PositiveTimes Literary Supplement (UK)Robb explains the problems with ballet culture, and especially with the fraught legacy of her \'problematic fave\', the choreographer George Balanchine. But she also succeeds in conveying, in a refreshingly unromantic way, what is still valuable about the art form ... It might be easy...to assume that Don’t Think, Dear is Robb’s litany of grievances about a demanding art form in which she failed to flourish. Rather, it is a book about love, even if that love is ultimately unrequited ...
PositiveThe Times Literary SupplementRamirez is a gifted storyteller, taking readers across Europe and to the Middle East in her quest for female agency. She does not dwell on the obvious candidates – Joan of Arc, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Empress Matilda – with whom readers are probably already familiar ... Strikingly, none of [Femina\'s] nine chapters is explicitly devoted to roles that women typically occupied – to mystics, abbesses, mothers, wives or widows. They feature in the chapters themselves, to be sure, but rebranded, with titles that are masculine or genderless ... Of course it’s worth showing that women contributed to the world as men did. But many medieval women, especially noble ones, exercised power precisely through roles that can now seem feminine ... Femina is otherwise refreshingly nuanced. Ramirez is honest about the fact that her approach is \'no less biased\' than that of her predecessors ... Perhaps it is inevitable that a book of such broad scope will at times frustrate specialists. The closer Ramirez came to my own area of study, the more I found to quibble with ... These are arguably small errors, but they suggest an overall hastiness. They also make one wonder about the accuracy of other material.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewSetiya’s treatise belongs to a particular genre: brainy books for the general public that present lessons for modern living from Aristotle, Montaigne or the Stoics. Unlike with most of his predecessors, however, Setiya’s main goal is not to describe how things should be; in his view, given that there is much in life that makes us miserable, and that we can neither change nor ignore, we might as well find ways of dealing with the reality. Trying to live a perfect life in difficult circumstances, he states, \'only brings dismay\' ... pushes back against many platitudes of contemporary American self-improvement culture ... Setiya’s liveliest writing is on the subject of infirmity, no doubt because of the chronic pain he has suffered for years ... Although Life Is Hard claims to be a work of accessible philosophy, many of its insights are borrowed from other areas — literature, journalism, disability studies...Setiya’s approach blends empathy with common sense ... Setiya offers neither simple takeaways nor explicit instructions. Instead, he invites the reader to join him as he looks at life’s challenges — loneliness, injustice, grief — and in turning them over to examine every angle. Sometimes these twists make it difficult to grasp his ultimate point ... Written in the first year and a half of the Covid-19 pandemic, Life Is Hard is a humane consolation for challenging times. Reading it is like speaking with a thoughtful friend who never tells you to cheer up, but, by offering gentle companionship and a change of perspective, makes you feel better anyway.
Sasa Stanišić, Tr. Damion Searls
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... a wry, inventive and ultimately devastating attempt to recover a personal history that war has put forever out of reach ... Rather than trying to weave these stories into a coherent account, Stanisic jumbles genres to reflect how compromised memory is. Where You Come From has its share of quirky, half-true anecdotes of the kind one expects from a memoir ... But Stanisic’s lightness only makes tragedy more devastating when it comes ... Damion Searls’s translation does justice to Stanisic’s dry wit and linguistic playfulness, and captures the tense undercurrents building throughout the book. Though shot through with trauma, Where You Come From is also funny and moving ... Ordinary and accidental, this is the quiet beauty of immigrant life.
MixedThe New York Review of BooksGroff has created a heroine who is more or less the opposite of the little we know of Marie de France. To be fair, Groff is not writing a strict historical novel but a work of imagination, based on real medieval people and events. Still, it’s worth asking why she would choose Marie de France only to reject what makes that woman’s poems so remarkable. In Matrix, beauty is suspect, art and writing are powerless, sex is without passion, and strategy stands in for enchantment. The true ideal of this novel is work: vigorous, ruddy-cheeked, sweat-of-the-brow physical labor presented with the cheerfulness of a midcentury Communist propaganda poster. This is not to say that Matrix is not beautifully written. Groff can write a sentence with the spiky surprise of a good lyric poem, and while her own love of language has sometimes run away with her...here she deploys it with control ... Marie’s consolidation of her power is one of the most gripping movements in the novel ... Groff vividly captures the maneuvers a woman in the twelfth century, or any century, would have needed to make in order to prevail in an unfriendly world ... Less convincing is Marie’s reorganization of the abbey’s work, to which she brings the energy of a management consultant wielding a fresh Ivy League degree ... Why does Marie know so much at her age, while the other nuns are cartoonishly incapable of surviving on their own? ... The colorless, insipid, and above all inefficient monastery Marie finds is a stereotyped version of the medieval past ... Groff seems unwilling at any point to let her protagonist suffer defeat ... The result is not so much a novel as a hagiography ... The recognition that a woman’s desire for power is no purer than a man’s would be a remarkable twist in an otherwise uninterrupted encomium, if Groff had followed through on it. Instead, she rescues Marie from any responsibility for her actions.
RaveLos Angeles Review of BooksCatch the Rabbit is a sensitively traced story of female friendship that recalls the troubled bond of Lenù and Lila in [Elena] Ferrante’s novels ... Sara’s attachment to her friend has a Kinbotean quality: she wants to understand Lejla, become her, and annihilate her all at once. Bastašić develops this undercurrent masterfully, exploiting the double sense of lines that seem casual at first sight ... The pleasure of Catch the Rabbit lies in the way Bastašić fuses delicate scenes from a passionate friendship between girls with surreal elements that convey unspoken pains and tender aggressions. As in the best examples of magical realism, the unreal feels true here ... A road trip is the quintessential hero’s journey. Bastašić deliberately hits the marks one might expect if one has read Joseph Campbell on the monomyth, or watched any contemporary Hollywood movie.
Semezdin Mehmedinovic, tr. Celia Hawkesworth
RaveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)It is a testament to Semezdin Mehmedinović’s writing that an autobiographical novel composed of such melancholic fragments is heartbreaking without ever being bleak ... a refugee success story by any account, but My Heart reveals the small fears and losses that thread through a life in exile ... Celia Hawkesworth’s English translation beautifully renders Mehmedinović’s limpid style. This is unpretentious writing that offers small flashes of an ordinary life with a healthy sense of their inanity.
Maria Dahvana Headley
PositiveNew York Review of BooksHeadley flattens Beowulf into the mold of twenty-first-century American masculinity in one of its crudest forms. He swaggers into the poem sporting his burnished helmet like a backward baseball hat, and leaves it in a blazing trail of clichés ... Headley pursues a similar line of thought in her Beowulf translation, elevating Grendel’s nameless mother from the aberrant creature of disgust that many other translations make her out to be ... She turns the much-maligned revenger into a \'warrior woman\' and \'reclusive night-queen\' who rules over an otherworldly kingdom ... Surprisingly, Headley is restrained with the poem’s other women, mostly queens and princesses struggling to save themselves and their children as their clans wage war. Subtle choices of diction tease out their powerlessness in a culture shaped by men’s feuds, but beyond this they resemble their Old English counterparts closely. Headley allows herself greater liberty with Beowulf’s beasts and inanimate objects, turning them into an unexpected female supporting cast ... In transforming Beowulf into an allegory of twenty-first-century American toxic masculinity, Headley suppresses some of the complexity of early medieval manhood ... Headley falters when she tries too hard to make Beowulf modern, whether it’s by turning it into an allegory of class struggle or by figuratively putting its hero in a polo shirt. She is astute, however, in recognizing that the medieval epic tells a story about men’s violence that never really ended.
Maryse Condé, Trans. by Richard Philcox
MixedThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)There is no clear through line connecting the disparate incidents she relates. Instead, the reader is treated to a series of reflections on the role of food in the author’s life, interspersed with observations from her travels ... [Condé] rarely gives dates and often leaves out context, lending the book a dreamlike quality ... In other respects, Of Morsels leaves the reader hungry. This is a memoir of stunning emotional reticence. As a rule, Condé speeds past her own motivations and emotions. There are exceptions ... She is also painfully honest, if terse, in describing her relationship with her son, Denis ... a puzzle with a missing piece, and that piece is to be found in Victoire: My mother’s mother, a novelistic reconstruction of the life of a grandmother who died long before Condé’s birth ... Of Morsels and Marvels, with its frustratingly absent emotional core, suggests that Condé is like Victoire not only in the boundless creativity of her expression, but also in its limits. When it comes to the author’s own heartbreak and regret for the ways she hurt her son, words fail her. And, just as her grandmother might have done, she fills the silence with dish after dish.
Daniel Kehlmann, Trans. by Ross Benjamin
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... an impeccable English translation by Ross Benjamin ... a magnificent story of an artist’s transcendence over the petty superstitions, convenient betrayals and widespread brutality of his time ... Tyll’s picaresque tale ranges widely over Europe, but Kehlmann juggles his stories with the dexterity of Ulenspiegel himself ... Even more gripping are scenes with no wink toward the history books ... Kehlmann is a master of economical, devastating description ... Equally chilling are his descriptions of a society in which old kindnesses are forgotten under pressure, where truth matters less than the ability to terrify people into confession, where lies scribbled in Latin become history ... In this exquisitely crafted novel, Kehlmann moves just as nimbly through the grimmest of human experiences. The result is a spellbinding memorial to the nameless souls lost in Europe’s vicious past, whose whispers are best heard in fables.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksWritten in clear, occasionally lyrical prose and seasoned with Tobola’s poems and her students’ writing, the book is a compelling portrayal of education in prison ... She believes fiercely in her work but rarely romanticizes it ... Ultimately, Tobola is clear-eyed about the extent to which both she and the inmates are controlled by the institution ... reveals that art also asks something of us. It demands that we make friends with ambiguity, with vulnerability. It calls on us to attend to the vital creative capacity of others. Art asks that we leave the door open for beauty, whatever its travels have been.
Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksVan der Vliet Oloomi’s unapologetically metatextual romp seems, for a while, intended to flatter readers with an affinity for Borges. There is a pleasure in recognizing her many literary references, an even greater charm in being nonplussed by the occasional allusion to an obscure author or unplaceable quote ... Much like Zebra herself, the novel demands intellectual engagement rather than emotional connection. Despite its lively prose, the story occasionally drags, as Zebra keeps traveling while never seeming to reach her goal. But in denying readers some common pleasures of reading — absorption, escapism, empathy — Van der Vliet Oloomi conveys the cold loneliness of Zebra’s grief all the better.