absolutely evocative art. Initially, it features familiar and intimate interactions—family and friends sharing memories and looking back at the past. But when its scope shifts to the effects of war and displacement, the narrative reaches new depths and reveals unexpectedly moving notes. The result is both gripping and informative.


From Yale University Press | The Quick and the Dead by Máirtín Ó Cadhain, translated from the Irish by various translators | Fiction | 352 pages | ISBN 9780300247213 | US$28.00

What the publisher says: “These colorful tales from renowned Irish author Máirtín Ó Cadhain (1906–1970) whisk readers to the salty western shores of Ireland, where close-knit farming communities follow the harsh rhythms of custom, family, and land, even as they dream together of a kinder world. In this collection, the resilient women and men of the Gaeltacht regions struggle toward self-realization against the brutal pressures of rural poverty, and later, the hollowing demands of modern city life.”

What 3:AM says: “Though Ó Cadhain is rightly placed in the pantheon of Irish literature, alongside Joyce, Beckett, and O’Brien, a more pertinent forebear might well be the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. Ó Cadhain revels in what Kierkegaard called ‘indirect communication,’ a way of confronting the reader with the necessity of paradox and contradiction, using multiple voices and pseudonyms to disrupt the authority of the author.”

What I say: There’s a lot to ponder in the stories contained in The Quick and the Dead. These works transport the reader between rural and urban spaces in twentieth-century Ireland, offering gripping accounts of Ó Cadhain’s characters’ inner lives. Much like the ellipses that conclude many of these works, there’s a sense of something haunting left unaddressed throughout—and a reminder that, for many of these characters, life must somehow go on.


From Seagull Books | The Dance of the Deep-Blue Scorpion by Akram Musallam, translated from the Arabic by Sawad Hussain | Fiction | 132 pages | ISBN 9780857428936 | US$21.00

What the publisher says: “On a plastic chair in a parking lot in Ramallah sits a young man writing a novel, reflecting on his life: working in a dance club on the Israeli side of the border, scratching his father’s amputated leg, dreaming nightly of a haunting scorpion, witnessing the powerful aura of his mountain-lodging aunt.”

What the Markaz Review says: “Through an intricately woven and multi-layered narrative, where content and form are closely interconnected in a spiraling structure, Musallam asks these questions without offering any answers. If anything, by the end of the book we are thrown right back to the beginning by the force of its spiraling form and, like the characters of the stories told by the narrator, are left in desperate search to fill that emptiness left by loss.”

What I say: What happens when fiction wrestles with real-life conflicts in both form and content? The Dance of the Deep-Blue Scorpion explores that in a number of permutations, bringing to mind John Edgar Wideman’s haunting novel Philadelphia Fire. This is a striking work that approaches history from various distances, moving from dreams to something much more visceral.


From Veliz Books | The Face of the Quartzes by Chus Pato, translated from the Galician by Erín Moure | Poetry | 126 pages | ISBN 9781949776096 | US$19.00

What the publisher says: “​​In The Face of the Quartzes, her twelfth book of poetry and sixth to be translated by Erín Moure, Chus Pato creates a manual for living that is one with birds, with animals, with peaks and trains and lighthouses, and with women who undertake journeys toward life (the improper) and spring (renewal).”

What translator Erín Moure says: “[Pato’s] title echoes Immanuel Kant on aesthetic freedom (impossible in English as “free favor” means commerce and we’ve forgotten Kant). My title refers to the Celtic tombs and the quartzes in their east face that catch sunrise; here and for a moment, humans can move between the world of the living and that of the dead.”

What I say: Sometimes allusive and sometimes defiantly physical, these poems find haunting truths buried below the surface. This passage from Pato via Moure’s translation gives a sense of what to expect: “your beauty was navigated through a delta / your phrases you spoke slowly / like those of a man conscripted in ’36 / who discharges all the shrapnel into himself.”


From Milkweed Editions | Rinkeldekinkel: An Anthology of Dutch Poetry edited by Rob Schouten, translated from the Dutch by various translators | Poetry | 288 pages | ISBN 9781571315335 | US$18.00

What the publisher says: “What shape does Dutch art take in the American imagination? Austere, perhaps. Insular. Fixated on nature, every writer’s ‘traditional source of consolation.’ And all of these qualities may indeed be true of the Netherlands’ early literature. But in Rinkeldekinkel, readers will encounter a radically different body of Dutch poetics—one defined by international cultural exchange, linguistic invention, and contemporary life.”

What The High Window says: “Hot on the heels of Grand Larcenies, like the proverbial second bus, Rob Schouten’s Rinkeldekinke: An Anthology of Dutch Poetry is another substantial anthology, which enables the anglophone reader to range more widely across unfamiliar terrain.”

What I say: What’s not to like about an anthology of poems whose title translates into English as “Smash-Clatter”? If you’re seeking out a collection of poems offering a wide stylistic range, Rinkeldekinkel more than delivers on that promise. Throughout, there are more than a few allusions to other literary works across linguistic borders, making for a resonant and complex read.


From Kenning Editions | The Science of Departures by Adalber Salas Hernández, translated from the Spanish by Robin Myers | Poetry | 160 pages | ISBN 9781734317664 | US$18.00

What the publisher says: “Informed both by classical literature and contemporary Venezuelan politics, by twentieth-century history and high school biology class, by Twitter and the Old Testament, by the cynicism of bureaucracy and the wonder of parenthood, these poems register loss, condemn subjugation, and marvel at the music humans can make when we try to speak of it all.”

What translator Robin Myers says: “The tone and rhythm is never static in these poems; they’re lithe and quick. As I translated, I found myself thinking a lot about motion in poetry—pace, cadence, punctuation. About how the textures of the English language can induce a fluid effect or a staccato one—or both at once, dense and jumbled—and about how these resources are similar or different in Spanish.”

What I say: Referencing a host of moments from mythology, science, and literature, the works collected in The Science of Departures are absorbing in a number of seemingly disparate ways. Imagine a body composed of knowledge grafted to knowledge grafted to knowledge, then transformed into verse. That’s what this collection feels like at its best.

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, 2021   Copyright 2021 Tobias Carroll

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