18 February 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Last week, the tenth version of the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute took place in Asheville, NC, at a resort straight out of The Shining.

I know! You should’ve seen the main lobby with it’s 40’ ceilings, giant fireplaces, and hidden passages. It was like something out of Hogwarts. (Actually, I have no idea if that’s true. I’m still pretty clueless when it comes to Harry Potter.)

For anyone not in the business, Winter Institute started ten years ago as a way of having the bookseller educational programs—which usually take place just before the start of BookExpo America—at a different time and place, one where it was basically all booksellers resorted off in such a way that they could share relevant information about the business of bookselling without having the Sweet Potato Queen thrusting books at you non-stop. (Not to pick on this particular book, but if you’ve been to BEA, you know that it’s filthy with over-the-top attempts to get the attention of booksellers and reviewers. Just check out the Ellora’s Cave stand and their calendar stud muffins.)

Over the past decade, Winter Institute has evolved, and is heavily underwritten by publishing houses. But even so, it’s much more classy and information-focused, rather than a buzz-producing free-for-all. For example, if a publisher sponsors Winter Institute at the mid-level (which is thousands of dollars), they get to bring two employees and spend four total hours “speed dating” with booksellers (Winter Institute is HOT), pitching a handful of books and making new connections. There are other sponsorship benefits, and most publishers arrange dinners with key stores, but nevertheless, it’s all pretty subdued and really focused on relationships and business practices.

You’ll be able to hear a lot more about this on the podcast that’s going up soon, and which features a handful of booksellers, publishers, and Naja Marie Aidt.

For years I’ve been trying to get to Winter Institute, and now that I finally made it, I’m going to be there every year going forward. It’s the best way to learn about new stores, reconnect with booksellers you don’t get to see that often, and party with other book people. Everyone working in this oftentimes thankless business needs a few days like this.

One of my favorite moments of Winter Institute was going to the special Consortium dinner with my former boss—Sarah Goddin of Quail Ridge Books! I had no idea she was going to be there, and Consortium had no idea that we had worked together, so it was a special sort of random reunion.

Since I love North Carolina (the far superior Carolina) so much, I spent a couple days after Winter Institute driving over to Raleigh-Durham, trying to find the apartment complex I lived in back in 1999 (I failed), meeting up with John Darnielle to talk about Mercè Rodoreda and book tours, and checking out all of the great bookstores. Although The Regulator seems to have shrunk quite a bit since the time I lived there (which, granted, was forever ago), the Triangle still has some incredible independent bookstores. Flyleaf in Chapel Hill is gorgeous and so well stocked (and is a store I wouldn’t have visited had I not met the very charming Travis at breakfast during Winter Institute) and over at Quail Ridge, the “International Literature” section I helped set up before Y2K didn’t do shit is still there, bigger and more international than ever.

I have no grand point to make with this intro . . . except maybe that it was rejuvenating. I would love to be back in Carolina, where there are great bookstores and breweries (sorry, Rochester, but you just can’t compete), and where I didn’t have to wear a winter jacket (it is -60 here right now, I think). But beyond the natural beauty and general coolness of Carolina, there’s that special internal joy that comes from talking with booksellers like Mark Haber and Jeremy Ellis and Robert Sindelar and Stephen Sparks and Brad Johnson and Jeremy Solomons and Paul Yamazaki and Rick Simonson and Sarah Goddin and everyone else that I talked with, but can’t remember right now.

Despite all the hardships it faces in our tech-obsessed world, bookselling is alive and well, and still populated by that special subset of book lovers who truly help make this whole book culture thing work.

The Knight and His Shadow by Boubacar Boris Diop, translated from the French by Alan Furness (Michigan State University Press)

Given that MSU’s men’s basketball team kicked the living shit out of Michigan last night, I have to take a minute to say GO SPARTANS! and give a shout out to my alma mater, and to say that I will savor every minute of a Kentucky loss. I have friends who love Kentucky in that way that you do when your family tree is a straight line and teeth are considered an optional accessory (sorry, sorry), and I’d be happy for them if Kent— Screw that. That’s a total lie. I can’t stand Calipari and his dirty recruiting and am sick to death of Dickie V, who has never held a skeptical position in his life and who has obviously spent way too many hours researching thesauri for new ways to say “Calipari and what he’s done with this program is nothing short of spectacular! He’s a diaper dandy winner, baby!” Please, ESPN, retire him. Let him write a weekly column from Florida where he can hang out with all his shady sports friends and verbally fellate all the “blue blood” teams that he loves.

In terms of this book, this is the only work of fiction from Senegal listed in our Translation Database. I know there are countries (like Chad, just, you know, as an example) that have zero titles available in translation, but it’s still crazy to think that, if you want to read some recent Senegalese literature, you have exactly one choice.

On the upside, this sounds spectacular. It includes a character who is hired to “sit before an open door and tell stories into an uncertain darkness, unable to see the person to whom she speaks.” Plus, it’s great to see MSU Press getting into the translation game. The only thing that could be better is if MSU interrupts Kentucky’s “Pursuit of Perfection” in the NCAA tournament. Dickie V would never recover . . .

Flesh-Coloured Dominos by Zigmunds Skujins, translated from the Latvian by Kaija Straumanis (Arcadia)

Look, it’s Open Letter editor Kaija Straumanis’s second full-length Latvian translation to be published! With a country of this size (3 million speakers worldwide?), it’s crucial that someone become a spokesperson/go-to translator who can act as a cultural conduit, or literary ambassador. Without a Kaija, Latvian literature would be even less well-known . . . And someone like Skujins, who is considered one of the top Latvian writers of the twentieth century, would remain unknown outside of this relatively small group of readers. Every country needs a few Kaijas.

Speaking of, here’s a picture of her while translating this book.



Lies, First Person by Gail Hareven, translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu (Open Letter)

2015 is going to be a huge year for Open Letter in terms of sales and publicity. I can easily see a handful of our titles on next year’s Best Translated Book Award longlist (Georgi Gospodinov, Naja Marie Aidt, Andrés Neuman, Gail Hareven), and it all starts here, with this book that is part-revenge fantasy, part-literary game. The follow up to the BTBA winning The Confessions of Noa Weber (also translated by Dalya Bilu, and sadly out of print from Melville House), Lies, First Person is about a female writer whose uncle molested her younger sister while writing his much-reviled book Hitler, First Person. Decades later, the uncle is making the rounds, apologizing for the upset his book cause, but Elinor isn’t ready to forgive anyone . . . Instead she decides to take matters into her own hands and get the ultimate revenge for what he did to her sister. Hareven complicates this storyline by exploring the gap between truth and lies in fiction, transforming a simple tale of abuse and vengeance into something that’s emotionally powerful and intellectually stunning.

No one writes with the warmth and honest of Hareven. She may well be the first female writer to claim the BTBA twice.

Guys Like Me by Dominique Fabre, translated from the French by Howard Curtis (New Vessel Press)

Since we just posted a great review of this by Peter Biello, I’m just going to quote from there:

In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying side that reflects, more than anything else, the emotional state of the storyteller, an unnamed narrator still reeling from his divorce many years ago. . . . The immersive power of the novel comes from the narrator’s voice. He begins each paragraph somewhere, then wanders somewhere else, jumping idea to idea, often without starting new sentences. The reader must slow down to figure out whether he’s integrating dialogue into his prose or recalling something someone once said or mocking someone. But in forcing us to slow down, the author has invited us to occupy the narrator’s mind perhaps more intimately than we would otherwise.

Fabre’s The Waitress Was New, which Archipelago brought out a few years ago, is brilliant, and I’m sure that this new novel is as well.

Adventures in Immediate Irreality by Max Blecher, translated from the Romanian by Michael Henry Heim (New Directions)

On its own, this sounds like a curious, strange book to read. According to the ND copy, Blecher “paints the crises of ‘irreality’ the plagued him in his youth: eerie unsettling mirages wherein he would glimpse future events.” Structured through a sort of dream-logic, this book probably isn’t for everyone, but will inspire some hard core fans.

Personally, I’m excited to read it because it’s a Michael Henry Heim translation. My love of MHH is unwavering (if you haven’t already, you should read The Man Between), and I know for certain that if he chose to work on this, it’s definitely interesting and worth reading. At the same time, the idea of reading the book Mike was working on when he passed away makes me sad . . . I know there are dozens of books he did that I have yet to read, but still, there’s something about the “final” one that makes me just miss him.

My Documents by Alejandro Zambra, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (McSweeney’s Books)

New Zambra! I may not have been the biggest fan of Ways of Going Home, but given the greatness of The Private Lives of Trees and Bonsai, I will always and forever read every new book Zambra writes. This is his first story collection, and features eleven stories (or, according to McSweeney’s, “eleven brief novels,” which is really brilliant marketing speak, since stories don’t sell) that are archived in a folder labeled, “My Documents.”

Zambra is always a fun read, and he really is at his best in the short form, so this has a lot of promise. (It’s books like this that make me wish I only taught books I’ve already read, and thus would have more time for fun reading . . .)

The Scapegoat by Sophia Nikolaidou, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich (Melville House)

When she spoke to my class last spring, Karen Emmerich talked a bit about this book, in particular about the role politics play in this novel and in Why I Killed My Best Friend by Amanda Michalopoulou. Not that the two books are similar, but both involve Greek political things that probably need to be explained to American readers.

The Scapegoat is about a murdered American journalist, a man who confessed to the crime under torture, and a young boy who sets off to find the truth. The bit about this that most caught my attention is that it’s based on the real story of CBS reporter James Polk, the namesake of the Polk Awards.

Also, as with Michael Henry Heim, I’m always interested in projects that Karen decides to translate. Which makes me want to run a poll/write an article about what it takes to become one of those sorts of translators (whose name signals true quality and can get me to pick up anything), and who exactly falls into this grouping . . . hmm . . .

Me, Margarita by Ana Kordzaia-Samadashvili, translated from the Georgian by Libby Heighway (Dalkey Archive)

Out of all the Georgian books Dalkey has published in their series, this is the one that I’m most interested in reading. Mostly because of this blurb:

“An unmatched achievement that simultaneously fascinates and alienates. What does cynicism taste like? And what color is disillusion? Me, Margarita is powder blue and tastes refreshingly bittersweet.“—Emil Fadel, octopus-magazin

I’ll buy a side of disillusioned cynicism for $15.95.

23 October 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The new issue of the always spectacular Asymptote includes Good Girl, a short story by Gail Hareven.

Hareven is an Israeli author who is most well-known for The Confessions of Noa Weber, an absolutely brilliant book that won the Best Translated Book Award in 2009. It was translated by the also brilliant Dalya Bilu and is available from Melville House.

Next year, Open Letter is going to be bringing out her follow-up, Lies, First Person, a really dark, fucked-up book about a woman who decides to take revenge on her uncle for crimes he committed against her sister when they were growing up. It’s really interesting and very readable, and I’ll be writing more about this in the not too distant future.

But for now, check out the new story, an excerpt of which is below:

Today is the first day of September and for a lot of people this means the beginning of a new school year. I want to experience a new beginning too, so I’ve decided to buy this notebook in which, from now on, I’ll write about everything that happens to me along with my thoughts about it. One day, when I open and read it, I’ll be able to remember how things really were—and I’m sure this will be meaningful. And, until then, I’ll have this diary, and it will be my best friend on lonely days.

So—hello, diary! My name is May Nathanson, which is short for Maya Nathanson. Daddy thinks “May” sounds better. In October I’ll be seventeen, and here’s the surprising part…I don’t go to high school anymore.

In order to explain to you, my new friend, how I grew up so quickly, and why it is that a girl like me doesn’t go to school, I need to go back a few months, to what happened in June. So be patient. (I’m sure you don’t lack patience.)

It all started when crazy Linda locked herself in the bedroom. In case you don’t know (how would you know if I haven’t told you yet?), Linda’s my mom, and please don’t think badly of me for calling her crazy. I’m not the only one who thinks so.

That evening some guests were supposed to come over: two important professors from Germany who came especially to see Daddy’s ward at the hospital, and a couple of doctor friends of his, and all of their wives, too. My dad likes to entertain, and he’s the most charming host in the world. (Okay, okay, maybe not the most charming, but pretty close to it.) If Linda wasn’t the way she is, I’m sure we’d have had guests much more often.

So this is what happened: Ofir and I were sitting upstairs in my room getting ready for the next day’s matriculation exams in government—separation of authority into legislative and judicial branches, stuff like that. At our school we can take two matriculation exams as early as eleventh grade—in language and in government—and we did language a little after Passover. (I don’t mean to brag, but I know I’ll get at least a B+.) Anyway, Ofir and I are sitting and cramming, and suddenly we hear a big metal boom from the kitchen downstairs, and then Linda’s footsteps as she runs up the stairs, and the bedroom door being slammed shut. Ofir looks at me, obviously embarrassed, asking me whether I want to go and see what’s going on, but scenes like this are pretty common with Linda, and I had no intention of encouraging her and her silliness. And guess what? Two minutes later, just as I expected, she started playing one of her stupid records—Leonard Cohen—melancholy trash that always depresses me.

Okay: So when Ofir saw that I wasn’t going to leave the room, we went back to studying. And he didn’t ask anything because he saw that I didn’t want to talk about it, and also because we’re friends and he knows a thing or two about my family. Anyway, what’s going on with Linda is not exactly a secret.

10 March 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Approximately five minutes, the winners of this year’s Best Translated Book Awards were announced at a special celebration at Idlewild Books in New York City. Hopefully the party is raging, and the winners are enjoying themselves . . .

Competition was pretty steep for this year’s awards. The poetry committee came to a consensus rather quickly, granting the award to Elena Fanailova for The Russian Version, translated from the Russian by Genya Turovskaya and Stephanie Sandler and published by Ugly Duckling Presse.

On the fiction side of things we debated and debated for weeks. There were easily four other titles that could’ve easily won this thing. Walser, Prieto, Aira were all very strong contenders. But in the end, we gave the award to Gail Hareven for The Confessions of Noa Weber, translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu and published by Melville House Press.

You can download the official 2010 BTBA Winners Press Release by clicking there. And you can visit these links for overviews of The Confessions of Noa Weber and The Russian Version.

18 January 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over the next four weeks, we’ll be highlighting a book a day from the Best Translated Book Award fiction longlist. Click here for all past write-ups.



The Confessions of Noa Weber by Gail Hareven. Translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu. (Israel, Melville House)

It’s hard to write an objective overview when it comes to books like this. I first heard about this via Jessa Crispin’s review for NPR, then coming across Michael Orthofer’s review at Complete Review, where he gave it an “A-.” (Anyone who follows Complete Review knows how rare anything above a B or B+ is . . . ) Completely intrigued but living through the beginnings of my divorce—a divorce that at the time I wasn’t totally in favor of—I picked this up over the summer despite my slight fear that a book about a woman’s obsessive love for a man who left her was maybe not the best thing for my state of mind.

Who knows if it was or wasn’t, but after the first handful of pages I was in love with Noa’s voice. As I mentioned in my review, this is one of those novels in which the voice and telling of the story far outstrips the plot of the actual book. At its most basic, The Confessions of Noa Weber is about a middle-aged writer who married a man out of convenience (to escape her military duty) and continues to love for the rest of her life despite the fact that he leaves her for Russia, for another woman, for a different life.

Noa goes on to become a very successful author of Nira Woolf detective novels, but never stops loving Alek. And this book is her gut-wrenchingly personal account of her obsession and her life as a whole. In our blog & Twitter-obsessed world, this book is perfectly suited for our times. It reads like a too-personal look into someone’s life, but one that is charming, honest, smart, self-critical, sarcastic, and absolutely captivating.

The temptation always exists to be flippant at your own expense in the marketplace of anecdotes and then to go around with your hat and collect the laughter. Everything’s a joke nowadays, everything’s a laugh, it’s the fashion. So that feeling seriously has become utterly and completely pathetic. A kind of social impropriety which only a real blockhead would be guilty of. You won’t usually catch me making this kind of faux pas, because I am a polite person, I have self-respect and I don’t want to cause embarrassment either. And since I’m such a classy gal, everything about me is classy too. In other words, in the framework of the anecdote and the shtick, the best thing about a good shtick is that like a hawker in the marketplace you can dish it out to people like a tasty morsel of yourself.

So I could sell you this wild shtick about how I got turned on by Alek, and how from the thing we had together I got pregnant, and how afterwards I got back into that whole scene again; and it’ll all be terribly flippant and witty, how I’ll laugh at her, and for a few moments perhaps I’ll even feel healed, because I’ll be really capable of laughing at “her,” who by then is already not completely me.

The truth is that emotional seriousness involves not a little stupidity. The stupidity lies in that toad-like inflation itself, as if vis-a-vis all the terribly painful and terribly important and terribly, terribly terrible things happening in the world, Noa Weber jumps up and croaks out loud: Listen, listen, look, look, I too have something terribly painful and terribly important to tell. Something about my tortured soul. Something about my delusions.

Once you start reading this book, it’s almost impossible to put down. Noa Weber is an amazing character—one that you could listen to forever. In fact, I know someone who refuses to finish the last five pages just so that it won’t be over . . .

Gail Hareven won the Sapir Prize for Literature for this novel, and although I have no idea what her other books are like (she’s the author of five other novels and three story collections), I really hope Melville House (or someone) will bring them out in Dalya Bilu’s translations. Even if they’re half as good as Noa Weber, they’d still be totally amazing.

7 December 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Today is a day of gushing posts . . . Up next: NPR’s year-end literary lists. I remember loving these last year, and am a big fan of the holiday lists they’ve posted so far. Even if I’m not planning on reading any of these books, the Indie Booksellers list is pretty cool, and Alan Cheuse has some intriguing recommendations as well.

But the best of the best of lists has to be Jessa Crispin’s write-up on the five best foreign fiction works of 2009.

Season of Ash by Jorge Volpi (translated from the Spanish by Alfred Mac Adam): For too long, the word nerd has been misused to describe the videogame-playing and Buffy-obsessed men and women of this world. That’s geek culture. For a proper definition, look no further than Jorge Volpi’s Season of Ash, which, in its depth (it spans the years 1929 to 2000), breadth (it crisscrosses from Zaire to Berlin and Pittsburgh to Siberia) and bookish preoccupations (scientific advancements in genetic research, artificial life and biochemistry), is unapologetically nerdy. But it’s quality airplane reading, too.

There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (translated from the Russian by Keith Gessen and Anna Summers): Lately, much has been made about the absence in contemporary Russian literature of worthy heirs to the realist masters Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. But the rise of the tightly constructed “weird” tales of Petrushevskaya, Victor Pelevin and Tatyana Tolstaya suggests a secure Soviet literary future.

The Armies by Evelio Rosero (translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean): Winner of the 2009 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, The Armies is a realistic account of Colombia’s civil unrest told in a tense, stripped-down style. It avoids slipping into polemic by keeping at its emotional center an old man interested not in taking sides but just the safe return of his wife.

The Confessions of Noa Weber by Gail Hareven (translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu): By deciding to mine one character’s psychology so thoroughly, Israeli novelist Gail Hareven risks not only believability but the chance that readers won’t stick around for 300 pages. Noa is a fine companion, however: intelligent, self-aware, charming and darkly witty. That risk earned Hareven Israel’s Sapir Prize and, one hopes, a growing presence in the English-language market.

The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker (translated from the Dutch by David Colmer): In its candor about the bitterness that can arise from family obligations and the responsibility of caretaking, The Twin is both touching and surprising. Bakker’s beautiful and uncluttered prose style is almost old-fashioned. A character’s remark about the farm — “It’s here on this road now, but it might just as well be 1967 or 1930” — could refer to the novel itself. Family drama, after all, is timeless.

Not only is this a killer list of books (including some of my personal favorites), but it’s a partial who’s who of top translation publishers with a heavy emphasis on the indie: New Directions, Archipelago, Open Letter, Melville House, and Penguin.

Well done Jessa!

18 September 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our review section is a review of Gail Hareven’s The Confessions of Noa Weber, which came out from Melville House Press earlier this year in Dalya Bilu’s stunning translation. (I didn’t mention her translation in the actual review, but wow, to capture this voice so convincingly, so compellingly, is quite a feat.)

I’m a big fan of this book, which, as happens to so many great books, was tragically under-reviewed when it came out this past April. (Although it was praised by Jessa Crispin at NPR and by Michael Orthofer at the Complete Review.)

Here’s the opening to my piece:

For years now, Melville House has been one of the most exciting independent presses out there. The political books they’ve done are fantastic, the Art of the Novella Series is arguably one of the most genius marketing/editorial publishing projects of the past decade, and the return of the Moby Lives blog (I still wear my “The whale is out there, man!” t-shirt every so often) is a brilliant addition to the current litblog scene. And on top of all that there’s the fine list of translations that they’ve been bringing out over the past few years. Alejandro Zambra’s Bonsai. Marcel Proust’s The Lemoine Affair. Miguel de Cervantes’s The Dialogue of the Dogs. More recently, the Hans Fallada rediscovery project, which includes Every Man Dies Alone (a Best Translated Book Award nominee), The Drinker, and Little Man, What Now? And if that wasn’t enough, along comes Gail Hareven’s searing, addictive novel The Confessions of Noa Weber, another nominee for the 2010 Best Translated Book Award.

I know this is going to totally undersell the novel (honestly, I’m not sure my reviewing skills are up to this painfully honest book anyway), but The Confessions of Noa Weber reads like the best possible personal blog ever written. It’s a personal account of mystery writer Noa Weber’s lifelong obsession with Alek, a man she marries out of convenience (to escape her military duty), has a child with, and loves her whole life even though they separate pretty early on, and he moves to Russia, where he eventually finds a more placid existence with another woman.

Click here for the full review.

18 September 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

For years now, Melville House has been one of the most exciting independent presses out there. The political books they’ve done are fantastic, the Art of the Novella Series is arguably one of the most genius marketing/editorial publishing projects of the past decade, and the return of the Moby Lives blog (I still wear my “The whale is out there, man!” t-shirt every so often) is a brilliant addition to the current litblog scene. And on top of all that there’s the fine list of translations that they’ve been bringing out over the past few years. Alejandro Zambra’s Bonsai. Marcel Proust’s The Lemoine Affair. Miguel de Cervantes’s The Dialogue of the Dogs. More recently, the Hans Fallada rediscovery project, which includes Every Man Dies Alone (a Best Translated Book Award nominee), The Drinker, and Little Man, What Now? And if that wasn’t enough, along comes Gail Hareven’s searing, addictive novel The Confessions of Noa Weber, another nominee for the 2010 Best Translated Book Award.

I know this is going to totally undersell the novel (honestly, I’m not sure my reviewing skills are up to this painfully honest book anyway), but The Confessions of Noa Weber reads like the best possible personal blog ever written. It’s a personal account of mystery writer Noa Weber’s lifelong obsession with Alek, a man she marries out of convenience (to escape her military duty), has a child with, and loves her whole life even though they separate pretty early on, and he moves to Russia, where he eventually finds a more placid existence with another woman.

This is one of those books where the prose far out-strips the plot. Noa’s voice—so direct, so honest, so unabashed and sarcastic and pointed—is mesmerizing, drawing the reader in immediately:

The city of J lies at the top of the hills of J. That’s how I’d like to begin my story; at a calm distance, with a deep breath, in a panoramic shot focusing very slowly on a single street, and very slowly on a single house, “this is the house where I was born.” But you’d be making a fool of yourself if your J were Jerusalem, since every idiot knows about Jerusalem. And altogether it’s impossible to talk about Jerusalem any more. Impossible, that is to say, without “winding alleys” and “stone courtyards,” “caper bushes” and “Arab women in the market place.” And I have nothing to say about caper bushes and stone courtyards, nor do I have the faintest desire to flavor my story with the colorful patois of colorful Jerusalem characters, twirling their mustaches as they spin Oriental tales. [. . .]

It isn’t my personal problem as a writer. It isn’t my personal problem that a person who was born here can’t open with the words “I was born”—because so what? So you were born, good for you, you were born, okay, and then what? Because after “I was born” has to come an adventure story that will take the first person far, far away from his birthplace, and how far can you really get from here? To the Far East on the beaten track of the ex-warriors from the Golani Brigade? To Uman with the nutcases of the Bratslav Hassids to their rabbi’s grave? And however far you went you’d end up meeting someone who knew your cousin’s cousin. Not interesting. Not interesting at all.

As the novel progresses, Noa weaves together events from the past and present, filling out her life, from her time as a young pregnant woman to a very successful writer of feminist mystery novels, to an older woman who has never met any man who can replace her first love. An almost hypocritical situation given her politics, and one that generates self-criticism, but also this gorgeous “confession.”

There are very moving moments in this book, and it can be occasionally uncomfortable in the way that watching someone break down in a public forum (like a blog, like Facebook, like Twitter) can be a bit uncomfortable. But on the whole, this is a remarkable piece of literature. And the way Hareven chisels out the shape of Noa’s self makes me hope that her other works will also eventually make their way into English. Another amazing find by Melville House.

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Birth of a Bridge by Maylis de Kerangal
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

One hundred pages into Birth of a Bridge, the prize-winning novel from French writer Maylis de Kerangal, the narrator describes how starting in November, birds come to nest in the wetlands of the fictional city of Coca, California, for three. . .

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