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 destruction. Gillian’s and Hubert’s struggles to understand the emotional basis of these incongruities provide dramatic tension in this taut and provocative novel.
Although Gillian survives an auto accident that kills her husband, the crash damages and permanently alters her face. As she convalesces, she recalls the weeks leading up to the accident, in particular her televised interview with Hubert, a local artist, and her post-interview request that he paint her portrait. Gillian shares with Hubert the hope that his painting of her will reveal truths to which she has been blind. All that she understands about herself is derivative. . .
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 what seems a blasé manner, talk about how much they hate terrorist attacks. “They put a damper on everything.” Keret shares this story—the beginning of his life as a father occurring as the wounded of Tel Aviv surround him— most likely to imply something deep about life and death, but I simply found it funny. Chalk that up to my dark sense of humor, or maybe it’s because Keret manages to wrest more from tragedy than just pathos. Surely he’s trying to communicate what it is like to live in a part of the world where violence is an everyday. . .
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 author’s first translation into English, yet Han’s surreal story and the skillful politicization of the characters and events, combined with 2015 BTBA poetry judge Deborah Smith’s excellently smooth and poetic translation, meant that the gamble paid off. Human Acts, Han’s second novel to appear in English, is a very different book in terms of content, yet equally composed and controlled.
In May 1980, shortly after the instatement of dictator Chun Doo-hwan after nearly two decades of Park Chung-hee, the Gwangju uprising began—students’ and workers’ protests against Chun Doo-hwan’s restrictive regime. The uprising was brutally suppressed by the police and the. . .
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 been widely overlooked. I’ve found this to be largely because Nowhere to Be Found is published by AmazonCrossing.
If you’ve overlooked Bae Suah out of some desire to punish Amazon, or because of a general indifference to the AmazonCrossing imprint, you’re only doing yourself a disservice. With three upcoming books translated into English—_A Greater Music_, The Owls’ Absence, and _Recitation_—Bae Suah will continue to establish herself as one of the hottest voices coming out of South Korea. list: Books from Korea named her as “one of the most risk-taking, experimental writers active in Korea”—and with the fiction that is coming. . .
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 to Santa Cruz from La Laguna, our lonely diarist supports his frugal existence by reporting to a dead-end job at a slot machine parlor. The diary’s dates span October 5 to May 2 of the following spring of a nameless year(s) that seems to be the late 1990s near the end of the Fujimori presidency.
In a series of moving, artfully crafted entries that impressively synthesize the emotional spontaneity of self-reflection and metatextual associations, the narrator explores his life, friendships, and love affairs past and present. Benavides’s limpid narration smoothly fuses memories, hopes, and the familiar anguish of the lovelorn. . .
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 artists and intellectuals, Souffles was a written fight for democratic ideals and a new Maghrebi literature following independence in Morocco. For those of us who can’t read French or Arabic, or who don’t have the attention span to sift through all of the archives, we now have the excellent Souffles-Anfas: A Critical Anthology, edited by Olivia C. Harrison and Teresa Villa-Ignacio, with just the right amount of historical background and contextual commentary. There is also a delightfully substantial discussion of the different translation methods used by their array of skillful translators, including (to name only a few) Andrew Zawacki, Anna. . .
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 Berlin by Aleš Šteger, I am reminded of Jarrell’s idea because I am supposed to be writing a review of Berlin and I realize that I am not Šteger’s ideal reader. I came to the book with expectations and am, to be completely honest, disappointed. But so what? A book didn’t do what I’d hoped it would do. Does that make it a failure?
Of course not. It makes it a book with a specific vision that seemed well suited to my tastes and interests, even if the execution was different than I’d imaged. I love books that make interesting. . .
Like any good potboiler worth its salt, Fuminori Nakamura’s The Gun wastes no time setting up its premise: “Last night, I found a gun. Or you could say I stole it, I’m not really sure. I’ve never seen something so beautiful, or that feels so right in my hand. I didn’t have much interest in guns before, but the moment I saw it, all I could think about was making it mine.”
The “I” here is a young man named Nishikawa. He’s probably in his 20s, because he’s a university student, but beyond that, there’s not much to glean from his personal life, because he’s not one for introspection. Much more fascinating is his new object of obsession, and like a man sleepwalking through life, Nishikawa finally seems to have a purpose: to use that gun.
For a debut novel, there is. . .
Heiner Resseck, the protagonist in Monika Held’s thought-provoking, first novel, This Place Holds No Fear, intentionally re-lives his past every hour of every day. His memories are his treasures, more dear than the present or future. What wonderful past eclipses holding your newborn for the first time or meeting the woman who will become your wife? For Heiner it is the 224 weeks he endured as a political prisoner at Auschwitz. What marks Held’s novel as an important addition to the large body of historical fiction about the lives of camp survivors is her exploration of Heiner’s psychological need to embrace his Auschwitz experiences rather than struggling to repress or overcome them.
The narrative begins in the early 1980s and skips forward and backward across what Heiner calls his “three lives” relative to Auschwitz—before, there (which “lasted forever”), and after. Raised. . .
If you’ve ever worked in a corporate office, you’ve likely heard the phrase, “Perception is reality.” To Björn, the office worker who narrates Jonas Karlsson’s novel The Room, the reality is simple: there’s a door near the bathroom that leads to a tidy little room with a desk. Inside this room, he feels a profound sense of peace. The problem is that Björn is the only one in the office who can see the room.
Björn is a new employee at “the Authority” at the start of the novel. He describes himself as ambitious and smart, but within a matter of pages, it becomes clear that he’s unreliable. He reprimands a co-worker for allowing the files on his desk to spill onto Björn’s, an obvious overreaction. We begin to realize that the whole office is concerned about Björn’s strange behavior when. . .