One of the most consistently interesting weekly roundups is Susan Salter Reynolds’s “Discoveries” column at the L.A. Times. She’s one of the few reviewers who does an excellent job covering translations from independent presses, usually covering titles that no one else is writing about.
This week’s column is no exception, featuring three books about life in Iraq, both pre- and post-Hussein.
Two of the books she writes about—Outcast by Shimon Ballas and I’jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody by Sinan Antoon—are from City Lights, and the third—The Sirens of Baghdad by Yasmina Khadra—is from Nan Talese.
All three sound interesting, and taken together, cover a range of emotional responses and political situations.
In Outcast a Jewish scholar who has converted to Islam is appalled to see his works perverted into attacks against Jews.
The Sirens of Baghdad is the story of a student whose life is wrecked during the American invasion, leading him to join a radical group planning a mission that is “a thousand times more awesome than the attacks of September 11.”
A student detained for making fun of Hussein is the protagonist of I’jaam. In jail he writes a sarcastic history of life under Saddam, omitting all diacritical dots, and thereby altering his text and hiding his contempt. (I wish I knew more about the Arabic language . . . )
It’s great to see that Arabic books about Iraq are making their way into English, although it sort of supports by quasi-serious hypothesis that readers are most interested in books from the countries America bombs.
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .