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The Watchlist: September 2016

By M. Bartley Seigel

Every month, Words without Borders reviews editor M. Bartley Seigel shares a handful of recently released or forthcoming titles he’s excited about, books he hopes you’ll agree are worth our good attentions.

From Akashic Books, Brussels Noir, edited by Michel Dufranne; translated from the Dutch by Katie Shireen Assef; ISBN 9781617753985; US$11.96.

Says the publisher: “Akashic Books continues its groundbreaking series of original noir anthologies, launched in 2004. Each story is set in a distinct neighborhood or location within the city of the book. Brand-new stories by: Barbara Abel, Ayerdhal, Paul Colize, Jean-Luc Cornette, Patrick Delperdange, Sara Doke, Kenan Görgün, Edgar Kosma, Katia Lanero Zamora, Nadine Monfils, Alfredo Noriega, Bob Van Laerhoven, and Émilie de Béco.”

Says Michel Dufranne’s introduction: “For our grand tour, please be seated, ladies and gentlemen readers, in Tram 33 . . . and no, there’s no rain in the forecast today, just a leaden sky; for that matter, considering the timetables of the STIB, it’s probably better to go on foot than to take public transport. We’ll explore the city center, that pentagonal surface defined by urban highways and a canal, home to the real old Brussels, the historic core. We’ll take a dainty stroll through an edifice that achieves the feat of being more vast and monolithic in style than St. Peter’s Basilica: the Palais de Justice. From there, it’s easy to glide down to the Marolles; then let your feet carry you from kabberdouch to stamcafé, as you wander in an ethereal, even surrealist mode through the heart of the city, and finally come full circle. Having whetted our appetites, we’ll play leapfrog along the boulevards to make our way to the inner ring road and tiptoe across the razor’s edge of the city.”

Says New York Journal of Books: “Akashic Books deserves kudos for their fine service to noir . . . If these volumes are designed to give crime writers a nifty forum and also capture the local flair and flavor, Brussels Noir is a fine come-hither.”

Says me: I’m going to keep plugging these noir.


From Hispabooks Publishing, Landing by Laia Fàbregas; translated from the Spanish by Samantha Schnee; ISBN 9788494426254; US$12.93.

Says the publisher: “An elderly Spanish man and a young Dutch woman sit together on a flight to Barcelona and get acquainted with each other. When the man dies during landing, the woman impulsively takes with her the small box that the man was planning to give to his son. Alternately, through ‘Her’ and ‘Him’ chapters, we learn the stories of the two passengers. From him, we hear the tale of his lifetime love story with his Dutch wife, their life together in the Netherlands and then in Spain, her illness, and death. With her, we unravel the mystery of an accident that left her orphaned and led to her adoption by a young couple. The woman is searching for a connection to her past and her encounter with the man’s son will unveil further details of lives touched by an extraordinary coincidence.”

Says Boek Magazine: “A beautiful blend of philosophical depth and suspense.”

Says De Volkskrant: “A cleverly constructed story in which a box filled with ashes plays a key role; in fact, it serves as a metaphor for the elusive nature of art.”

Says me: Full disclosure, the book’s translator is Words without Borders's very own founding editor and chairman of the board. I’d also note the book was a finalist of the Femenina Opzij Dutch literary prize. Tell me you’re not at least a little bit curious.

Read an excerpt from Landing on Words Without Borders.


From Deep Vellum Publishing, What are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffe; translated from the Brazilian Portuguese by Julia Sanches and from the Serbian by Ellen Elias-Bursać; ISBN 9781941920367; US$14.95.

Says the publisher: “In this remarkable multi-generic book, the individual voices of three generations of women—mother, in the diary she wrote after liberation from Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen; daughter, considering the power of memory and survival; and granddaughter, reflecting on what it means to be the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor—combine in an unparalleled use of literature as a means to bear witness.”

Says Ploughshares: “Jaffe adds to Brazil’s well-established tradition of Jewish writing, which includes the likes of Clarice Lispector and Moacyr Scliar . . . What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? is an exquisite and original meditation.”

Read an excerpt from What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? In WWB’s April 2016 issue: Women Write War.


From Restless Books, Between Life and Death by Yoram Kaniuk, translated from the Hebrew by Barbara Harshaw; ISBN 9781632060921; US$22.99.

Says the publisher: “The final literary testament of ‘one of the most innovative, brilliant novelists in the Western World’ (the New York Times), Between Life and Death is a startlingly brave, funny, poetic, and moving autobiographical novel about the four months Yoram Kaniuk spent in a coma near the end of his life . . . Told in an arresting, dreamlike style that blends playfulness with fearless honesty, Kaniuk attempts to penetrate his own lost consciousness and understand what led him to fight for his life with such tenacity. Shifting between memory and illusion, imagination and testimony, Kaniuk inquires into the place of death in society, the lust for life, and the force of human relationships. He also writes movingly about the Holocaust survivors of his childhood neighborhood, and the battles of the 1948 War of Independence, in which he fought. Full of renewed vitality at the age of seventy-four, Kaniuk announced his rebirth in Between Life and Death, and left us a treasure of world literature that is sure to become a classic.”

Says Susan Sontag: “Of the novelists I have discovered in translation . . . the three for whom I have the greatest admiration are Gabriel García Márquez, Peter Handke, and Yoram Kaniuk.”

Says Le Monde: “Whether it is due to the originality of his broken style, or the sensitivity of his characters—the men and women imprisoned by their angels and demons—or his implacable lucidity, Kaniuk must be considered one of the great writers of our time.”


From Phoneme Media, The End Of The Dark Era by Tseveendorjin Oidov; translated from the Mongolian by Simon Wickhamsmith; ISBN 9781939419804; US$16.

Says the publisher: “The End of the Dark Era is the first book of Mongolian poetry to be published in the United States, and one of the few avant-garde collections to have come from the vast steppes of Mongolia. Poet Tseveendorjin Oidov, who is also one of Mongolia’s most renowned painters, traverses the Mongolian dreamscape in poems populated by horses, eagles, and a recurring darkness that the poet dissipates with his startling descriptions and abiding empathy. The short poems of the book’s second half are accompanied by thirty-two of Oidov’s abstract line drawings.”

Read an excerpt from the collection at PEN America. While there, you can also read Wickhamsmith's essay on translating The End of the Dark Era.

Says me: I’ve made no secret as WWB reviews editor of my minor obsession with the work coming out of Phoneme Media. Their aesthetic departure from the sea of sameness, particularly from the colonial-languages-centric model pervading American literature in translation publishing . . . Dare I call it representation? Regardless, it’s helping this cynical reader a lot. For this reason and others, The End of the Dark Era is at the top of my own personal reading pile this month. 

Published Sep 14, 2016   Copyright 2016 M. Bartley Seigel

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