RaveThe Washington Post... the reminiscences have a crackling vitality ... memories are expressed with masterful touches of repetition, achieving a telegraphic poetry. Nevertheless, the section comes to no more than a handful of pieces, a number of them only a couple of pages. Meatier by far is the group that follows, \'Literature and Music.\' These investigations into Erpenbeck’s joint calling (she directs opera, as well as writing novels) bristle with erudite allusion, not to mention sheer smarts. Repetition remains a hallmark of her style, but here it turns canny, yielding aphoristic gems ... the impact is of a master at work, someone who ought to be considered for the Nobel ... \'Society,\' just two essays...pack a terrific punch...as they confront one of our moment’s most pressing issues, namely, the untold millions of displaced people seeking asylum ... Not a Novel cannot claim to be a coherent whole. Nevertheless, its pig-in-a-python ungainliness contributes to the fascination. Variety proves its own reward, since in every guise this artist makes virtuosic adjustments, changes of tone or rhetoric.
PositiveThe Brooklyn RailSuch unconventional teaching deserves better than dry academic treatment, and happily, this author is also a poet. He locates the vitality in his sojourns: now a transportation mishap, now a close look at a worker’s hands ... this text has little room for the delicacy of, say, Wallace Stevens. On the contrary, it relies on a structure of square-built simplicity. After defining his project, the author steps back, investigating its predecessors, and then once the history is in place he sketches his own learning curve. As he stumbles through trial and error, Nowak again keeps things lively, for instance with a devastating list of all the folks who never got back to him ... With teaching in mind, too, Social Poetics observes all the academic protocol. The passage that defines the pantoum could serve as a lecture in Intro to Poetry ... Such scholarly apparatus, happily, almost never interferes with Nowak’s gift for teasing out the human element. He may not have been present for the history he discusses in the early chapters, but he brings to life the turmoil of the late ’60s workshops in Watts and elsewhere ... Every now and then, as it raises another complaint about \'the MFA industrial complex\' and its brand of poetry, the text comes close to insisting on a purity\'“proletarian civilization or culture.\' The phrase is Gramsci’s, but Nowak assigns it special weight.
PositiveThe Star TribuneA swift-moving mystery that expands into subtler sorts of narratives ... Its primary players are a busy family of five, their secrets generating a natural volatility, but the drama zips among them like a game of Quidditch ... The narrative risks more than one startling coincidence, and though Livesey makes these convincing, they underscore the uniqueness of these hothouse flowers ... The novel could be accused of dwelling in Pleasantville, with so many kind gestures and million- dollar smiles. Under these cute thatched roofs, however, there huddle abused and unwanted children. More than that, Livesey grasps how each novel must find its own register.
RaveLos Angeles Review of Books... moments of clear emotional connection are rare, as this Knott proves too bizarre, its rhetoric too baroque, to function as some potboiler ripped from the headlines ... Butler’s concern is with the nature and value of art, and the related mystery of individual identity ... the reading never feels like lab work. Rather, sentence after anfractuous sentence comes alive ... For me the style packed a delicious wallop. I was seduced by touches like Alice’s meditation on her lonesome childhood ... I was wowed by Alice’s recognition that she’s less a self than an amalgam ... a remarkable accomplishment; still, I shouldn’t overlook a more accessible pleasure of the text ... the narrative both fascinates and confounds ... Butler...revels in abstraction, his Not-Alice on a ramble through Nebulous-Land. Therein lies the great challenge for a reader, the feeling that we’re getting nowhere, that whatever is achieved in one paragraph goes to pieces in the next. Yet this quicksand of story, its glimmers lovely but slippery, manages improbably to generate suspense. A plot emerges, a classic: the protagonist goes on a quest for her origins.
Laura van den Berg
RaveThe Washington Post... includes a few smart touches of metafiction, as the teacher of stories comments on the one she’s telling. On top of that—check out those verbs! \'Wept\' and \'eavesdropped\' throw off fresh glimmers, given the spin van den Berg puts on them ... A similar richness of reading pleasures brims in every one of these 11 tales ... offers the greatest distillation of [van den Ber\'s] talents to date. To pick a best story is beyond me; now I favor \'Volcano House,\' now \'Karolina,\' and now the closer, also the title piece ... The voice is just part of the excitement, with its pyrotechnic verbs ... Eye-popping description, however, is far from the only form of liveliness in these narratives ... magic often flits around the edges of Hold a Wolf, yet I count only two stories which entail something truly surreal.
RaveThe Brooklyn RailThe first pages pull off an impressive act, juggling the stuff of dreams with the all too real ... passages risk being congenial to flat repetition and hand-me-down phrasing (\'in the blink of an eye\'), and a few times I fretted about the translation. Yet by and large the fabulist business proves delightful. I especially enjoyed the metamorphosis of Bahar’s sister, who ends up a mermaid. Better still, such materials always reveal their roots in the loam built up over millennia of Persian storytelling ... Azar\'s...work stands as another of the terrific fictions, a number of them by women, out of this tormented region and moment. It affirms again the adaptability, the veracity, the sheer power of the novel form.
RaveThe Washington PostEvery story pulls off a convincing blend of the ordinary and the surreal, and altogether they offer an eye-popping range. One piece will tumble along full of event, and the next will stretch the mind, bit by bit. A single page may erupt in a cornucopia of feeling: groans of heartache, yips of delight, a fine wisecrack or two and the rage of a woman wronged ... As a reader, I was so won over I pressed the book on strangers on public transportation ... These little dramas set you laughing even when the subject is downtrodden. Harsh economics often supply the punchline, so that the wit has a tinge of rueful sympathy ... Just about all these assemblages wouldn’t look out of place in an Escher exhibition. One way or another, they subvert our expectations for fiction ... Sparks forges a rhetoric of such warmth and swagger, it may be the single most potent strain in her magic. Even when casting a cold eye on our current anomie, she’s never less than lyrical, concocting mash-ups of outrage and celebration, archaic decorum and unbuttoned plainness.
Johannes Anyuru, Trans by. Saskia Vogel
RaveThe Washington PostLately, novels from Sweden have sunk into deep noir...But the English debut from Johannes Anyuru offers more, a double helping of nasty business ... Overall, the novel sets up a classic conceit, hate for hate, and both extremes erupt with bruising force ... This potent structure, a therapeutic bridge between two infernos, feels like the work of a novelist hitting his stride. Anyuru turned 40 this year, and though he has published earlier fiction and poetry, as well as working in theater and radio, this book has been a breakthrough. It has won a major Swedish award, and there’s a movie in the works. If there’s any justice, some of this success will cross the Atlantic. It’s a rare author who has such sensitivity with explosive materials ... The connection between the girl’s bad dream and the writer’s actual experience feels belabored at times, and it isn’t the only misstep. The role of Annika’s parents in an unexpected tragedy goes conspicuously undeveloped. By and large, though, Saskia Vogel’s translation achieves a difficult balance, nimble yet compassionate. She captures Annika’s mash-up of Western slang and Koranic Arabic, its humor often a relief, and also the more complex contemplations of the writer, poetic and touching when he considers his daughter ... I came away thinking of the book as an attempt to forge a more humane means of expression, one that could surmount all our fears and failures.
RaveThe Brooklyn Rail[A] rambunctious and hydra-headed creation ... I was at once won over by its fast and loose way with the English sentence, quasi-colloquial, with minimal punctuation and capitalization, sometimes breaking down into short stacks of single lines. Yet it doesn’t take an aesthete to find the prose accessible. Anyone can appreciate Evaristo’s sensitivity to the passions in her people ... Overall this novel asserts a classic mastery, equal to the best of Zadie Smith and Elena Ferrante, authors themselves out of pariah groups and difficult upbringings. I daresay such artists are creating, in rare new colors, the great social canvas of the century’s first half.
PositiveVol. 1 BrooklynThe title of his bleak yet bubbly Pax Americana smacks of satire, but also sketches a power structure that doesn’t quite match up with our own ... As the novel works out its answers, it relies a bit much on dialogue, sometimes getting redundant when it strives to be snappy, and it falters a couple of times in its attempts to deepen character. By and large, however, Baumeister succeeds in delivering the deep chill he intends.
Nabarun Bhattacharya, Trans. by Sunandini Banerjee
RaveThe Washington Post... lean and sumptuous ... at once comic and tragic, raucous and dreary ... the grim milieu is graced with something gentler, more playful ... There are even echoes of T.S. Eliot. Such effects attest to the care and sensitivity of the translation by Sunandini Banerjee ... This first U.S. publication brings off a remarkable resurrection [for Bhattacharya], one that erupts full-blooded, alive with laughter, stink and rage.
Donatella Di Pietrantonio, Trans. by Ann Goldstein
RaveThe Washington PostA Girl Returned caroms from one side of the [Italian economic] divide to the other. The zig and zag is always eye-catching, and before long we care deeply about where every shot will land ... The brief, bumptious chapters cover roughly a year, and the lead player doesn’t come of age so much as rip away childhood’s masks ... Di Pietrantonio never allows her story to wallow in despair. She has more spunk than that and not just in her lively way with a phrase (the translator, Ann Goldstein, shows the same sensitivity she does with Elena Ferrante). She also has a fine instinct for detail ... Better yet, she knows how to mix things up, scene after scene ... Tragedy shadows every move, even if overall the novel feels a tad rosy ... Still, A Girl Returned doesn’t gloss over the nasty by-products of living out beyond the last bus stop ... [Di Pietrantonio] has worked up impressive narrative craft. She knows just when and where to slip the pieces of her jigsaw into place—all while leaving emotional gaps, psychic wounds that can never heal.
PositiveThe Brooklyn RailSciFi materials turn up often in Unraveling, setting it apart not just from Lovecraft, but also from Evenson\'s previous work ... Insofar as the setting is new, it allows the author more room for his sense of humor. Sisters slays me in part because of its nutty misinterpretations of the mundane ... As usual, Evenson reins in his style, even in the lone piece you\'d call \'experimental\' ... The endings—unravelings?—reveal the same light touch ... terrific.
Jokha Alharthi, trans. by Marilyn Booth
RaveThe Brooklyn RailCelestial Bodies delivers a cornucopia, the drama tasty whether it concerns a long day of overwrought celebration, scented with incense and envy, or a midnight tryst in the desert, mixing torment and ecstasy. Juggling multiple perspectives, eschewing straightforward chronology, the narrative coheres nevertheless ... Overall, as in some sprawling canvas by Brueghel, tragedy strikes a balance with better, and both outcomes bear out Khalid’s discovery: the shocking power of old-country ties, buried but bristling with life.
Brueghel however makes a less illuminating comparison than Alharthi’s contemporary Elena Ferrante. Both women explore tensions expressed in the best title of the Neapolitan Quartet ... An extraordinary range of female sensibility, from sisterhood to sheer hate, enlivens the narrative throughout, and Alharthi’s frankness about her women’s uglier moments in no way lessens her profound sympathy for how their status remains, under the Omani monarchy, second-class. Their subjugation triggers fascinating strategies in each of the three sister protagonists ... A novel with the sock of Celestial Bodies puts a reader face to face with the complex humanity everywhere—even in the lower depths, the shithole countries.
Jean Frémon, Trans. by Cole Swensen
PositiveThe Washington PostThis dismal view of my gender pervades the novel, and in all objectivity, I’d say it is a flaw. Bourgeois had better men in her life, most especially her husband, Robert Goldwater, a distinguished art scholar, faithful lover and good father. Yet neither he nor the children — three sons — get nearly as much attention as the monstrous Papa ... The novel lacks a conventional climax, to be sure, but it hits a high point of another kind, a spiritual affirmation as well as an aesthetic manifesto, when Bourgeois affirms her core principles ... As Bourgeois pores over the junk from nearly a century ago, she plucks from it a new lease on her own life.
RaveThe Washington PostHe conveys a world in a detail. Scibona can also take us into the broken heart of a child lost in a foreign airport, the shattering chaos of a night assault during the Vietnam War and the quiet intensity of a working-class New York neighborhood. Throughout, his ear-perfect dialogue percolates. Still, the moments of ecstasy are what most distinguish this book, one that trots the globe yet misses nothing ... The scope is far grander than in Scibona’s 2008 debut, The End (a National Book Award finalist), though the style remains jewel-like ... It’s teeming, brilliantly.
MixedBrooklyn Rail...demands self-exposure at a level few writers have risked ... the first chapter of the five here calls itself, though tentatively, a \'love letter.\' Yet when other authors gush in similar ways, in second person, the adoration seems untrammeled; see Vladimir Nabokov, the close of Speak, Memory. In Shields, however, the cuddles hide a claw, and spur him to what some would call TMI ... The many references to film complicate every image with which they’re paired, and the effect overall is of a stream of consciousness so jagged and rushed, it might be in sexual frenzy. No small feat— the book’s a wild ride full of unforgettable glimpses, really— but I do wish the stream did less meandering ... \'Is sex really that awful?\' Shields asks...The question implies we’re going to get an answer, get somewhere, but page after page all we encounter is still more evidence that the human act of love is a helpless flailing between damaged puppets. Every one of the long essays, or whatever you’d call them, feels at times like just another puppet-whuppin\' ... This sameness seems to me the great challenge, going forward, for this author. To reinvent the essay, even so brilliantly as he does, isn’t to rob the form of its search for meaning.
PositiveThe Brooklyn Rail\"Novakovich recalls de Maupassant, as he unpacks another swift, dark comedy of war or exile ... Indeed, all the players are unsettled, hustled around sharp corners, recalling the way a fable prizes moral over character. A more useful comparison, however, would be to the Nobel winner Isaac Bashevis Singer ... terrific ...\
PositiveThe Sewanee Review\"... the phantasmagoria had me entranced. I’d be surprised if I’m not in for the [series\'] long haul ... The novel’s a wild rumpus, with wild things of all kinds galumphing through multiple storylines ... Despite the African focus, the writing’s energy and subtlety calls to mind the great European sojourners, like Conrad or Lessing, struck by the country’s blend of vitality and menace ... The author shows endless sophistication, whether his players are making love or going for the kill. And James’ imaginative deftness with sub-Saharan culture sets his novel alongside other significant revisionism out of the African Diaspora.\
PositiveThe Washington PostThe carnage erupts on the opening pages and threatens to continue throughout. Yet Jackson keeps us wondering how the horror will go down. Once or twice the ugly business feels a tad familiar, but far more often the author delivers canny surprises ... Importantly, the violence isn’t political. The novel isn’t cautionary like The Handmaid’s Tale; rather, its rampages could be punk-rock. The killers weasel around security the same way anyone else would, and, if they survive the melee, they linger on the crime scene ... A mere gimmick in lesser hands, Jackson’s twice-told tales \'each absorb and expand the narrative\' ... Questions concerning art hang over everything no matter which direction you’re reading ... Even the ecstatic promise of rock winds up another delusion, a monster that someone ought to destroy.
PositiveThe Brooklyn Rail\"
This woman [Dangarembga] has weathered all the upheavals of her country’s last forty years, forging them into a teeming yet tragic feminist trilogy ... Not that old, she [protagonist \'Tambu\'] appears nonetheless to have aged into a monstrosity, and such animistic metaphor provides much of what’s best about This Mournable Body ... Mournable Body is more a picaresque, its episodes entertaining as much as disturbing, its humanity a crazy quilt. The knocking about can result, now and again, in bogging down. A few scenes use a neon highlighter to outline basic conflicts, and one or two do the same for male wickedness. But the occasional heavy-handedness isn’t so bad as to muddy the movement overall. The plot allows for just one coincidence, and this makes just the right difference for Tambu ... Otherwise this woman’s closed heart looks like the worst legacy of colonialism and machismo—and the scariest discovery brought to light by this gifted author’s prolonged excavations of the contemporary African soul.\
RaveThe Brooklyn Rail...as Bouanani parses out his disturbing material, the brief chapters feel as much bumptious as grim, and even sometimes laughable ... The oxymoron makes a terrific fit for a narrative that has fun—in its own rumpled blue way—with Hell ... Such stuff recalls Beckett ... By and large I found The Hospital a singular experience, one of those that locates a new hook on which to hang a story. The text’s joy and melancholy works up an unlikely narrative momentum—suspense ... For The Hospital they found the award-winning translator Lara Vergnaud; between her thoughtful afterword and the introduction by Anna Della Subin, a biography and more, the text in hand glows a like a double-miracle, in its provenance as well as in how it sets its skeletons dancing ... with The Hospital he made it, demonstrating, again, how the best work can run any gantlet, even one lined with devils.
Laura Van Den Berg
PositiveThe Sewanee Review\"In spite of these genre trappings, The Third Hotel amounts to more than thrills and chills. Van den Berg has swapped out the stages of grief for an alternative recovery process, one that refreshes old notions of female power and identity ... Van den Berg’s knack for turning expectation on its head is one of the novel’s many pleasures ... By catching and seducing her zombie—and then finally letting him go—Clare’s stages of grief deliver her not to Zen-like acceptance, but to a place of potent new monsters.\
Dubravka Ugrešić, Trans. by Ellen Elias-Bursać
PositiveThe Brooklyn RailRising action, climax, and such plainly don’t interest Ugrešić, no more than they did W.G. Sebald, an obvious model for these accumulating drifts of meditation. The displaced Croatian, however, has a more spritely feel than the displaced German; she allows for more dialog, some of it crackling ... it shows the care taken by translators Ellen Elias-Bursać and David Williams. The novel’s feminist jabs all deliver a decent poke, and at times I thought of Dorothy Parker with a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature ... clever as the reiterations can be, their consistency can wear you out. How many times do we need to be shown that the artist’s lot is moil and that the powerful would rather see her or him dead? Thus a crucial element to this text’s success—it’s a startling and seductive piece of work, overall—is the one section that refrains from constantly refracting experience through the prism of high culture.
PositiveThe Washington PostLea’s vanishing provides The Good Mothers with a suspenseful kickoff, her last days alive as observed by a teenage Denise. The mystery’s solution waits till the closing chapters. Thus human drama shapes the narrative; it ends with the daughter’s tearful farewell at a massive 2013 rally in the mother’s memory. Still, The Good Mothers is casting a wider net, indicting an entire pestilent culture ... it’s good to go step by step, as Perry does, through the destruction of these clans. It’s good to linger over the women’s triumph, since theirs is but one battle in the war against what Perry calls a \'global mafia.\' So his book celebrates how a few heroes made a significant change for the better—in a \'display of adamant and unyielding femininity.\'
PositiveThe Washington PostNo doubt many of those who read The Unfinished Palazzo will also know Guggenheim’s palazzo on Venice’s Grand Canal, which, since 1980, has been one of the world’s great modern art museums....investigates not just Guggenheim’s remarkable life but also the electrifying adventures of the two women who preceded her in that canal-front property. The result is a breathtaking social portrait, peeling the glitter from privileged lives even as it fleshes out the spectacle they created ...a page-turner but alert to emotional minutiae. She takes the same care throughout with these complicated women ... Overall, despite the burnouts and bad sex, this triptych presents an uplifting portrait ...far from its most eye-popping, but the way it gladdens the heart makes for a terrific finish.
Jenny Erpenbeck, Trans. by Susan Bernofsky
RaveBookforumGo, Went, Gone tackles an issue that’s made headlines — namely, the plight of African refugees in Europe. Also the author presents the material in a straightforward fashion unusual for her ...meditates on how surface misleads us; it posits \'language as a skin\' ... Making that journey — initiating a conversation between comfortable North and indigent South — provides the core drama... Legal arcana like Dublin II, drawn up without public oversight and ever more draconian, would hamstring most novelists ...a couple of passages strain, rhetorically or dramatically, but by and large, the law’s deepening chill is well rendered; we suffer with its victims ... A woman [Erpenbeck] who’d previously played fast and loose with time and space tethered herself to real-world research, to interviews and fieldwork, outside her comfort zone.
RaveThe Washington PostExploding with violence and seething with arousal, the third novel by Marlon James cuts a swath across recent Jamaican history. It leaves its Kingston ghettos strewn with victims, a few of them lovers, all of them spattered with blood … Whether ghost politicos or CIA spooks, all concur on Marley’s real-life good fortune: The Singer survived — a miracle and, in a book rife with secret murders, a stinging irony … The epic sweep of Seven Killings never feels cartoonish. James takes us deep into his criminal power dynamics, in monologues laced with breathtaking obscenities … What most distinguishes A Brief History of Seven Killings isn’t the outrages, but rather the odyssey.
RaveBookforum...when I term Borne the author’s best work yet, it’s precisely for this untrammeled inventiveness. VanderMeer has brought off a fiction that takes him again and again to his strength, namely, imaginative spectacle. Better yet, while the freak show tends to horrors like the factory massacre, the violence isn’t unrelenting. Rather the plot alternates between fireworks and stillness, and many of the quiet moments might be called romantic interludes ... insofar as I had misgivings, they arose from a sense of overflow, of too much. In the final chapters, I was glad to learn just what Borne was, but I could’ve done without the additional backstory for Wick and Rachel. Still, I’d never argue the end was less than thrilling—or that thrills are the whole point. VanderMeer never stints on the humanity of his players, not even the one who isn’t human.
PositiveThe Washington Post\"Frankel’s fresh understanding, to be sure, owes a lot to plain old digging. A former Washington Post reporter, he unearthed Kramer’s confession of helplessness, for instance, in a taped conversation that had languished for decades. The provenance is clarified in one of the text’s many hundreds of endnotes — and his bibliography is equally exhaustive. The heaps of research, however, never snuff out what’s entertaining about scenes such as the culture clash around the émigré’s piano. Frankel’s grasp of cinema’s \'collaborative effort\' leads to a juggling act, switching points of view among the film’s chief contributors ... Although the Red Scare’s trail of betrayal and ruin looks as heartbreaking as ever, the story can’t help but feel a tad rehashed. Frankel’s chapters on the hearings and their consequences rely on the same intense research as the rest (including material never published before), but they lack the warmth of the biographical passages ... Though Frankel began this sumptuous history long before the latest election, he ends up reminding us that 2016 was far from the first time politicians trafficked in lies and fear, and showing us how, nonetheless, people of integrity came together to do exemplary work.\
RaveThe Washington PostI can’t help but think of his new Shadowbahn as the best kind of experiment: provocative throughout, alive with laughter and surprising in the ways it stirs the heart ... If Shadowbahn weren’t such an outlier, plot summary wouldn’t present such a conundrum. Although there are suspenseful stretches, by and large the story is driven by sheer invention. Each imaginative leap lands on the twinned themes of American music and history ... much of the book’s second half is spent, as one character puts it, 'waxing philosophical.' But if this is Erickson’s most meditative novel, it’s also his most hilarious.
PositiveThe Philadelphia InquirerAlive with the poetry of a shaken pubescent girl walking on eggshells at home ... Rewarding passages crop up again and again, altogether outweighing the disappointments.
RaveThe Philadelphia InquirerAlmost six decades into publishing fiction, this author has put up a fresh career landmark...In this it also illuminates the change that's come over DeLillo since his last longer work, Underworld (1997). Symphonic density like that no longer interests him. He seeks instead a few resonant notes - a fable. He has brought off something simple but disturbing, revealing both the perils of faith and the power of Gospel.
PositiveThe Philadelphia InquirerHis first novel in a decade indeed delivers comedy. There's romance, too, though the rating would be a hard X, and things often drop into gloom. Yet the downbeats never drag. The narrative tumbles along like a snowball, picking up a casino heist, murder after murder, and perhaps a ghost story.
PositiveBookforumFascinating in its serendipity, yet alert to pangs of the ordinary, The Unfinished World succeeds well beyond the author’s debut, May We Shed These Human Bodies (2012), turning up 'magic in every corner.'
PositiveThe Philadelphia InquirerHotels often brings off paradoxes: a sweet stay that turns to a bitter memory, or a farce that tumbles into an abyss of grief. Most of the funny business derives from an unsparing honesty about the American hardscrabble.