PositiveAsymptoteSjón...employs an intentional, methodical restraint to examine the survival of Nazism post-World War II ... Sjón’s policy of omission—of drama, psychology, violence, grandeur of any kind—results in a delicious tension. He tempts us to expect so much of the novel, and though he never provides the relief of clean culminations, he manages to keep the reader wanting. More than anything, we want Gunnar to either damn or to redeem himself, but he refuses to be anything more than a tempest in a teacup—a chess piece carved in ivory rather than ebony ... This is not a psychoanalytic assessment of what draws him to Nazism so as much as a collection of images, inputs, choices, and feedback that nudge him there ... the novel offers not so much a comment on the dangers or the spread of fascism as on the very littleness, the randomness, of being human. The novel turns a monster into a shadow. But it is a trick. The monster is real.
Mahsa Mohebali, tr. Mariam Rahmani
RaveAsymptoteIn Case of Emergency doesn’t ignore or explicitly reject Orientalist stereotypes of women, but it does tease them ... As a reader from the United States, I’m curious about narratives from Iran that contradict those, few and simple, offered by the mainstream media. However, it would be a mistake to reduce Shadi to a vehicle for representation—and a slight to the two brilliant artists who gave her voice. She’s a beautiful character, brimming with conflict, and capable of reproducing that conflict in the reader, inspiring repulsion and sympathy in turns. Rahmani does a wonderful job of depicting femininity in general, and Shadi in particular as shifting and diverse. Lyricism comes to her as naturally as profanity, and her vulnerability is just as convincing as her callousness. Between the insulting pet names and the international inflections, In Case of Emergency displays a gift for description and a masterful knack for challenging the expectations of structure. The result is artful chaos, as brilliantly orchestrated and lovingly keyed as the Bach movements Sara rehearses on her out-of-tune piano.
Maria Judite de Carvalho, tr. Margaret Jull Costa
PositiveAsymptoteMargaret Jull Costa’s translation hits not a single false note. The text has an antique finish without being dated, which is true to the spirit of the book; age and relevance, we learn from Dora, are in no way correlated. Lisa’s youth is both eternal and specific. She may dance to the Beatles and imagine the life of a stewardess to be glamorous, but her beauty, precocity, and irreverence are transcendent ... The narrator’s voice is colloquial and familiar, but does not rely on any shorthand (which tends to age badly). Above all, the strangeness of the descriptive voice gives the text a distinctive personality ... without sacrificing the intimacy of the domestic portrait, the novella manages to cast the eye of a worried oracle on an entire nation.
David Diop, tr. Anna Moschovakis
PositiveAsymptote... brutal ... translated elegantly ... a relentless indictment of the colonial power structure ... Though heavy and dark from beginning to end, this is a highly specific, deftly illustrated, poetically rendered critique that justifies the emotional slog ... In these scenes of articulate gore and moral anguish, Moschovakis reveals her poetic side in the restraint and somber vivacity with which she renders Diop’s descriptions ... A progression that functions on multiple planes expands the novel upwards and outwards from where it remains firmly rooted—in viscera spilled ... By interlaying the real and the mythological planes of existence, the novel draws an elegant parallel between the processes of victimization and demonization.
Cristina Rivera Garza, tr. Sarah Booker
RaveThe Women\'s Review of BooksLike everybody’s favorite guest at a dinner party, Cristina Rivera Garza is an excellent conversationalist. She pays careful attention to those who have spoken before her, then makes her own contribution, which unfailingly proves relevant, fascinating, and productive ... Garza untangles a complex knot of themes and weaves them into a harmonious tapestry. Though firmly rooted in the liminal space that she calls home, she speaks for a vast community that transcends geographical and linguistic limitations ... simultaneously a testament, a manifesto, and a living embodiment of its own call to action ... With this text, Rivera Garza is grieving rather than simply writing an essay collection. As she asks her words to make available to readers what she experiences and witnesses, she enthusiastically cherry picks techniques from across genres, media, languages, and grammars. She wields language like a pioneer wields a machete, using familiar tools to discover new spaces. Just as the reader begins to recognize the terrain, it transforms. Ms. Booker, the writer ’s long-time translator, matches Rivera Garza’s daring linguistic arsenal blow by blow ... All the amplitude and precision of Rivera Garza’s linguistic space occupies Booker’s translation. That she can achieve so much significance nearly with syntax alone is a true testament to her artistic skill ... A historian by training, [Garza\'s] writing blends the patience of the archivist, the lyricism of the novelist, and the righteousness of the activist ... Garza’s feminism runs deeper than thematic analysis. Her feminism is not hers alone and she does not grieve from the ivory tower of the academy. Other female academics and activists, like Cavarero or Elvira Arellano, are her inspiration, not her competition. She includes the words and stories of female victims of violence not to appropriate them, but to amplify them, to legitimate their pain while venerating their beauty. Multivocality, the recognition of a unique female positionality, its generative, performative nature, and a story arc with frequent climaxes and an indeterminate resolution make this a feminist text in its form as well as its content.
Peter Stamm, Trans. by Michael Hofmann
RaveAsymptoteThe masterful craftsmanship of both author and translator animates a universe that trembles on the limit of realism. An elevation from the typical love story, the novel invites meditation on topics like the nature of narrative, the unreliability of perception, the standards by which we judge the value of a human life, and even the act of translation ... The novel’s brilliant twist on the doppelgänger trope begs a general interrogation of the conceptualized \'original,\' which can be extended to the act of translation ... This novel draws its energy from the powerful twin forces of love and shame ... And that, one could argue, makes a living story.
Donatella Di Pietrantonio, Trans. by Ann Goldstein
RaveAsymptote Journal...[a] searing translation from the Italian ... Ann Goldstein’s sensitive, simple, image-rich translation immediately absorbs the reader in the universe of the text and provokes empathy for the young narrator. Tasteful foreshadowing creates a sense of cohesion. Each character is sublimely human, both lovable and reprehensible, which further complicates the confrontation between the sheltered girl and the complex world to which she is now exposed. The expert pacing of the text emphasizes poignant moments by stopping time to take stock of sensations ... Di Pietrantonio and Goldstein have delivered a controlled and exacting interrogation of human relationships that confounds both the mind and the heart in the most delicious way.
MixedAsymptoteThe most successful element of the novel is [the] lack of a truly satisfying resolution ... Unfortunately, some other aspects of the novel are less successful. The family scenes that precede Samir’s father’s disappearance are just a shade too rosy, and the main female characters—Samir’s mother, sister, and love interest—are all essentially the same: sweet, pretty, faithful, and patient ... Samir and his father, as you may have already understood, are easy characters either to sympathize with or to condemn. The same could be said for Lebanon, itself a character in this narrative. Their challenge is to construct a viable future on such an uncertain foundation. To believe in success is a mandatory leap of faith.