PositiveNew York Times Book ReviewThe morality of artificially returning people to the past, and the broader question of whether this truly brings solace — whether indulgence in nostalgia is curative or pernicious — is the central question of Georgi Gospodinov’s newly translated novel ... He is sympathetic to the poignancy of things from before...but rebuffs the scapegoats of globalism, immigration and modernization that supposedly killed them off; we are all complicit in the destruction of history, and going backward can only mean intolerance and the exaltation of traditionalist kitsch ... Gospodinov is too delicate to resort to crude political satire. He is certain the flight into the past will not undo the conflicts of the present ... Old resentments fester until a misbegotten re-enactment of Franz Ferdinand’s assassination brings the continent to the brink of a \'second First World War\' ... Gospodinov strays a bit after this, with a sequence of journal entries that exposes his narrator’s own cognitive decline. There’s a tacked-on feeling to the dreams and trivia at the end of this touching and intelligent book.
PositiveWashington ExaminerUnwieldy for beginners, a bit superfluous for scholars, Balzac’s Lives will best serve the intermediate Balzacian: someone who has read Pere Goriot, Eugenie Grandet, and Lost Illusions and wants to know what holds them all together ... Brooks makes a convincing argument that there is much to learn in Balzac for anyone willing to buck the trend.
MixedThe BafflerA bildungsroman without bildung, Camgirl is a connect-the-dots of commonplaces ... You can’t quite call this self-deception because there is never much of a self on display: no passions are ever indulged, no values stood up for or betrayed ... Even descriptions of others are almost impenetrably superficial, as though the text had been dispossessed of any notion of interior life beyond a mishmash of self-help clichés ... When prose is this empty, the problem is substantive and not just stylistic: everything is predetermined, so nothing can develop, and the same pop psychology idiom purports to illuminate Mazzei’s adolescent distress, her self-assertion through sex work, and her redemption when she admits her childhood abuse to a therapist ... Still, there is a wealth of anecdotal material here, particularly in Mazzei’s chats with her customers, and in this genre, anecdote is often more valuable than the appearance of rigor because specialist literature without an agenda is nearly non-existent.
Fiston Mwanza Mujila, trans. by Roland Glasser
PositiveWords Without BordersMujila has given a curious twist to a timeworn genre: Tram 83 is a picaresque novel in stasis, its hero waylaid by adventures he is constantly hoping to avoid. The language ranges from slangy to poignant, with philosophical asides and frequent pastiches of received ideas of Africa in the west. The digressions are the book’s strong point: an amputee’s confession of his daydreams of changing his life for that of a dog in Paris, with \'hospitals for dogs, casinos for dogs, weight rooms for dogs, and even dogs who go on vacation\' is at once ribald and mortifying, and the characters’ offhand remarks about their pecuniary longings say a great deal about the emptiness of freedom in countries where material foundations are reserved for the moneyed and corrupt.
Ingeborg Bachmann, Trans. by Philip Boehm
PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksMalina does have the feel of a draft, of the commencement of a middle period Bachmann wouldn’t live to realize ... Readers frequently view the book as veiled autobiography ... Such reductionism would be an error, but a parochial avoidance of biography—however often its invocation has cast doubt on the sovereignty of women writers over their creations—is no less ill advised. Bachmann saw fiction as something more than storytelling: it was a mode of thinking particularly suited to universal problems that become palpable through individual experience ... Her climactic phrase \'Die Wahrheit ist dem Menschen zumutbar\' is often translated as \'Mankind can bear the truth,\' which is pithy, but leaves out the uncertainty—it means that it is reasonable to expect mankind to bear the truth. That is not the same thing as saying it is possible. The truth Bachmann sought to bear...seems in the end to have been too much, but Malina is a stark relic of her steadfast attempt to do so.