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The Watchlist: September 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 Coffee House Press | After the Winter by Guadalupe Nettel, translated from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey | Fiction | 242 pages | ISBN 9781566895255 | US$16.95

What the publisher says: “Claudio’s apartment faces a wall. Rising from bed, he sets his feet on the floor at the same time, to ground himself. Cecilia sits at her window, contemplating a cemetery, the radio her best companion. In parallel and entwining stories that move from Havana to Paris to New York City, no routine, no argument for the pleasures of solitude, can withstand our most human drive to find ourselves in another and fall in love. And no depth of emotion can protect us from love’s inevitable loss.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Tracing two lives on two continents, Nettel’s novel is an engrossing examination of what happens before and after a brief affair.”

What I say: “This is a bittersweet novel, focusing on two characters whose lives contain fulfillment and disappointment in equal measure. Both Claudio and Cecilia emerge as fully fleshed-out; while Claudio is perhaps less sympathetic than Cecilia, each comes off as fully human, with their own idiosyncrasies, interests, and dreams. And in telling the story of two people who almost, but don’t quite, connect on a deeper level, Nettel brilliantly conveys the way things can go wrong at the beginning of a relationship and how those disasters can push us in unexpected directions.”


From Phoneme Media | Dictionary of Midnight by Abdulla Pashew, translated from the Kurdish by Alana Marie Levinson-LaBrosse | Poetry | 195 pages | ISBN 978-1-944700-80-5 | US$26.00

What the publisher says:Dictionary of Midnight collects almost fifty years of poetry by Abdulla Pashew, the most influential Kurdish poet alive today. Pashew’s poems chart a personal cartography of exile, recounting the recent political history of Kurdistan and its struggle for independence.”

What the Iowa Review says: “Abdulla Pashew (b. 1946) is a true heir to the tradition of Kurdish poetry. He dedicates himself to the sounds of each poem, drives his reader across a range of subject matter. He completed his graduate work, a masters in pedagogy and a doctorate in philology, in Moscow and began his academic career as a professor in Tripoli.”

What I say: “The poems in this career-spanning collection encompass several decades and were written in a host of nations. Among the constants is the elusive notion of Kurdistan itself. This book serves as a kind of shadow history of the political manipulations that have surrounded the region and the conflicts that have arisen in and around it over the years. Pashew’s evocative poetry elegantly captures a mood of regional instability and personal longing.”


From Restless Books | Checkpoint by David Albahari, translated from the Serbian by Ellen Elias-Bursać | Fiction | 208 pages | ISBN 9781632061928 | US$16.99

What the publisher says: “From the award-winning Serbian author David Albahari comes a devastating and Kafkaesque war fable about an army unit sent to guard a military checkpoint with no idea where they are or who the enemy might be.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “Though the checkpoint is all but neglected, somehow a mail delivery arrives; when photographers arrive to document the turmoil, the commander’s first thought is charging them a fee. (‘You’ll see that Visa and MasterCard are our sponsors,’ he says.) In that regard the book is a worthy descendant of The Good Soldier Svejk and Catch-22, though when Albahari gets dark (as every military satire must), he gets very dark; rapes, beheadings, and vicious stabbings are all part of the territory.”

What I say: “Albahari’s novel is a decidedly harrowing one, moving from a straightforward account of men at war into a more surreal, even symbolic, place. The blend of modern concerns and the tone of a bleak fable recalls the works of Magnus Mills and Manuel Gonzales, but there’s something more sinister present here as well. In its final pages, this novel takes a bravura turn, adding another layer atop all that’s gone before and closing on an absolutely harrowing note.”


From Yale University Press | On My Aunt’s Shallow Grave White Roses Have Already Bloomed by Maria Mitsora, translated from the Greek by Jacob Moe | Fiction | 200 pages | ISBN 9780300215762 | US$16.00

What the publisher says: “This collection assembles sixteen of Maria Mitsora’s short stories in what adds up to be a retrospective of the author’s work, spanning forty years. Moving across the urban netherworld of Athens to imagined Latin American towns and science-fiction dystopias, Mitsora animates the alternatingly dark and revelatory aspects of the human psyche, depicting a world in which her protagonists are caught between reality and myth, predestination and chance, rationality and twisted dreams.”

What Bookstalkerblog says: “Sipping the ‘distant froth’ of childhood and memory, the stories in this collection can be biting and bitter, lost characters looking for escape or return to themselves and each other. Stories we all read differently, feel uniquely.”

What I say: “The stories in this career-spanning collection demonstrate Mitsora’s stylistic and thematic range as an author. Mythology informs some of them, metaphysics others; there are still others that opt for a tone of general realism and a few that are properly science fictional. Mitsora’s particular sensibility extends across these varied tones, making for a memorable encapsulation of her aesthetic.”


From MCD Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux | CoDex 1962: A Trilogy by Sjón, translated from the Icelandic by Virginia Cribb | Fiction | 518 pages | ISBN 9780374717742 | US$30.00

What the publisher says: “In CoDex 1962, Sjón has woven ancient and modern material and folklore and cosmic myths into a singular masterpiece—encompassing genre fiction, theology, expressionist film, comic strips, fortean studies, genetics, and, of course, the rich tradition of Icelandic storytelling.”

What the Guardian says: “Sjón, an heir of Mikhail Bulgakov and Laurence Sterne, eases literary references into the text as mere suggestions. With the light, fluid touch of Victoria Cribb, a resourceful, often inspired translator who is alert to Sjón’s quick-change vocal register and genre-hopping artistry, the effect is hypnotic.”

What I say: “Family histories can often take on the qualities of other narratives, whether mythic or otherwise. As protagonist Jósef Loewe narrates a trio of stories, using vastly different approaches for each, Sjón showcases his own skills as a writer, even as he grapples with humanity’s tendency to put their own spin on personal histories. It takes a little time to build up narrative speed, but the result is well worth it. And its ending provides a different window through which the works that have come before can be viewed; it’s a bold narrative decision, lending this massive book another elegiac layer.”


From Arcade Publishing | The Pasha of Cuisine by Saygin Ersin, translated from the Turkish by Mark David Wyers | Fiction | 282 pages | ISBN 9781628729610 | US$25.99

What the publisher says: “A Pasha of Cuisine is a rare talent in Ottoman lore. Only two, maybe three are born with such a gift every few centuries. A natural master of gastronomy, he is the sovereign genius who reigns over aromas and flavors and can use them to influence the hearts and minds, even the health, of those who taste his creations. In this fabulous novel, one such chef devises a plot to bring down the Ottoman Empire, should he need to, in order to rescue the love of his life from the sultan’s harem.”

What the New York Journal of Books says: “Like pepper rice, infused with fresh butter and the sharp scent of peppercorns, The Pasha of Cuisine is a rich and satisfying read. Author Saygin Ersin takes us into the exotic world of palaces within palaces, kitchens staffed by hundreds of cooks and servants, where a single dish can change your life forever.”

What I say: “Ersin’s novel follows a familiar trajectory, a disguised hero using an array of hard-earned skills to find their true love. Here, though, the details are what make this book resonate—and thus, this is a historical epic whose hero uses his preternatural knowledge of all things food-related to win the day. Ersin’s lavish descriptions of foods, spices, tastes, and smells add an abundance of alluring sensory details to the narrative.”

Published Sep 17, 2018   Copyright 2018 Tobias Carroll

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