By Leila Guerriero
Translated by Frances Riddle
Reviewed by Emilee Brecht
16 August 17

Leila Guerriero’s A Simple Story: The Last Malambo chronicles the unique ferocity of a national dance competition in Argentina. The dance, called the malambo, pushes the physical and mental limits of male competitors striving to become champions of not only the historical craft of the dance, but for their families and communities.

During the author’s investigation, she is drawn to the uniquely enduring spirit of a competitor named Rodolfo González Alcántara. Her reports combine her awe and fascination for the dance with the raw observation of physical movements and events, making the novel a powerful observation of human willpower and strength. Guerriero’s reporting combined with the prose of a fiction novel creates a story that captivates its reader with ease.

The malambo dancer sacrifices his entire life for the goal of becoming champion. Out of. . .

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By Cesar Aira
Translated by Nick Caistor
Reviewed by Will Eells
3 August 17

Aira continues to surprise and delight in his latest release from New Directions, which collects two novellas: the first, The Little Buddhist Monk, a fairly recent work from 2005, and The Proof, an earlier work from 1989. There are a number of similarities to be sure—they both revolve around the sudden but intense relationship between three characters, they both take place over the course of less than twenty-four hours, they are both, at turns, wildly funny. And while they share a sudden twist in the final act (also an Aira speciality), the rug-pulling involved could not be more different. The Proof erupts into brutal, giddy violence, while the The Little Buddhist Monk is Hitchcockian in its eerie and melancholy finale. The Little Buddhist Monk is a sort of modern fairy tale; The Proof is a philosophy lesson disguised as a. . .

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By Peter Stamm
Translated by Michael Hofmann
Reviewed by Dorian Stuber
31 July 17

The narrator of Peter Stamm’s first novel, Agnes, originally published in 1998 and now available in the U.S. in an able translation by Michael Hofmann, is a young Swiss writer who has come to Chicago to research a book on American luxury trains. In the reading room of the Public Library he meets Agnes, a graduate student in Physics. They have little in common. The narrator values his freedom more than his happiness. Agnes is prey to various fears—of windows that don’t open, of air conditioners, of elevators—and locks herself in the bathroom to change. It’s unclear that either likes the other, though each claims to be in love.

Despite these unpropitious signs, the two embark on a relationship that is aimless until they turn it into a narrative. “Write a story about me,” Agnes asks the narrator, “so. . .

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By Francesco Pacifico
Translated by Francesco Pacifico
Reviewed by Vincent Francone
25 July 17

The thing about Class is that I don’t know what the hell to think about it, yet I can’t stop thinking about it. I’ll begin by dispensing with the usual info that one may want to know when considering adding the book to their “to read” list. Written by Francesco Pacifico. Translated by Francesco Pacifico. Published by Melville House. Set in Rome and New York. Specific Roman neighborhood of note: Pigneto. New York neighborhood of note: Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Does that matter? Apparently, yes.

And this is perhaps my way into Class (that was fun to type). Understanding a neighborhood and its denizens is key to understanding what an author like Pacifico may be up to in a book as odd as Class. Williamsburg in Class is the nexus of Italian hipsters. They meet, take drugs, laugh, fuck, grow weary,. . .

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By Szilárd Borbély
Translated by Ottilie Mulzet
Reviewed by Jason Newport
20 June 17

To be, or not to be?

Hamlet’s enduring question is one that Szilárd Borbély, acclaimed Hungarian poet, verse-playwright, librettist, essayist, literary critic, short-story writer, and, finally, novelist, answered sadly in the negative, through his suicide in 2014, at the age of fifty.

Loss of life, voluntary or otherwise, permeates Borbély’s writing, evoking a preemptive grief for what must pass away—often violently and suddenly. Yet framing the loss and stitched inextricably through it is all the gusty, aching richness of life lived in spite of its inevitable transience; the animating spirit of its time, for good or ill. This same “epoch-making” quality that author Péter Nádas identifies in Borbély’s poetry was embraced in Borbély’s fiction by the Hungarian public upon the sensational publication of The Dispossessed (2013), Borbély’s first and only novel, which topped the country’s best-books-of-the-year lists. . .

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By Bae Suah
Translated by Deborah Smith
Reviewed by Pierce Alquist
19 April 17

A Greater Music is the first in a line of steady and much-anticipated releases by Bae Suah from key indie presses (this one published by Open Letter). Building off of the interest of 2016 Best Translated Book Award longlist nominee Nowhere to Be Found, Bae Suah is back, this time with Deborah Smith, translator of the Man Booker Prize winner_ The Vegetarian_ and founder of Tilted Axis, a UK-based press dedicated to publishing new works in translation.

In the book’s opening chapters, the narrator—who remains unnamed—falls into an icy river in the suburbs of Berlin. A Korean writer and student living in Germany, she begins to look back over the years, blurring lines between past and present as she examines her relationship with Joachim, her on-and-off, working class boyfriend, and M, her German tutor, a refined and enigmatic young. . .

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By Horacio Castellanos Moya; Eugen Ruge
Translated by Lee Klein; Anthea Bell
Reviewed by Tim Lebeau
14 April 17

The dislocation of individuals from the countries of their birth has long been a common theme in contemporary literature. These two short novels recently translated into English appear firmly rooted in this tradition of ex-pat literature, but their authors eschew the romanticism found in earlier works. In Revulsion, Eguardo Vega has returned home after living 18 years in Montreal, to attend the funeral of his mother and collect his inheritance. The unnamed narrator of Cabo De Gata leaves his home in Berlin for the warmth of the coast. Both narrators struggle with their new surroundings. Neither experiences personal epiphanies, neither finds love and salvation in exotic climates. Instead, both find that they cannot escape themselves, just as the Egyptian poet C. P. Cavafy early last century, “There’s no new land, my friend, no / New sea; for the city will. . .

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By László Földényi
Translated by Tim Wilkinson
Reviewed by Jason Newport
12 April 17

In Melancholy, Hungarian author, critic, and art theorist László Földényi presents a panorama of more than two thousand years of Western historical and cultural perspectives on the human condition known as melancholia. In nine chapters, Földényi contrasts the hero worship and mystery cults of the ancient Greeks, the Hippocratic theory of bodily humors and the medieval astrology of fateful planets, the Renaissance preeminence of the individual and the Romantic inclination toward oblivion, the heartsickness of lover and beloved, the mental and neurological illnesses defined by modern medical science, and the personal dread of “real things passing” or the end of temporary existential illusion in the permanence of loss and death.

Heavy stuff—as one might expect from a title like Melancholy.

Yet readers looking for insight into their own or others’ feelings have often been drawn to such works.. . .

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By Pascal Quignard
Translated by Matthew Amos; Fredrik Rönnbäck
Reviewed by Jeanne Bonner
24 March 17

Pascal Quignard’s __The Hatred of Music_ is the densest, most arcane, most complex book I’ve read in ages. It’s also a book that covers a topic so basic, so universal—almost primordial—that just about any reader will be perversely thrilled by the intersections Quignard unearths between the mind and the world of sound. And that topic is just that: sound. How all manner of sounds constitute music, how some predate music and how our perception of sound—our history with it—affects our appreciation of music.

The nonfiction book is divided into what Quignard terms 10 treatises, but it often reads like a collection of connected fragments from the author’s journal. Entries are separated by a small bullet point, and the book feels in sections like a prose poem, or really, at times a riddle. As The New Yorker has noted, Quignard. . .

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By Jovanka Živanović
Translated by Jovanka Kalaba
Reviewed by Damian Kelleher
9 March 17

In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Flaubert attempted to highlight the ordinary, tired, and often crass nature of common expressions by italicising them within the text. When Charles, Emma Bovary’s mediocre husband, expresses himself in a manner akin to that of a million other colourless men before him, Flaubert uses italics to lift the expression up from the page in order to highlight the character’s paucity of creative expression. Here, Flaubert acknowledges, is a very boring man. And thus: Emma begins to dream of a life better lived.

Jovanka Živanović’s novella, Fragile Travelers, also contains a dreamer. Her name is Emilija, or Ema, which is surely not a coincidence. In her waking life she is a high-school teacher. In her dreams she is much more: philosophical, introspective, able to fly, carrying a serpent baby in her womb. Dream things. And. . .

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