PositiveThe Chicago Review of Books... strangely reassuring, as if Smith is reminding us that times have always been tough, and that people have always found ways to make beautiful things anyway ... My only quibble with the book is that it feels unfinished; something in the relationship between Sandy and Martina Inglis remains unresolved, though this may well be by design ... does feel like a companion to Smith’s other work—not a groundbreaking departure but a very pleasant and often humorous complement to her other work. Smith herself remains a very fine wordsmith indeed.
PositiveChicago Review of BooksMitya is an immediately sympathetic character ... This English-language novel feels notable for its linguistic texture. Intermixed with unique Russian terms and slang, the novel’s style reminds the reader that the language the characters are speaking is different from the one in which the book is written, often to humorous effect ... Little Foxes Took Up Matches is an effective, charming novel in its own right, but it has the misfortune to appear at a time when many people are turning away from Russian culture in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine ... Mitya’s sexuality and gender identity are handled gently throughout ... Mitya is still in the process of becoming, and he hasn’t made any irrevocable choices yet.
RaveChicago Review of BooksCan a writer celebrated as a miniaturist succeed at a more expansive form like the novel? In Manguso’s case, the answer is a resounding yes ... In the novel’s early pages the short blocks of text replicate the emerging consciousness of a young child, focused on the sensory and material world, but these details gradually cohere into a larger, sociological view of her surroundings ... The reader understands that this is a story about escape in which the narrator must grow into the person capable of writing this story ... The bleakness of Manguso’s vision is tempered by a rigorous attention to style; as dark as its subject matter is, I found myself turning pages because I wanted to keep reading Manguso’s pared-down prose, with its immaculate attention to the telling details ... If at times a certain austerity seems to hold the reader at arm’s length, the beauty of Manguso’s prose keeps pulling us back in ... Very Cold People is a coming-of-age novel set in a very specific time and place that feels universal in its explication of troubled girlhood; it feels, in short, like an instant classic.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksThe reader starts to feel that something else needs to happen, that this novel needs to somehow change our understanding of the original. When that move arrives, it manages to feel both organic and just right, providing a meaningful and necessary twist on the Coetzee text ... What some readers might identify as Lacuna’s flaws are exactly what others could praise as its strengths. Generally, you’re the kind of reader who either goes in for a feminist revision or you’re not. Though I think of myself as the former, I have to admit that I started reading Lacuna feeling suspicious of its project. I worried that Snyckers would oversimplify the complex morality of the Coetzee novel. Most of all, I think I was won over yet again by that tone of literary and moral authority I mentioned above, and how easy it is to mistake one for the other. Because after reading Lacuna, it seemed to me that Coetzee’s moral vision is ultimately more blinkered than complex. Snyckers calls for an entirely different vision, one that doesn’t resort to using rape as a metaphor for anything.
Claire Vaye Watkins
PositiveChicago Review of BooksWatkins wrote, \'Let us, each of us, write things that are uncategorizable, rather than something that panders to and condones and codifies those categories\' ... Watkins’ second novel, I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness, lives up to that challenge. Its form is uncategorizable, somewhere between a work of autofiction and memoir that reads like a fully realized work of fiction. It’s also a radical feminist text in conversation with classics of the genre ... I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness is a beautiful, provocative, often jarring meditation on the limits and possibilities of female freedom ... At times the weight of the nonfictional threatens to topple the fictional throughline of the book. I often found myself in the book’s first half wondering how this all was going to hold together, and it’s a testament to Watkins’ immense talents as a writer that all these disparate threads become coherent in the book’s stunning conclusion ... I was consistently fascinated by I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness ... In the end, I am glad I read it and even gladder that Watkins wrote it. When I came to the book’s final page I found myself questioning the givens of my own life, willing, at least for a moment, to imagine a different way of being.
PositiveChicago Review of BooksBarker’s writing is swift, detailed, and immersive. She tends to favor short Anglo-Saxon words, and she isn’t afraid to be vulgar ... Barker unblinkingly depicts the bleakness of the surviving women’s lot, lightened only by their kindnesses toward one another ... The Women of Troy, if perhaps not as dazzling as its predecessor, continues Briseis’s tale in a satisfying way and allows an opening for what I hope will be another volume of her story. It may be impossible to know exactly what people living over three thousand years ago may have thought or how they might have interpreted their own lives, but Barker’s novel succeeds at making us understand that what they felt—the grief of the Trojan women—cannot have been much different than our own.
María Ospina tr. Heather Cleary
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksOspina writes pointedly about the ways that trauma manifests in the female body. Violence is ever present in this collection, but it haunts the background, existing mostly in the space of the unsaid or understated. Meanwhile, Ospina attentively follows her characters as they move through the mundane tasks of everyday life, in the imperfect bodies they’ve been given.
Mariana Oliver, tr. Julia Sanches
PositiveChicago Review of BooksThese short, lyric essays explore notions of migration and the ways that language both complicates and enriches the search for home ... The transcendence of boundaries becomes a central metaphor for the rest of the essays in the collection, as Oliver turns her attention to human examples of migration, exile, and translation ... [In \'The Other Lost Boys and Girls\'] Oliver tries to find resonance with Barrie’s original novel Peter Pan, but here the comparisons seem a bit forced, falling flat before the actual historical crime ... Oliver seems most incisive when describing the geography of foreign cities and metaphorical symbols ... details from Oliver’s personal life tantalize the reader, opening a host of questions and possibilities, yet the essay ends abruptly, and these threads are never taken up again ... Despite some occasional lapses, Migratory Birds is a beautiful collection, luminously translated, from a young writer who is likely only at the beginning of discovering her power.
PositiveChicago Review of BooksA phantasmagoria about immigration, death, and queer desire with a plot that defies easy description ... This is not a novel for those who want clearly defined borders between the real and imaginary. As the reader moves through the book, events become increasingly surreal, and what initially seem like hints about an organized crime underworld might refer to a more literal underworld ... Narrated in brief sections that propel the reader through its pages, the novel is short enough to read in a single sitting but demands multiple readings to piece together its elliptical narrative ... Though Olga’s perspective dominates the first and longest section of the book, in later parts the narrative baton is passed to seemingly peripheral characters, some of whom are alive, while others are not ... What holds this demanding work together is the strength of Moskovich’s barebones prose, which has a simplicity that belies its lyricism ... the most salient feature of her work is its originality ... a perplexing yet powerful work of literature that is likely to haunt the reader long after its last page.
MixedChicago Review of Books... a work of easily accessible realism. Carter understands that she is telling a love story, and appropriately enough, we have alternating access to both Leonora’s and Max’s perspectives ... Leonora in the Morning Light is most convincing when telling the love story between Leonora and Max and in its early sections, where Carter captures the uncertain striving of ambivalent attraction that a young Leonora has toward the older, more established artist. For this reader, the novel most disappoints in its back half, when dipping into Leonora’s psychosis and her subsequent turn away from Max’s influence. Carter does not attempt to beat Carrington’s account of her stay at the asylum...but it’s hard to understand Leonora’s metamorphosis with such cursory treatment ... while Carter’s novel gives us all the outward particulars of her life, Carrington’s spirit somehow eludes the work.
RaveThe Chicago Review of Books... a deftly realized work of historical fiction that in its exploration of race, gender, and colorism is also a vital text for our times ... The novel spins an enthralling narrative, beautifully rendered in rich prose with perceptively drawn characters ... Greenidge shows herself to be psychologically astute, with an eye for nuance and a deep awareness of the ways that history influences the present. Greenidge has already been compared to Toni Morrison because of her subject matter and luscious prose, and Libertie lives up to that comparison. In Libertie, Greenidge gives us a flawed but highly relatable narrator whose journey readers will eagerly follow to the end.
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksThe structuralist literary critic Tzvetan Todorov defined \'the fantastic\' as a literary genre that hesitates between psychological and supernatural explanations to explain extraordinary occurrences, and Navarro’s work often lives and flourishes in this open space of uncertainty ... The stories in Rabbit Island are beautiful, disquieting, and somewhat unhinged. They are the sort of stories whose narrative logic often defies easy categorization, even as their emotional spell lingers long after reading, like particularly vivid dreams.
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksThroughout the book, the author refers to herself in the second and third-person, creating a sense of a semi-fictional world within the essay. The reader finds herself not just following along on Larson’s journey to understand Takako but also imagining possible pasts for the woman at the center of the mystery ... The pleasure of reading this essay is in the search, and in Larson’s precise, clear-eyed prose ... Though its purported subject remains a cipher, this is an enthralling read that is ultimately about how to make art out of the raw fuel of experience. Reel Bay may be a record of Larson’s failure to render Takako’s story onto the screen, but as an essay, it succeeds at posing thought-provoking questions about the blurred lines between truth and fiction.
Marie Ndiaye, tr. Jordan Stump
RaveChicago Review of Books...she explores throughout her work questions of exile, disjuncture, and belonging, often in fantastic and narratively disjointed ways ... In That Time of Year, NDiaye dispenses information to the reader in a matter-of-fact tone that belies the unusual circumstances of the world in which the novel takes place ... What at first appears to be a Kafkaesque fable about insiders and outsiders quickly morphs into a metaphysical horror story about the bonds between the living and the dead ... The novel shares some DNA with the Argentinian writer Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream in its embrace of the fantastic and as a haunting reinvention of the literary horror story ... it left me eager to read more.
Carmen Boullosa, trans. by Samantha Schnee
PositiveChicago Review of BooksWhile the original Anna Karenina is a doorstop of a novel, a nineteenth century work of literary realism whose power accumulates through dense detail over hundreds of pages, The Book of Anna is a slim, playful sequel set in the early twentieth century that is deeply attuned to the concerns of the twenty-first ... Boullosa takes a playful, postmodern approach to her material ... Sergei and Anya, Tolstoy’s characters, feel somewhat static on the page, while Boullosa’s own creations—particularly the anarchist Clementine and the canny Claudia—feel most alive ... The Book of Anna succeeds at defamiliarizing Tolstoy’s original, re-envisioning it through an entertaining feminist lens. It left me wanting to read more of Boullosa’s work — and hoping that more of it will soon be available to the English-speaking world.
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksMajumdar deftly weaves several narrative threads together in a novel that is fast-paced enough to feel like a literary thriller, yet also turns a wise eye toward the complexities of life in contemporary India ... [Majumdar} reveals herself to be keenly attuned to the injustices of life in contemporary Kolkata, especially when it comes to issues of class and gender. The novel renders the physical landscape of the city in brief, vivid imagery ... Majumdar skillfully reveals the ways that her characters rationalize their own moral compromises in a system that rewards them for doing so. In this regard, A Burning is not just a novel about India, but also a mirror through which American readers might contemplate the failings of our own increasingly degraded political system ... The novel ends on a dark note, a stark reminder that those who rise to power often do so at the expense of the poor and the powerless. In this way, A Burning is very much a novel for our times.
E. J. Koh
RaveChicago Review of Books[A] stunning memoir ... Koh, who is both a poet and translator, writes prose that is simple yet elliptical and all the more resonant for what is left unsaid ... The parallels between Koh’s mother’s circumstances and the decisions she makes in regard to her own daughter feel both humanly real and almost uncanny, but Koh allows these parallels to speak for themselves ... it’s both a pleasure and a relief to read about Eun Ji’s success when she turns her attention first to poetry and then translation ... Koh learns to wield language not to further isolate herself, but as a way to connect with others. The result is this beautiful, scorching memoir.