PositiveThe Star Tribune... Saudi Arabia, a place Quotah skillfully depicts in all its contradictions ... As the novel fluidly rotates between each family member\'s perspective, what emerges is a sensitive portrayal of becoming American—both the shedding of one\'s culture for the sake of fitting in and the difficult task of finding one\'s place, especially as an Arab American. While Quotah should be praised for the fleshed-out development of Muneer (a sturdy and sensitive man who always has a plan) and Hanadi (who grows to distrust her mother), Saeedah is the author\'s most interesting creation, an enigmatic character who\'s full of quiet and frustrating surprises. One just wishes there was more of her point of view on the page, especially as the story becomes increasingly Hanadi\'s, whose questions about her mother remain unanswered. Still, in a novel as much about finding one\'s identity as it is about family—the way they belong to us but at the same time remain unknowable—this sense of secrecy that Quotah imparts on Saeedah makes for a devastatingly honest novel ... a clear-eyed debut from a writer who doesn\'t shy away from the messiness of family life.
PositiveThe Washington PostLike Carey’s previous novels, The Swallowed Man includes Carey’s own art, and fans of his macabre yet oddly satisfying visual work will have much to enjoy here, from daguerreotype photographs of the ship captain’s family to a 3-D rendering of Joseph’s self-portrait bust made of shells, kelp and glass. The book also revisits themes that Carey has considered before, about the meaning and nature of art ... stands out among Carey’s other works ... has neither the verve of Pinocchio nor any insight into Collodi’s classic novel. Nevertheless, Carey is a playful writer whose charming sentences are works of careful craftsmanship ... This isn’t the Pinocchio of your childhood. Instead, Carey has written something more cerebral, an existential fairy tale for adults told by an old artist considering the tragedy of life.
Nam-Nyong Paek, Trans. by Immanuel Kim
PositiveThe Star TribuneUndoubtedly, Friend is a novel from North Korea. Aside from characters calling each other \'comrade,\' there are moments of obvious propaganda intended to instruct and shape the way readers think, in this case, about marriage ... The surprise of Friend, however, is Paek’s psychological acuity. Despite the novel’s didactic moments, his characters are not pawns of ideology. Rather, as we dip into their minds, through the stories they tell Jeong Jin Wu as well as his observations, we see them as complex beings, desperately trying to understand how they arrived at where they are ... Friend is a novel about marriage but also the unknowability of others and the expectations they have of us, and Paek handles these themes with quiet gestures that are subtle but full of empathy ... an astute psychological exploration of marriage, the work that goes into such a partnership, and the many ways it could fail us.
PositivePloughsharesThat each person is a world unto themselves makes for the tension that emanates from this skillful novel—and Taylor is a master of tension. He has a talent for slowing down scenes, scanning its landscape for gestures that might or might not be imbued with meaning, watching for the exact moment where the mood switches and everything changes ... Though such attention to the minutiae of human interactions, passages about the daily work of graduate scientists, and a large cast of secondary characters who blur into one another at times stalls the pacing, making for an anxious reading experience—this is, in the end, a novel of anxiety: the anxiety of being alive, the exhaustion of being black in America, and the cruelty that is embedded in human interaction. In Real Life, Taylor holds out the pulse of life for us to see, not as something glorious and beautiful, but something dreadful, ugly, and beating—it’s the human heart that Taylor displays in his palm. While Wallace contemplates if he wants to have a real life, Taylor has given us something close to it.
Hiroko Oyamada, Trans. by David Boyd
RaveSpectrum Culture... at first glance it could be off-putting. Lines of thought change without warning. Character dialogue proceeds without the usual paragraph breaks. And when you least expect it, the scene concludes and you find yourself in another scene, mid-action, sometimes mid-conversation. The Factory is disorienting; reading it makes one feel trapped in a maze, where every turn leads down another endless corridor of blank walls until those walls give and you’re suddenly somewhere else. The metaphor is apt for a satire about workplace bureaucracy ... At its core, The Factory is an indictment of capitalism: the way it uses us, the ways it fails us, the way it hurts us. It’s a mirror to our own world, but a distorted one. Indeed, much can be said about Oyamada’s skill at world building, from the idiosyncratic details of the factory to the structure of the book itself when we come to question how long these characters have been in the factory and how much time has passed, suggesting the factory is inescapable. She creates not so much a labyrinth but an entire ridiculous, claustrophobic and sinister world.
PositivediaCriticsVuong eschews a typical novel plot and readers dip in and out of scenes that build into something like plot but more, unsurprisingly, like a poem. Indeed, Vuong shines the brightest when he writes this novel as if it were a poem in sections where there are line breaks, enjambments, and associative leaps ... At the same time, this is a first novel of a writer who is not yet used to the form. Though poetry gives a writer the opportunity to hone in on imagery and phrases until they shine—to look at an idea through various angles in quick succession—such techniques can cause a kind of fatigue in the novel, slow the pacing, and make the novelist seem unsure of his words. In particular, Vuong relies heavily on repeating himself ... Poetic language inserted into prose can sometimes, ironically, have the opposite effect, making for a monotonic and one-note read. The unsure novelist also shows up in scenes that feel forced and awkward, inserted as if to make a particular point only to disappear with effect or fanfare (a pitfall of an impressionistic novel: dots don’t always connect.) ... Vuong sees America. And it’s ugly and gritty and imperfect. It kills at home and abroad ... as Vuong teaches us: surviving, against all odds, is gorgeous.