Reviewed by Daniel Fraser
Whilst The Besieged City is a novel about things, it is also one about language and the act of literary creation. After all, the thing may be a material object but, as the fictional Angela in A Breath of Life reminds us in her remarks about her own nonexistent novel called The Besieged City, “a word is also a thing.” The act of production, the creation of a text, a character, a work, becomes radically altered in the face of the vast accumulation of material objects predicated by the acceleration of capitalist modernity. The possibility of creating meaning, purpose, is always under the threat of destruction….
Review by Melissa Beck
German author Christine Wunnicke’s latest novel to appear in English, The Fox and Dr. Shimamura, is a mythical, mystical, and at times bizarre tale of a late nineteenth-century Japanese doctor who is sent to remote areas of the Shimane prefecture to cure women of fox possession. The book begins at the end, as Dr. Shimamura’s career as a renowned neurologist has passed, and his memories of curing fox possession and other forms of female hysteria are told in a feverish state from his sick bed. His hazy memories also bring us through his time in Europe, where he meets and studies with other famous doctors, Charcot and Breuer, who have an interest in ailments that particularly affect females. . .
Reviewed by Hal Hlavinka
In his home country, Dag Solstad is an inescapable literary figure. His extraordinary and diverse output suggests a peripatetic mind ever searching for modernism’s golden calf: the New. Here in the States, one of our very own Saints of the New, Lydia Davis, taught herself Norwegian by reading Solstad’s infamous Telemark novel in the original. “Do exactly what you want,” she has said of his demanding style: “the drama exists in his voice.” But for most of us American readers, who rely on gifted translators to do all the heavy lifting, and who have had to be satisfied with the 2015 rendering of Shyness and Dignity or hunt down UK editions of Novel 11, Book 18, and Professor Andersen’s Night, the majority of his work remains hidden. Happily enough, this year brings a comparative glut of Solstad novels, as a pair of the author’s late works, T Singer and Armand V, have arrived in English—in lucid, agile translations courtesy of Tiina Nunnaly and Steven T. Murray, respectively—to reintroduce readers to the Norwegian giant’s dry wit and protean style…
Reviewed by Sam Carter
Because any attempt at exculpation ultimately evaporates when forced to face the facts, what remains in The Desert and Its Seed is an excavation, a brushing away instead of a brushing off that seeks to uncover what Jorge Baron Biza once called “the difference between the exterior appearance of a tragedy and its interior view...”
Reviewed by Nick Oxford
The Chandelier amplifies the lonely interior monologues and infighting that had been the hallmark of Clarice Lispector’s Near to the Wild Heart. At the same time, it challenges the reader even more than any of Lispector’s earlier texts: the novel becomes a proving ground, where the only way to succeed is to persevere through the long sentences and blurred boundaries between Virginia’s life and her contemplation thereof...
Reviewed by Irina Denischenko
As in his earlier works, Krasznahorkai’s narrators in The World Goes On find themselves wandering in a world of forgotten revelations and corrupted messages, blindly groping toward ineffable essences that forever remain out of reach. As the reader eavesdrops on their minds caught up in obsessive thought patterns, s/he witnesses consciousness on the threshold of insight. By recasting themes familiar from his novels in short story form, Krasznahorkai condenses fragmented revelations, increasing their potency, and creates a sense of wholeness that short story collections often lack. The World Goes On is a labyrinth of parallel universes that echo and correspond to one another, creating, with each new story, a déjà vu like effect that renders the reader’s escape into linear clarity nearly impossible. Moreover, the broad scope of this collection clarifies the various links between Krasznahorkai’s recurrent themes and the importance of his stylistic innovations, such as his unending sentences and estranged narrative positions that dissolve the boundaries of narrative voices...
Reviewed by Gary Michael Perry
When reading The Illustrious House of Ramires, it is difficult not to imagine the sound of pen scratching at paper. Barely a character appears who is not, in some way, engaged in the act of writing. From Father Soeiro’s history of the cathedral at Oliveira and Tonio’s compendium of scandals committed by Portugal’s oldest families to the novella whose composition sits at the novel’s centre, its content largely drawn from an epic Romantic poem by the protagonist’s Uncle Duarte, The Illustrious House is crammed to bursting with aspiring writers. Aggrieved letters are sent to the newspapers, archives sifted through, periodicals founded, the full spectrum of literate and literary nineteenth century life laid out before the reader.
Reviewed by Sara Nović
I picked up Daša Drndić’s Belladonna a few weeks before neo-Nazi rallies swept through the United States, the latest show of force by the burgeoning “Alt-Right” and white supremacist movement. The real world had left me on edge. And as with any Croatian or ex-Yugoslavian literature, I expected an emotional read—no matter the subject matter, Balkan novels often find me awash in nostalgia for one of the places I call home, or stung with grief when they lay bare the wars of the ‘90s. It will come as no surprise for those familiar with her work that Drndić’s latest does both. What I hadn’t expected, though, was the ways in which Belladonna would speak to me, and all of us, as Americans—warning us, precisely encapsulating for us the ugly truth of the political moment in which we are struggling...
Reviewed by Darren Huang
The story of a Homeric return is at the heart of Ema, the Captive, the second of more than fifty novels César Aira has written to date. On the surface, the book’s storyline, set in nineteenth-century Argentina, might seem conventional: a white woman living tranquilly on the periphery of a European stronghold is kidnapped by a band of natives and sold into captivity. She serves as a concubine to various chiefs and magistrates within the Indian kingdom and dispassionately observes their way of life. After an extended period, she returns to her former village and introduces elements of native culture to her people. But Aira is a sly and ironic writer, and cannot take such a realist plot seriously...
Reviewed by Alex Primiani
Where else would a confused and slightly paranoid polar bear find good inspiration but in Kafka’s stories? When the first of the three protagonists of Yoko Tawada’s Memoirs of a Polar Bear is introduced to Kafka’s “A Report to an Academy” and “Josephine the Singer,” readers unprepared for Tawada’s playfulness and sense of humor might be forgiven for thinking the scene a bit on the nose. Her capable hands, however, have brought us a novel equal parts brilliant and strange, hysterical and disturbing...
Reviewed by Camille Gajewski
Slow, relentless forces permeate the world of László Krasznahorkai; his characters are subject to glacial currents that bear them ever onwards, an inch at a time, toward a horizon they constantly imagine but never actually behold. In so doing, they cry, or laugh, or cry laughing, or carry out the timeworn repetitions that make a life, until the moment they come up against the horizon. And there they are either denied, held at a distance from that which they seek, or, having come too close to the mystery, are obliterated.
Reviewed by Adriana X. Jacobs
Sylvia Legris’s new collection The Hideous Hidden articulates a fixation with the body and its composition that encompasses its relation to home, society and language. The relationship between the body’s interior and its exterior also preoccupies this volume, as it does human life, for which the body remains a continuous site and source of discovery and inquiry. In The Hideous Hidden, Legris takes us into the specific language of the body, a dense, multilingual lexicon so far removed from the way we generally speak about and engage with our bodies that it can feel, reading this book, that she is addressing a different species entirely . . .
Review by Eric Dean Wilson
Last September, for the first time, we observed gravitational waves. Two supermassive black holes, after waltzing around each other for some eons, merged. This observation—an invisible ripple in the fabric of space-time, detected only because of the enormous energy released from the collision—was recorded as an audible “chirp,” a kind of cosmic trombone slide up three octaves, low to high. This proved, almost exactly one hundred years after, a new part of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. It seems fitting now for New Directions to release Gap Gardening, the first selected poems of Rosmarie Waldrop. She stands apart as a writer who translates these astronomical rules—the force of gravity, the curvature of space-time—into the sport of human experience. This volume, edited by Nikolai Duffy alongside the poet herself, offers selections from each of Waldrop’s seventeen collections of poetry, plus a verse section of her “novel,” A Form / Of Taking / It All. With this collection, it is evident that Waldrop’s universe begins where Einstein’s ends. Nearly fifty years of lyric riffs, meditations, and collages—using as source material the works of physicists, philosophers, explorers, historians, and critics, from Columbus to Wittgenstein—seek to simultaneously define, deconstruct, and, finally, re-construct a mind in motion . . .