13 January 14 | Kaija Straumanis

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is by P.T. Smith on Ólafur Gunnarsson’s The Thaw, translated by the author, and out from New American Press.

Patrick is one of our regular reviewers, fellow literature enthusiast, and a patient person to boot (I’ve had this review in-hand since before Christmas—sorry!). He also hopes, one day, to own a drunken dog named Wigrum. Or at least I hope he does; it’s an idea so great that I would feel horrible stealing it. (And before any readers go all PETA on me, just give a hyper pitbull-rottweiler mix a quarter cup of beer and watch it pass out happily, snoring, in the middle of the living room for an hour, and then judge me. Your grandpa/uncle/dad never comes near to looking that happy.)

I DIGRESS. Per usual. Here’s the beginning of Patrick’s review:

Short story collections, whether collected over a period of time or written specifically as a set, often have a way of revealing an author’s preoccupation, and Ólafur Gunnarsson’s The Thaw is no different. Throughout its ten stories, we see the same themes turned to time and time again: ambiguity overlaying points of clarity, a blend of mundane realism and the weird, compassion coming from moments of insights into a character, and the sinister potential that broils beneath when all of this interacts. Reading his returns to themes one after another makes it easy to see when it succeeds, and when it falls flat.

The opening two stories do much to show what to expect. In the brief “Alien,” a father’s response to one of his young daughters enjoying Ridley Scott’s Alien is to tell her that he too is an alien, and will return home that day. In the divorced, broken family (in the time of the story, even the twins are separated), the unnamed characters, simply daughters, wives, and narrators, we see the isolation of people from one another that will run through the rest of the stories. There is the haunting, unresolved, near cruelness of his treatment of his daughter, but it is heavy-handed, and reads like the idea of an author, not the character himself. We also encounter a certain oddness with Gunnarsson’s writing: he wants ambiguity to have the final word, but there is also an affection for brief statements of certainty. When it shows us what we otherwise might not see, it is welcome, but when, as in this opening story, he explains the plot of Alien, or in “The Revelation” portrays an alcoholic nearly bathing in Southern Comfort, and later points out it is his favorite drink, ambiguity would be preferable. It is, in the end, a rough and unenthusiastic way to begin a collection.

For the rest of the review, go here.


Comments are disabled for this article.
....
Sphinx
Sphinx by Anne Garréta
Reviewed by Monica Carter

Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .

Read More >

Morse, My Deaf Friend
Morse, My Deaf Friend by Miloš Djurdjević
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in Morse, My Deaf Friend— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .

Read More >

The Crimson Thread of Abandon
The Crimson Thread of Abandon by Terayama Shūji
Reviewed by Robert Anthony Siegel

The Crimson Thread of Abandon is the first collection of short fiction available in English by the prolific Japanese writer and all-around avant-garde trickster Terayama Shūji, who died in 1983 at the age of 47. This collection would be important. . .

Read More >

Life Embitters
Life Embitters by Josep Pla
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

Last year, NYRB Classics introduced English-language readers to Catalan writer Josep Pla with Peter Bush’s translation of The Gray Notebook. In that book, Pla wrote about life in Spain during an influenza outbreak soon after World War I, when. . .

Read More >

The Physics of Sorrow
The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov
Reviewed by Izidora Angel

“Your bile is stagnant, you see sorrow in everything, you are drenched in melancholy,” my friend the doctor said.
bq. “Isn’t melancholy something from previous centuries? Isn’t some vaccine against it yet, hasn’t medicine taken care of it yet?” I. . .

Read More >

Vano and Niko
Vano and Niko by Erlom Akhvlediani
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

What to make of Vano and Niko, the English translation of Erlom Akhvlediani’s work of the same name, as well as the two other short books that comprise a sort of trilogy? Quick searches will inform the curious reader that. . .

Read More >

The Indian
The Indian by Jón Gnarr
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

The opening of Jón Gnarr’s novel/memoir The Indian is a playful bit of extravagant ego, telling the traditional story of creation, where the “Let there be light!” moment is also the moment of his birth on January 2nd, 1967. Then. . .

Read More >

Mother of 1084; Old Women; Breast Stories
Mother of 1084; Old Women; Breast Stories by Mahasweta Devi
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

Mahasweta Devi is not only one of the most prolific Bengali authors, but she’s also an important activist. In fact, for Devi, the two seem to go together. As you can probably tell from the titles, she writes about women. . .

Read More >

Tristana
Tristana by Benito Pérez Galdós
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

The prolific Spanish author Benito Pérez Galdós wrote his short novel, Tristana, during the closing years of the nineteenth century, a time when very few options were available to women of limited financial means who did not want a husband.. . .

Read More >

The History of Silence
The History of Silence by Pedro Zarraluki
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Pedro Zarraluki’s The History of Silence (trans. Nick Caistor and Lorenza García) begins with the narrator and his wife, Irene, setting out to write a book about silence, itself called The History of Silence: “This is the story of how. . .

Read More >

The next few events from our Translation Events Calendar: See More Events >