PositiveWords Without BordersEven though Louis’s prose is assuredly polished, it often feels as if he is deliberately exposing his process—his arguments are not always consistent, but it is through the relentless investigative writing that he develops insight and nuance, and revises his ideas. Louis’s style is detached, slippery, decidedly unsentimental, but nonetheless moving. He repeats phrases word for word, like a leitmotif, sometimes giving them a whole page spread to themselves. The use of white space and blank pages is telling; in music, the rests are just as important as the notes ... While translator Tash Aw consistently chooses language that feels honest rather than lyrical, he manages to retain (or perhaps inject) a wonderful rhythm throughout. Aw also invites the reader to sit in the tension between Louis’s philosophical explorations and his simpler, more confessional language, and each feels true to the story ... Is this a tad patronizing? Yes. But A Woman’s Battles and Transformations is not really her story. Like the images in Mothers Before, it is an unequal conversation with the past, a child’s vision of a parent, their relationship, and the ways in which both of those subjects transformed—it is Louis’s memoir after all, beautiful and moving for all its flaws. Louis’s trademark cool ambivalence is precisely what makes his work so evocative—but in this little volume, he reveals a hint of tenderness and curiosity for his \'mother before,\' and for who she might become.
Halldor Laxness, trans. by Philip Roughton
MixedWords Without BordersOne gets the sense that Laxness’s view of a feminist socialist heroine may simply, at this point in his career, have been ‘a woman in pants’—or, in other words, a woman taking on the role of a man ... A contemporary reading of Salka’s discomfort with girlhood makes Laxness seem ahead of his time around issues of sex and gender. Yet, when contextualized with Salka’s work ethic and socialist ideas, the trousers appear to be more of a uniform for an equal society, rather than a nod to queer life ... Part II deals in great detail with the work required to bring a nation like Iceland towards socialism and better living conditions ... In the writing, there is a clear struggle to maintain the balance between storytelling and political discourse—while this makes for an uneven read, Laxness still achieves a certain richness with his sublime and painterly landscapes and earnest portraits of \'insignificant\' people living through a significant historical moment. Though Salka Valka is rife with idealism, the author’s homage to resilience and resistance is sometimes overshadowed by his depiction of a relentlessly bleak, impoverished world.
Olga Tokarczuk, Tr. Jennifer Croft
RaveWorld Literature TodayTokarczuk never gets too close to the character of Jacob, instead presenting him through the eyes of his contemporaries, both ardent believers and staunch skeptics. She is particularly attentive to the perspectives of women and outsiders, who bore the brunt of the Enlightenment’s growing pains yet are conspicuously missing from official histories. This polyphonic approach is never deliberately obscure: each character has a deep, sincere, and (because it is in Tokarczuk’s nature) often humorous \'psychological portrait\' ... Croft’s translation is energetic and inventive; she’s proven to be a brilliant collaborator with Tokarczuk ... Her work is attuned to Tokarczuk’s polysemy, the delicate ambiguity built into the Polish language—an ambiguity Tokarczuk has previously lauded not only for its use in poetic language but also in political critique ... This colossal book is a truly bewitching account of untold fissures in history, minor religions, little lives, and splinterings-off. It is rich, strange, astonishing in scope, and delightfully enigmatic—whether the reader plunges deep into its metaphysics or simply obtains \'some slight enjoyment\' is up to them. Tokarczuk’s magnum opus shows us a world on the precipice of a great change, one hand clinging to certainty while the other reaches for transcendence.
Seong-Nan Ha, Trans. by Janet Hong
RaveWords Without BordersA crucial voice in the burgeoning movement of feminist fiction from South Korea, Ha is a master of atmospheric suspense whose stories use shock and horror to dissect contemporary gender-based violence and its historical roots ... We could call Ha’s personal genre \'domestic surrealism\' ... Janet Hong’s translation and rendering of Ha’s style is so uniformly applied that it brings an extra cohesiveness to the collection. In fact, it is precisely the detached coolness of this voice that is so effectively disturbing in conjunction with the grotesque facts it describes. They are tales that could appear sprawled across the front page of a tabloid, but Hong treats them without a hint of sensationalism ... While her characters are decidedly plain (corpse notwithstanding), Ha’s landscapes are elegant and painterly, expertly exposing the fissures between appearances and reality ... Each story is a clever investigation into the tensions between the personal and the communal, violence and peace—particularly in the lives of women. The moments of true horror are carefully rationed, showing the author’s mastery of atmospheric suspense. Yet she makes no real conclusions or judgments—the stories are cold cases. Ha peels back the layers encasing crimes of hatred, misogyny, and despair, but never quite lays blame or follows them through to see justice done. Is the jury out, or is she leaving the verdict to the reader? Perhaps she is unwilling to appease our need for a moral to the story—after all, these aim to be depictions of real life, not fables ... After an acclaimed debut, Bluebeard’s First Wife is a forceful and impressive second collection. These stories succeed in unsettling us, not only by exposing our worst nightmares about what lies behind forbidden doors, but also by asking us whose fault it was to enter. The answer is clear, isn’t it?
Olga Tokarczuk, Trans. by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
RaveWorld Literature TodayDrive Your Plow is a wunderkammer of human and animal struggle and interdependence ... Tokarczuk’s professional background in psychoanalysis is most evident in her character development—while many authors write characters, she writes people who retain their capacity to surprise the reader ... Tokarczuk proves that the novel can absorb philosophy and politics without losing anything of its unique identity, that magical capacity to make a story so compelling that it ascends into the public consciousness ... Once again, Tokarczuk proves herself to be a master of the \'thinking novel,\' fashioning what is simultaneously a compelling narrative, measured essay, and fierce manifesto ... both a joy and a call to arms.
Ivo Andrić Trans. by Celia Hawkesworth
RaveAsymptote JournalFrom the familiar tone of this text, it may seem he writes about life rather than politics, but [Andrić’s] work is entrenched with the darkest political themes—farce, folly, and acute suffering ... If this novel had been published in English even half a decade earlier, it would be easier to see the over-the-top, narcissist, Machiavellian demagogue as pure contrivance; a textbook villain with no bearing in the real world; an utterly implausible leader. However, as Omer Pasha’s tactics are being deployed in everyday twenty-first-century politics, with devastating effects, the novel should not serve as a farce but as a warning ... In Hawksworth’s flawless translation, the writing never feels heavy with the burden of the events it covers. The subject matter is grim, but she retains the meticulous attention to detail, subtle humour, and ethnographic style of Yugoslavia’s literary grandmaster ... Masquerading as a biography of a single, larger-than-life figure, at its core, Omer Pasha Latas is a novel about how human beings treat one another.