PanNew York Times Book ReviewThis is the sort of novel where even the characters’ names are preeningly literal ... The problem with Satya’s crusade against misinformation is that too often he is just passing on breaking news alerts. The truths he espouses are factual, not emotional. Vaani is blandly introduced as a psychologist who “lives in the world of experiments.” Husband and wife seem to talk about nothing but research models of cognitive behavior ... Satya’s earnestness is grating ... He has convictions, but no precision, and the story doesn’t remotely test his beliefs. In the absence of self-revelations, there isn’t much to keep you turning the pages ... The book reads like a mash-up of two genres: autofiction and the post-apocalyptic novel. Except that the apocalypse here is just the news, which Satya follows online from the safety of the villa, and later, when lockdowns are enforced everywhere, from his house in upstate New York. Kumar writes supple sentences, but Satya’s reflections are too vicarious to sustain interest. His provocations aren’t startling enough; his thoughts can quickly lapse into a trite but well-meaning op-ed. You can’t help feeling that the novel lacks precisely the humanity that Satya demands from our leaders, an inherent and sometimes disquieting proximity to other lives.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Shackle excels at drawing out the incisive quote ... the book’s triumph is Zille, the one character whose motives aren’t always transparent. Shackle can never quite pin him down – he lies to her three times about his age – and yet the city comes to life through his eyes ... The ordeals faced by Shackle’s protagonists seem to suit the powers that be just fine: behind the cover of violence and ethnic conflict there is good money to be made. Shackle is reluctant to insert herself into the narrative, but she is surely part of Karachi’s story, since her mother was born and brought up there. How does she herself perceive the city?
Tove Ditlevsen, trans. by Tiina Nunnally and Michael Favala Goldman
RaveAir MailThe Copenhagen Trilogy is a sequence of her memoirs—the English translations are being issued in a single volume in the U.S.—remarkable in the way they privilege literature over life ... Childhood and Youth record the confessions of a gifted ingénue who is constantly afraid of losing out on her big chance ... Ditlevsen tells her story in long, breathless paragraphs, with bursts of aphoristic brilliance ... Dependency, the third book, has a more conventional plot ... The writing is again decked with spectacularly quotable quotes.
PanThe Guardian (UK)Stories...seem real not because of their veracity to facts, but the vitality with which they are told, and it is in the telling that Borges and Me seems least persuasive. Borges is alternately portrayed as the madman artist type and an erratic, cane-wielding uncle who keeps having mishaps everywhere and needs to use the bathroom every few minutes. Parini’s inner thoughts seldom rise to the occasion...and as a narrator he can’t help but always spell out the subtext, which suggests a lack of confidence in his memories and fabrications ... It is possible to enjoy the story if you are willing to ignore the one-note conversations throughout the trip and believe that the hijinks of the plot can suffice as evidence of a bond between master and apprentice.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)By following her characters’ fluctuating fortunes through the decades, Demick is able to convey the texture of everyday life in the town ... These seemingly minor details don’t just propel the narrative forward: they reveal a pointillist portrait. Demick is at once an intrepid reporter and scrupulous historian; she tells the story of Ngaba, however, like a novelist.
Yu Miri, Trans. by Morgan Giles
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... glorious ... Yu weaves her novel out of overheard conversations, radio and train announcements, intermittent memories of a life spent mostly away from family, glimpses of the park’s history. Giles’s translation is supple throughout. Kazu’s painstaking attention to those in the camp — their appearances, their hopes and disappointments — is perhaps a way to atone for the regret he feels for never being there for his wife and children while alive.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)... a wistful record of a writer’s search for antecedents, and his delight in finding many of his own themes and obsessions prefigured in a well-known literary work ... Fans of Doty’s poetry will recognise the melancholic mood of certain turns of phrase ... Doty says he wrote this book to \'keep company with\' Whitman, and indeed I often had the impression of going through a reading journal, with the short chapters effortlessly switching from a note on Whitman’s vocabulary to a memory of an accident to a glossary of Doty’s lovers ... And yet, for a defence of Whitman, What Is the Grass fails to engage with an aspect of the poet that dates him for many readers. His long, breathless sentences sometimes all too predictably embody what they describe: to \'contain multitudes\' can after a while feel like a rhetorical device, a way of containing nothing precise ... Doty, too, is often carried away by the bluster – I flinched each time he wrote \'sexual congress\' instead of, well, sex. He is unironic about his subject’s self-indulgences; he stacks the game unfairly at one point by comparing Whitman’s revolutionary free verse to the stilted cadences of Henry David Thoreau’s poems. Doty is more convincing in moments when he demonstrates how Whitman’s sublimated sexuality and his fascination with death came to shape not only his iconic stanzas but also the spaces between them. His gloss on \'Crossing Brooklyn Ferry\' – one of Whitman’s most accomplished poems – is especially marvellous. He sends you straight back to the text, makes you feel like you’re returning to an old love.
Yan Lianke, Trans. by Carlos Rojas
MixedAir MailThe harshness of life described in Three Brothers is frequently unbearable ... Fans of Yan’s fiction will be disappointed by the guileless tone of Three Brothers. Yan seems content to just detail his family’s comeuppance—and their struggles—in chapter after chapter ... One yearns for the transgressions of the two lovers in Serve The People!, who are turned on by smashing statues of Mao; or the absurdity, in Lenin’s Kisses, of the maimed villagers trying to buy the Soviet hero’s embalmed corpse. Remembering the occasions his father hit him as a child, Yan suggests that perhaps his father should have beat him up even more. \'I feel that if only Father could still curse and beat me today the way he used to, I would feel happy and secure.\' For once, Yan appears to be saying something untoward in an otherwise solemn book.
PositiveThe GuardianThis book promises an insider’s view of the country’s political transition, but in many ways the events described bear out the perils of western thinking on Burma, which Myint-U mordantly summarised in The River of Lost Footsteps...\'The military government is bad, Aung San Suu Kyi good, and the international community needs to apply pressure on Rangoon and pressure means no aid, trade sanctions and more isolation\' ... At a time when the failures of capitalism have become all too apparent worldwide, Aung San Suu Kyi seems to be rehashing proven mistakes. \'Twentieth-century solutions,” Myint-U accurately warns, “are being offered as the default answers to the country’s 21st-century challenges.\'
PanThe New RepublicBad dreams, divinations, accidents, shamans, angels and ghosts—Ghosh is willing to pursue all means to make his quarrel with realism explicit ... In Gun Island, Ghosh doesn’t attempt to convince anyone. Extreme events just keep happening. Must an announcement of raging wildfires be made at the exact moment that a climate-change-denier is delivering his spiel? Does a character need to have fitful visions of the future after a snakebite? Ghosh is often unsure of the direction in which to steer the novel ... All of this makes Gun Island not just a disappointing story, but also a weak polemic ...a confused outburst. If there is a case to be made against industrial modernity, it cannot be made by Deen, whose perpetual astonishment seems more improbable than any environmental disaster portrayed in the novel ... If novels are to convey the likelihood of more catastrophic events, the reader has to first feel the pressure on the level of the sentence ... As a creative endeavor, Gun Island just doesn’t dare enough. Ghosh appears to shrink from its imaginative possibilities ... Ghosh, as a conscientious citizen of this beleaguered planet, always has his ear to the ground for stories. But Ghosh, the novelist, isn’t listening.
Natalia Ginzberg, Trans. by Frances Frenaye
PositiveThe New RepublicThe tone here is thriller-like, but simultaneously tinged with a riper chord of despair ... In Ginzburg’s telling, the crime procedural becomes a cri de coeur against marriage. Compared to the sheer desperation of the narrator’s frame of mind, the details of the murder feel incidental, unimportant. The effect is of reading something almost obscenely personal, and perhaps for that reason, scintillatingly political.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Inherent in Hemon’s repeated reimagining of his own odyssey and his desire to recall Sarajevo before the war is the question: what did peace even feel like? In two new memoirs published in one volume, Hemon attempts a nostalgic answer ... The short, dense passages [of the second section] never feel arbitrary. He is able to recreate the process of recovering memories on the page. War seems like an impossibility, and we inhabit what it was like to grow up in the shadow of a paternalistic regime, where everything seemed fully established ... In lovely, languorous sentences, Hemon passes over nothing, and records the inner wars of his previous life.
Natalia Ginzburg, Trans. by Minna Proctor
PositiveThe New RepublicWars, deaths, suffering women, families and their discontents: These are Ginzburg’s abiding themes. But she approaches them with a stoic reticence. Her books seem all the more profound for what they leave out ... the story feels fully realized in moments when characters have to reckon with their feelings in unexpected ways ... the political stakes are significantly less, but the underlying pain and anguish feel just as dire. The story may not be real, but the problems are ... [Ginzburg] she’d rather employ an array of first-person accounts—through the letters—to arrive at a consensus on reality, than maintain an authorial distance. This also means the writer must become each of her characters in turn—mother, murderer, husband, friend—and allow them their chance to speak.