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.
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .