Daniel Brunet for The Last Fire, a play by Dea Loher that examines the devastation wrought on a small community by the accidental death of a child. Following its premiere in Hamburg in 2008, it won both the 2008 Play of the Year award from Theater Heute and the 2008 Mülheim Drama Prize. (No publisher)
Alexander Dawe for a collection of short stories by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpmar (1901-1962), “the most surprising writer of 20th-century Turkish literature.” Opulent and lyrical in tone, Tanpmar’s stories orchestrate Western and Eastern influences to speak of ordinary people torn by their allegiances to the past. (No publisher)
Peter Golub for a collection of flash fictions by Linor Goralik, an underground Russian author beginning to make a name for herself in the literary mainstream. These very short stories catch their characters in midflight, like strangers on an airplane, combining the mythic with the banal to startling effect, as when the wolf, disobeying doctor’s orders, steps out for one last visit to the three little pigs. (No publisher)
Piotr Gwiazda for Kopenhaga by Grzegorz Wroblewski, a Polish poet who has lived in Copenhagen since 1985, “far from Poland and far from Denmark.” Intimate, sarcastic, lucid, and uncompromising, Kopenhaga addresses the immigrant experience in post-Cold War Europe with documentary evidence and intellectual rigor. (No publisher)
David Hull for Waverings, a novel by Mao Dun (1896-1981), who joined the nascent Chinese Communist Party in 1921. A depiction of the failed revolution of 1927 set among workers, peasants, and Communist Party officials in an unnamed county seat in Hubei Province, Waverings won its author great acclaim, but its pessimism drew criticism from doctrinaire Communists. Hull’s translation is based on both the 1928 edition, published immediately after the events the novel describes, and the 1958 edition, significantly altered by the author. (No publisher)
Akinloye A. Ojo for Afaimo and other Poems (1972) the only poetry collection by Akinwumi Isola, a novelist, playwright, and one of the foremost figures in Yorùbá literature. Moving between exhortatory matter-of-factness and ecstatic incantation, these poems are a love song to the language they were written in. “Is it really my fault? / The bug that ate the vegetable isn’t guilty. / There is a limit to a plant’s beauty. Whoever pursues Àsúnlé is guiltless.” (No U.S. publisher)
Angela Rodel for Holy Light, stories by Georgi Tenev, a Bulgarian playwright, novelist, film/TV screenwriter, and talk show host. Alloying political sci-fi with striking eroticism, the stories in Holy Light depict a world of endless, wearying revolution and apocalypse, where bodies have succumbed to a sinister bio-politics of relentless cruelty and perversion. “In first class they offered easy emancipation, perhaps even electrocution, but he was traveling economy class where they wouldn’t even serve him food.” (No publisher)
Margo Rosen for Poetry and Untruth, a novel by Anatoly Naiman. Juxtaposing the fates of four Russian poets of the early 20th century (Akhmatova, Pasternak, Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva) with those of the generation that came of age during Khrushchev’s thaw, this is part novel, part historical document. It draws from the writings of Russia’s greatest poets and the author’s own experience (he was Akhmatova’s literary secretary from 1962-1966) to convey a century of creative life that transcends the direness of Soviet history. (No publisher)
Chip Rossetti for Animals in Our Days, short stories by Mohamad Makhzangi, an Egyptian psychiatrist, journalist and fiction writer who was studying alternative medicine in Kiev during the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Drawing on Arabic traditions of animal fables, these stories, written with “translucent poetic sensibility,” use animals to comment on political oppression and the human capacity for encountering the magical and the inexplicable. (To be published by the American University in Cairo Press.)
Bilal Tanweer for Love in Chikiwara (And Other Such Adventures), a 1964 novel by Muhammad Khalid Akhtar (1920-2002)that has long been considered a masterpiece of Urdu humor. Our narrator, a genial, gullible bakery owner, makes the serious mistake of befriending Qurban Ali Kattar, the “Thomas Hardy of Urdu Literature,” who shamelessly exploits his hero-worship of all writers. A supporting cast of religious scam artists, bookbinders, restaurant owners, butchers, and minor deities make this novel something new and strange and warmly welcoming. (No publisher)
Diane Thiel for The Great Green, a 1987 novel by Eugenia Fakinou. Hugely popular in Greece (where it is now in its 43rd reprint), The Great Green portrays a woman escaping the constrictions of family and societal expectations. It interweaves the whole span of Greek history, from the Minoans and Homer’s Achaeans to the late Byzantine and early 19th-century periods, into the story of a single day in our own time, when an unknown woman mysteriously appears in a Greek village.
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. . .
Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .
It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015 PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has. . .
Jorge Eduardo Benavides’ novel La paz de los vencidos (The Peace of the Defeated) takes the form of a diary written by a nameless Peruvian thirty-something intellectual slumming it in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. Recently relocated. . .
Anyone with any interest at all in contemporary Moroccan writing must start with Souffles. A cultural and political journal, Souffles (the French word for “breaths”) was founded in 1966 by Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostafa Nissabouri. Run by a group of. . .
Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .