RaveThe Guardian (UK)... an ode to grandmotherly defiance ... also a war cry for rebellious women, a scoff at the dangerous notion that tyrants can be defeated with good deeds or prayers ... Though Swiv narrates most of the novel, the wound at the centre of the story, a poignant tale of stubborn survival, is told in Elvira’s own voice to Swiv, full of ellipses where she pauses. Where Swiv’s voice is urgent, young and curious, Elvira’s is full of memory, anger and mourning. Given a chance to narrate, Elvira is wise, reflective, and the comedy falls away ... In a certain light, Fight Night can be read as the fantasy of the grownup child who, years after their parent or grandparent is gone, wishes they had saved something more ... The novel is that something more: a record of one singularly irritating and beloved human who is missed before she’s gone. A triumph of devotion and imagination, it’s rooted in the understanding that we keep our loved ones close with every strange, shameful, hilarious detail we commit to memory, recording device or paper; that the dead leave the world altered, that life is continually renewed, and that we are made to survive the most unbearable losses.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewAlameddine’s spectacular novel is rendered through the refreshingly honest lens of Dr. Mina ... Dr. Mina is the storyteller the refugees deserve: respected by the Europeans, but steeped in their traditions and history ... This is the first novel I’ve read that gives ample room to the ugliness of certain camp volunteers (the bored, the coddled, those battling pangs of uselessness) and the many humiliations some inflict on the displaced. But calling out anyone who gave up a vacation to meet boats seems ungrateful, so the refugees smile for their rescuers’ camera-phones and keep quiet ... Alameddine’s irreverent prose evokes the old master storytellers from my own Middle Eastern home, their observations toothy and full of wit, returning always to human absurdity ... Again and again, Dr. Mina cracks open the strange, funny and cruel social mores of East and West. She shows us that acceptance and rejection exist across borders and often manifest in surprising ways ... Throughout the book, Dr. Mina addresses a blocked and disillusioned Lebanese writer who, having seen too much displacement and horror, finally breaks. I found this mysterious unnamed listener deeply poignant.
Amir Ahmadi Arian
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThe strangeness and physicality with which Arian depicts Yunus’s prison life makes for a convincing, unnerving read. He invites us to notice the taste of prison tea, the heightening and dulling of sensation after torture, the bliss of a power outage that offers prisoners a few hours of night ... Arian offers straightforward and astute observations about Iran’s attitude toward Western powers and about the social history of modern Tehran. His insights into the lives of the city’s poor at a time of mounting inequality, and on the effects of sanctions and Western media on average Iranians, are gripping ... But Arian’s talents are primarily journalistic; too frequently his novel reads like a political lecture. If his eye is keen, his ear — for poetic English, at least — is not, and he often produces off-key prose garbled by mixed metaphors ... This novel is an uncomfortable deep dive into the belly of a beast that swims in every sea.
Rodaan Al Galidi, Trans. by Jonathan Reeder
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)...a funny, maddening, sometimes absurd reckoning with the pettiness of the Dutch immigration system as seen by Samir, an Iraqi refugee who is stuck in an asylum centre for nine years. The novel, already a bestseller in the Netherlands, is openly autobiographical and, to be fair, the Dutch are just a stand-in for all entitled westerners and bureaucrats ... The stories in Two Blankets, Three Sheets are heartbreaking, exhausting and infuriating ... Here, and throughout, [Al Galidi] is trying to make the settled reader understand the precarious nature of truth for the refugee storyteller. Credibility is awarded to the whitest, the richest, the ones with the best English. Single men who have made mistakes at the border are doomed to languish, unbelieved, for years ... Al Galidi makes little use of the artistic tools available to a novelist. He is close to the story and recounts it like unedited non-fiction – one event after another, rather than rising and falling tensions; strings of underused characters; a deus ex machina bringing the novel to a halt. Sometimes he engages in fantastical dialogue – making his hero too brave, too bold. One can see the refugee’s fantasy of what he might have said. In this way, Al Galidi’s life fails to transform fully into a novel in the same way a refugee might never weave a story powerful enough to move a cynical Dutch interviewer ...The prose (or maybe just the translation) is often clunky: cliches and heavy-handed images abound. Many of the jokes fall flat or are ruined by over-explanation ... [Al Galidi] is lost in the space between fiction and non-fiction, apologising for every invention ... And yet I’ve never read a book that better illustrates the human cost of the European asylum systems – their many flaws and deceptions, the bad faith with which small inconsistencies are used to return people to danger, the way the sympathies of a single, jaded interviewer can make or ruin a life, how a translation error carelessly entered into a file can stand as the damning proof of a lie for ever. This vital, eye-opening work is essential to our collective education, as a history, as a call to action, bringing one person’s suffering vividly to life in the imagination of strangers. And in the end that, as much as crafted stories and artful prose, gives literature its enduring power.
Carolina De Robertis
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewCantoras, Carolina De Robertis’s brazenly hopeful fourth novel, is an ode to [the] will to survive and rebuild ... The great success of this novel is that it shows how tyranny, even if you can hide from it by living a quiet life, is a thief of joy and love — and not just love that’s been deemed subversive, like that of the cantoras ... De Robertis’s prose is most moving when it’s direct and unembellished, but her metaphors can be heavy-handed, as in the overuse of water imagery — emotions, words, hearts, bodies always seem to be drowning, spilling, pouring. Sex is decisively three-note: lovers aching, melting or opening ... By refusing to let a thing be only itself, De Robertis robs simple objects and gestures of their innate beauty and power ... And yet, De Robertis captures these remarkable women not as outsiders but as complex, flawed human beings ... Cantoras is bold and unapologetic, a challenge to the notion of \'normalcy\' and a tribute to the power of love, friendship and political resistance. It’s a revolutionary fable, ideal for this moment, offered with wisdom and care.
RaveThe Guardian...the closest relative to Heller’s classic satire of the second world war ... Hanif’s observations of the camp are precise and hair-raising, and one forgives the accidental Britishisms that pepper Major Ellie’s speech ... Hanif is at his most entertaining when he is deep in the farce, and some characters are no more than that ... The true brutalities of war are shown in quick, moving strokes ... Red Birds is full of dark comedy and witty eviscerations of war and the singular way it draws out human ugliness. However, satire relies on a veneer of sincerity: the reader alone observes absurdities that the characters believe in and live by ... Hanif is dexterous and ambitious with the literary tools of both east and west ... Red Birds is an incisive, unsparing critique of war and of America’s role in the destruction of the Middle East. It combines modern and ancient farcical traditions in thrilling ways.
PositiveThe GuardianJoanne Ramos’s thrilling but flawed debut novel is a colonisation story set inside Golden Oaks, a baby farm in Massachusetts ... The Farm reads not so much as dystopia, but as a plausible next venture for a capitalist ruling class that has grudgingly opened its doors to women and must now contend with the problem of fertility and motherhood ... The most beautifully realised character is Evelyn, an elderly Filipino baby nurse and caterer whose complex motives give her the kind of impossible moral struggles that immigrants actually face ... Evelyn’s community of Filipino women is richly rendered and engrossing ... She has the acute gaze of the immigrant girl made good. Her book is a necessary one – we need a mass-market novel that shows the impact of colonisation, with flawed white people failing to save the day. But The Farm has a problematic ending ... The Farm is a great read, but storytelling comes with responsibilities, especially in such times.
Alessandro D'Avenia, trans. by Jeremy Parzen
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewAny potential for a profound narrative in this promising setup is thwarted by the writing, which is bloated and indulgent. The book’s dreamy musings and vague scenes are laden with metaphors so mixed it can require several reads just to take in their true awfulness ... It is difficult to know whom to blame, author or translator, for the manic descriptions, desperate reflections and mangled aphorisms ... The novel’s images are contorted, its metaphors removed from the physical world ... Every dead thing is compared to fish, every dark or mysterious thing to Arabs ... Translation is a tricky business, but did this grotesque analogy sound O.K. in Italian? ... D’Avenia’s authorial style may be \'more is more,\' but even when no words are needed, he still offers a dozen ... D’Avenia’s relationship to simile is misguided and cynical: used to obfuscate, not clarify ... Somewhere between the writing, editing and translation the audience has been dismissed, and all beauty murdered.
Jamil Jan Kochai
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... [99 Nights in Logar is] crafted with care, respect and a hard-earned and profound understanding of its readership. It is funny, razor-sharp and full of juicy tales that feel urgent and illicit, turning the reader into a lucky, trilingual fly on the wall in a family loaded with secrets and prone to acquiring more ... The ensuing adventure is witty and engaging, somewhat allegorical, thrumming with the histories of foreign wars and with memories of lives lost and childhoods cut short ... While the novel is written in English, it deprioritizes the Western reader. This is its most interesting accomplishment ... Kochai has created an exciting and true voice.
RaveThe Guardian[A] tightly crafted, gracefully elegiac second novel ... Chariandy’s writing is accomplished and confident: every word hits its mark ... Brother is an exquisite novel, crafted by a writer as talented and precise as Junot Díaz and Dinaw Mengestu. It has a beating heart and a sharp tongue. It is elegant, vital, indubitably dope—the most moving book I’ve read in a year.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewDarznik has composed her novel for Western ears, in elegantly simple language. She resists Persian flourishes in both her prose and her translations of Farrokhzad’s work; I question whether the poet would recognize herself in Darznik’s voice, compelling as it is. And here is a larger problem of poetic translation: How do you capture a language as floral and breathy as Farsi without access to its unique sounds? ... Song of a Captive Bird is a complex and beautiful rendering of that vanished country and its scattered people; a reminder of the power and purpose of art; and an ode to female creativity under a patriarchy that repeatedly tries to snuff it out.