26 March 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As in years past, we will be highlighting all 25 titles on the BTBA Fiction Longlist, one by one, building up to the announcement of the 10 finalists on April 10th. A variety of judges, booksellers, and readers will write these, all under the rubric of “Why This Book Should Win. You can find the whole series by clicking here. And if you’re interested in writing any of these, just get in touch._

We, the Children of Cats by Tomoyuki Hoshino, translated from the Japanese by Brian Bergstrom and Lucy Fraser and published by PM Press

This piece is Clark Allen, an artist living in New Orleans, LA who works as a book buyer at Maple Street Used and Rare Books.

I think cognizant persons, those who can see even an inch beyond their own arm’s length, generally have some awareness of this massive oaf, the human condition, something vast and quite unnameable in any perfected sense. We are each individually imprisoned in the obvious confines of the self, an incredibly annoying facet of existence for all sorts of reasons, but primarily inasmuch that it creates a serious hindrance in universal communication when we try to define what we observe—love, art, beauty, humor, despair, this fat stupid thing that can’t be seen but can be abstractly “felt,” just out of reach of, of . . . oh, I don’t know. The task of the artists, novelists and poets (so I’ve read) is to find it within themselves to converse with this condition, open a dialogue upon its table and share their perspective in a veritable pot luck of musing.

In Tomoyuki Hoshino’s recently translated collection, We, the Children of Cats, the reader is invited to his end of the banquet. Five short stories and three novellas written in a span scattered across near ten years, with each tale sidestepping any particular categorization. Magically real, surreal, sometimes humorous, sometimes scary, and by all proper accounts just plain bizarre, the characters in Hoshino’s stories each orbit one similar theme—the confrontation of something at once unnamable and all too human, and their (most often failed) attempts to transition beyond and transcend. To become something other than the self they perceive.

So how does this manifest in Hoshino’s stories? Genital mutilation? Mysterious child-run death cults? First to third world relocation? Well yeah, those are some starts. It is a book which involves sex and privilege, murder and dance, betrayal and longing, drugging and starving all seamlessly. His characters are affected with such invisible problems that it is beyond their ability to contact a solution. Not that it is a hopeless collection of course, but the few who happily make their way to the other side seem merely lucky. More often the reader is drawn into a venn diagram of desires prescribed by multiple narrators that whorl and tangle, forced compatible merely by the fact that they are occupying the same landscape. It is a book populated with mystic sickness and confusion, its characters living strangely and often dying in their own way.

Such are the final words of the protagonist in the story “Paper Woman”

. . . there is no paper, no words that exist in a state of perfection, pristine and hidden from human eyes, such paper is not really paper at all . . .

And yet Hoshino still attempts to confront these human impossibilities. The barriers of perspective and language, how they bleed together and intermingle despite how often they are oil and water. Through his fiction he asks where we are meeting and how we are different, and what is it that can bring us all the closer? It is, in a sense, a collection of stories that serves as a perfect example of why we desire translation in the first place.

Rambling Jack
Rambling Jack by Micheál Ó Conghaile
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

“Rambling Jack—what’s that?”
“A novel. Novella, I guess.”
“Yeah, it looks short. What is it, a hundred pages?”
“Sorta. It’s a duel language book, so really, only about… 50 pages total.”
“50 pages?”
“Including illustrations.”
“And this—what. . .

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The Things We Don't Do
The Things We Don't Do by Andrés Neuman
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Many authors are compared to Roberto Bolaño. However, very few authors have the privilege of having a Roberto Bolaño quote on the cover of their work; and at that, one which states, “Good readers will find something that can be. . .

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Private Life
Private Life by Josep Maria de Sagarra
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In Josep Maria de Sagarra’s Private Life, a man harangues his friend about literature while walking through Barcelona at night:

When a novel states a fact that ties into another fact and another and another, as the chain goes on. . .

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Dinner by César Aira
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .

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We're Not Here to Disappear
We're Not Here to Disappear by Olivia Rosenthal
Reviewed by Megan C. Ferguson

Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .

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The Queen's Caprice
The Queen's Caprice by Jean Echenoz
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .

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French Concession
French Concession by Xiao Bai
Reviewed by Emily Goedde

Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .

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