PositiveThe Complete ReviewWinter in Sokcho isn\'t event-full. Not much happens, not much is going on. A deep freeze freezes everything and everyone even more in place, and there\'s a listless character to both narrator and the situation. Yet underneath there is a buried simmering, occasionally rearing its head—notably in the narrator\'s sudden fits of ravenous hunger and her stuffing her face ... The dominant sense in Winter in Sokcho is one of suggestion, a sense of the narrator emerging from the descriptions of her days that are largely humdrum and routine, even as little is made explicit by her ... Dusapin has a nice touch with her understated approach. Winter in Sokcho seems to proceed with the simple sameness of sleepy small-town winter, but much more is bubbling underneath here ... a haunting, suggestive little story.
Javier Serena trans. by Katie Whittemore
PositiveComplete ReviewSerena writes fluidly and well -- and manages a Bolañoesque feel not only to the character but also to his voice, not least in the second part of the novel, presented entirely as recounted by Ricardo. Some of the Bolaño echoes are particularly effective -- not least the portrayal of just how chain-smoking Ricardo is, right down to the cigarette dangling from his lips when he says his vows in one of the marriage-ceremony scenes. There\'s a bit of danger of the book floundering too much in all its (and especially Ricardo\'s) exuberance; terminal illness does help in tempering that some, but Serena never really tamps it down; Last Words on Earth is meant to be a feel-good novel, and is perhaps a little too obviously so.The Bolaño-connection remains something of a distraction throughout, as it\'s hard to know whether the reader should simply fully commit to it and take Last Words on Earth as a (barely) à clef novel, or try to see Ricardo as a separate and distinct (if obviously Bolañoesque) figure. But regardless and whichever way you take it, it\'s a good and well-told story.
Michel Bussi, Tr. Sam Taylor
PositiveThe Complete ReviewYes, it\'s the classic glimpse-of-the-dramatic-ending-tease approach to thriller-writing (which, unfortunately no one ever nipped in the bud and, now endemic to the genre, readers have to put up with again and again and yet again). Sure, it helps introduce some of the characters and many of the significant elements of the mystery at the heart of the novel—and forces tension into the story, from the get-go; still, Bussi is certainly good enough a writer—and thriller-plotter—that he shouldn\'t have to fall back on this most tired (so, so tired) of over-used devices. So, yes, after this *exciting* opening chapter the story jumps back, to four days earlier, and then proceeds deliberately and chronologically from there—a more drawn-out count-down leading then to the (presumably) much faster-paced airport, will-they-catch-the-plane/the-criminals count-down of the previewed finale ... Bussi\'s plotting is fairly ingenious—if, in some parts, very implausible—and it\'s a neat little web of explanation he then unfurls ... well-paced, propelled at a nice clip by the different storylines. The maternal focus is quite well integrated into the story ... If ultimately not quite believable, The Double Mother is an otherwise solid and engaging read, its page-count going down easily and effortlessly, and with some genuine suspense.
A.L. Snijders, tr. Lydia Davis
PositiveThe Complete ReviewMany of the pieces read like brief, personal reflections, on experiences and memories ... The mix and overlap of the real and the invented, and the back and forth between them, is central to much of the writing ... Appealing, too, is that there\'s nothing preachy here, as Snijders\' pieces are observational rather than judgmental ... The endnotes also helpfully explain many of Snijders\' references; presented just as notes (i.e. not marked in the text proper) they are also completely unobtrusive ... Night Train is a nice little sampler of Snijders\' distinctive variation on a kind of \'flash fiction.\'
John Le Carré
PositiveThe Complete ReviewA slim thriller, it does have a somewhat condensed feel, with, at times, series of scenes one might imagine could have been expanded, but it is nevertheless a cohesive whole, a nice, tight story. Some reviewers have complained about the relative abruptness of the ending, but it too works ... a fine thriller ... le Carré excelling, as always, at the detail-work of it (silly though some the cloak-and-dagger stuff can seem). Julian is a necessary figure, but also necessarily somewhat simple; the rest of the cast of characters is far more intriguing, and certainly more fun, with Julian never quite the match for them ... a satisfying and nicely turned end to a novel that, however modest—especially compared to some of le Carré\'s more substantial works—nevertheless counts as a success.
Harald Voetmann, Tr. Johanne Sorgenfri Ottosen
MixedThe Complete ReviewThe novel is a curious mix of the fragmentary and biographical, with limited continuity. Striking as the pieces often are, and despite some connections among them...Awake remains a diffuse work, far from full-fledged biography but also limited just as impressionistic life-portrait. Some of it is very neatly put together, with Pliny the Younger in particular an amusing contrasting figure and voice, and most of the reminiscences are very powerful, in both the writing and the content, but it ultimately also feels a bit thin. Not quite notes-towards-a-novel thin, but still too pointedly slight (in presentation). Awake is an intriguing and enjoyable read, and well worthwhile, but for all its considerable depth feels also too insubstantial.
MixedThe Complete ReviewMuch that Soyinka chronicles here is closely based on fact—and part of the considerable challenge he faces is that much of the reality he\'s working and riffing off already borders on the—sometimes almost too—comically absurd ... There long seem to be only loose connections between some of the chapters and characters as Soyinka unfolds his story, but ultimately almost everything is much more closely tied together than it initially appears. Soyinka toys quite a bit with his readers, especially in dosing out what he reveals and explains: the chapters are mostly very much in the moment, and there\'s quite a bit of fill-in information that he long holds back, only sprinkling it in along the way (and saving quite a bit for the final reveals) ... Soyinka manages some suspense, but also often saps it—not least with a style that does, bit by bit, hold the reader rapt but also stunts the action. Soyinka\'s sentences are wonderfully expressive, but he—and his story—can get too wrapped up in them; it makes for a sometimes sloggish read. Soyinka does not go all-out in twisting this into absurdist satire; there is humor here, but he doesn\'t force comic effect ... While certainly satisfying, piece by piece along the way, the larger picture remains frustratingly hinted-at but long opaque; the way in which Soyinka holds back does not always work to good effect ... well worthwhile, but is not an easy—much less easy-going—read.
Kotaro Isaka, trans. by Sam Malissa
PositiveThe Complete ReviewBullet Train is a thriller, but with a strong comical element ... The dynamics between the core of central characters is quite well played-up with their different motives and goals ... The resolution is neat enough; what happens is dramatic, but, unlike events in the rest of the novel, Isaka doesn\'t draw it out in much detail - and there\'s no need to; his simple summing-up will do. The fun of the novel is in the wild ride to Marioka and what happens along the way. Still, Isaka does make sure that things work out elegantly enough, pretty much everyone getting more or less what they deserve—and even if we don\'t learn the details of some of that, it\'s a satisfying conclusion. Almost cartoonish in its excess, Bullet Train often verges on the silly, but for pure entertainment value it certainly offers more than enough. Yes, it\'s vacuous, but there\'s no question that it\'s a fun—and, much of the time, exciting—read.
Sara Mesa, trans. by Megan McDowell
PositiveThe Complete ReviewMesa neatly presents these two characters and enough of their circumstances to give a good sense of each; she\'s particularly strong on Soon\'s adolescent uncertainty about her identity and place, and her fumbling towards maturity ... Mesa is particularly good at teenage inarticulateness ... The now widely ingrained uneasiness about any dynamics between a young girl and a (much) older man spending a great time alone together looms over the whole book—deftly used by Mesa also in how things play out, as readers\' misgivings about the situation mirror those of the other adults in the story. Cleverly, the very simpleness of the Old Man character complicates the scenario—though he is, as is, arguably too perfect a character for the story Mesa has conceived. In Soon, on the other hand, Mesa captures female adolescence exceptionally well and convincingly. Among the Hedges is a well-crafted short novel with two well-drawn and very different outsider-protagonists, provocative in how it both defies and confirms a variety of reader- (and society\'s) expectations.
Emilio Fraia, trans. by Zoë Perry
PositiveThe Complete ReviewFraia suggests story-telling—the stories we tell ourselves, and of ourselves—is both fundamental and very basic. We cling and return to it, to try to impose some order and make some sense ... The three pieces in Sevastopol are nicely presented, well-written and atmospheric. Fraia manage[s] to keep the common theme of story-telling as under-current, not drowning his stories in it (even as it is omnipresent), and the interweaving back-and-forth in each of the tales is very effective. It makes for a solid little volume—fine reading.
PositiveThe Complete ReviewThere is some irony in an author fictionalizing much about those he actually knows quite well... while sticking much closer to the facts...about a character he never met (and also sticking to his actual name, Ben-Zion); it\'s also a bit of a distraction: among the annoyances of such semi-life based fiction is that there\'s a constant question hovering alongside the text, the reader wondering all along what\'s (supposed to be) real and what isn\'t. If this half-fact foundation is and remains awkward, the rest of the novel isn\'t. Cohen easily assumes the voice of his narrator ... The discussions and examples of Jewish identity—in that present-day as well as historically—are fascinating and quite well-integrated into the story. The letters and lectures are digressions of sorts, but engaging and thought-provoking rather than dry-academic—even if at least aspects of the subject-matter might seem esoteric to many readers. Beyond that, Cohen weaves back and forth and together very well, his subject matter addressed in so many different ways and from so many angles. Far from being a theoretical novel, too, the action itself—from the descriptions of academic life (at a not exactly first-rate institution), family life, and then the take-no-prisoners whirlwind that are the Netanyahus—is exceptionally well presented and described. The Netanyahus is also very much a comic novel ... It\'s a neat trick Cohen pulls off here, The Netanyahus [is] in many ways disarmingly light, even lighthearted, and much about the novel reässuringly conventional, down to how Cohen uses the wintery conditions when the Netanyahus are visiting, while also being so many-faceted in addressing the question of Jewish identity ... an accomplished work of fiction, a solid novel, in every respect—and a lot of good fun, too.
Kaoru Takamura, Trans. by Allison Markin Powell and Marie Iida
PositiveThe Complete ReviewThis isn\'t the book for readers looking for the immediate gratification of straight-to-the-action crime fiction ... There\'s quite a bit about the complex ties between companies, finance, politics, and shady organizations...much of which can be rather confounding to readers not familiar with this system. The novel certainly does bog down some in especially the Okada and related happenings, but the main point...certainly comes across ... Much of the novel is also simply about process: the workings of a corporation, the police, and the press, which Takamura presents in considerable detail (indeed, at times the novel is arguably too detailed here) ... Lady Joker impresses with its scale and patience, only occasionally getting long-winded, particularly in some of the explanations regarding the corporate/criminal-connections and surrounding activity; there\'s also a bit of unnecessary repetition (mainly about this sort of thing, where repetition unfortunately doesn\'t make it much clearer). Takamura\'s expansive presentation is unusual, but effective; if some of the issues remain a bit confusing...the basics are clear enough. Lady Joker isn\'t action-packed or -focused, but Takamura\'s attention to foundations—carefully building up her story—makes for a novel of considerably greater depth than your usual crime novel ... there\'s enough here to satisfy, a large canvas that, even if without resolutions, offers a thoroughly engaging read.
RaveComplete ReviewMaurensig takes the basic facts of Sultan Khan\'s life and spins a larger fiction out of it. He begins by giving Sultan Khan considerably humbler origins than they actually seem to have been, and makes the discovery of his remarkable talents even more surprising ... All in all, in adds up to a strange sort of book. Sultan Khan\'s own life is rich enough material for a novel -- complete with the mystery of his apparently essentially abandoning chess in the mid-1930s and living a quiet life for the next three decades -- but Maurensig embellishes it far beyond that, both before and especially after the brief chess-success phase. The origin-story is built up patiently enough, and helps in forming an image of the character and, in essence, where he\'s coming from, explaining much of who he is. But it\'s a shame that, for example, the war-gaming isn\'t played out at greater length. And while the time in New York with the wealthy Mrs. Abbott is interesting, it\'s a somewhat awkward fit with the larger story ... The incredible career of Sultan Khan - burning so brightly but also so briefly, with considerable mystery as to why he withdrew so suddenly and completely from competitive chess -- would be more than enough for a novel ... Game of the Gods is fast and consistently entertaining. Even the unusual side-episodes are colorful and interesting, and Sultan Khan is a memorable leading character (not least in his general tendency to subservience); it\'s certainly a solid-enough read.
Pola Oloixarac, tr. Adam Morris
MixedThe Complete ReviewOloixarac has some good fun with the soft target of authors at such literary gatherings, presenting the usual variety of types and opinions. There are some amusing observations ... and the different characters, from around the world, offer quite a variety of more or less plausible literary types and acts. With reminiscences of other such literary gatherings as well, Oloixarac captures the literary circuit atmosphere reasonably well ... The literary festival comes to a spectacular surreal close...but it\'s not an entirely successful turn. Here Mona finally also confronts what has been weighing on—a not entirely surprising reveal, either, but certainly one that explains a lot. Oloixarac\'s treatment of the subject-matter—specifically, how she has had Mona handle it, until it all comes bursting out, is reasonable enough, but it is oddly situated, with the four-day countdown to the prize-giving naturally making for some distracting competitive suspense ... It all also feels a bit lazy—as do many novels in which the protagonist is frequently in a mind-altered state thanks to drugs and alcohol and mental anguish, justified or not ... an oddly and unsatisfyingly bifurcated novel.
María José Ferrada, tr. Elizabeth Bryer
RaveThe Complete ReviewHow to Order the Universe is beautifully, delicately written. Much is left unsaid ... There is a cold sadness to this story of loss—the loss here much more than simply one of childish innocence ... The universe itself here is crushing—all the more effectively conveyed by Ferrada\'s contrasting and very delicate touch. It makes for a powerful and accomplished book.
Roberto Bolaño, tr. Natasha Wimmer
PositiveThe Complete Review... these are more than fragments, and while not complete works of fiction in and of themselves, they are polished short works (offering tantalizing suggestions of what they might have become). Bolaño did use some of this material in his other work, but these are not simply cast-offs, with each showing considerable potential of being worked into a larger work but also standing quite well as is, on their own ... throughout, there\'s a remarkable ease and naturalness to Bolaño\'s prose here: these chapters, in particular, have the polish of finished pieces. Arturo\'s narrative seems to ramble about, covering a great deal but doing so effortlessly and naturally: in a relatively small space he conveys a remarkable amount about his family and their circumstances ... the writing is remarkable—it all seems so natural and simple—and the various (and many episodes) are truly engaging. The only real difficulty—one can hardly call it a fault—is the lingering sense of incompleteness...not in the sense that the pieces are too rough and unedited—almost everything here feels polished to publish-readiness—but rather that one suspects he wanted to add more to them ... there\'s actually a good case to be made for this being a good introductory collection for those new to the author, offering as it does both the basics about Bolaño\'s formative years...as well as a good but not overwhelming sampler of what he can and likes to do in and with his fiction ... worth reading, confirming yet again what an amazing talent Bolaño was.
Tove Ditlevsen, trans. by Tiina Nunnally and Michael Favala Goldman
PositiveThe Complete ReviewMuch of the power of Childhood comes from this precise, mature expression of the childish experience, so easily conveying the feeling (as well as acknowledging the childish inability to express it in any way clearly then—an inability-to-make-oneself-understood so common to that time in life) ... Childhood is very rich for such a slim memoir, as Ditlevsen\'s economy of style is nevertheless very—cautiously—revealing. It\'s a very fine exploration of the poet as a child, and a lovely read.Youth...has a few scenes of peculiar but very funny comedy ... Youth is a fine memoir of that in-between time on the way to adulthood, while also offering, in all the background, a fascinating glimpse of life in 1930s Denmark ... a solid continuation of her memoir, concluding here with the stirrings of great change ... The Copenhagen Trilogy as a whole is a solid memoir. Very much focused on the author, there\'s also a lot of color of the place and times; much of Dependency takes place during the Nazi occupation, and there are times when the matter-of-fact treatment of that as background material can almost be more disturbing than if there was a greater focus on it. Ditlevsen has nice touch with her observations, keen and quick, and quickly moving on—she rarely lingers on anything, making for a powerful understated effect.
PositiveThe Complete ReviewKarashima communicated extensively with the principal actors in trying to trace the path of the various translations and publications, and it makes for a fascinating glimpse of how an author becomes established in a foreign language and market, including the compromises and choices made along the way. Among the amusing aspects of this strong reliance on first-hand accounts—Karashima quoting verbatim extensively—is that Karashima has no qualms presenting differing accounts, as well as showing his sources to often be uncertain in their recollection ... Karashima really spells this all out, taking the reader along for the ride through all these not-quite-mutually-compatible versions of events; and yes, there\'s quite a lot where his conversation-partners admit that maybe things happened differently than they remember. Much here is kind of hazy, at least on the individual level, but Karashima heaps so much on, from so many sides, that the overall picture looks to be a fairly solid one. Karashima leaves no stone unturned—and in fact turns many of them over and over, just to make sure—and, yes, that can seem a bit excessive at times; still, it\'s a welcome kind of information dump that allows the reader to see and judge for themselves just how reliable the picture is ... Karashima doesn\'t discuss the editing changes in quite as much depth as he might, but he helpfully does offer some examples which he considers more closely ... Who We\'re Reading When We\'re Reading Murakami does explore Murakami\'s work making its way into English well, and is particularly interesting in describing the significant roles of the translators and editors who were involved in the process ... Overall, it\'s a quite fascinating story—even as it also leaves many questions unanswered and, surprisingly for such a fact- and chronology-obsessed book, leaves quite a few almost blatant lacunae; a table consolidating book sales numbers would have been welcome, as would have one simply charting Murakami\'s publications (all those stories in The New Yorker, for one); indeed, detailed bibliographic charting and some timelines, or something similar, would have been helpful.
Jenny Erpenbeck, Trans. by Kurt Beals
PositiveThe Complete ReviewFamiliarity with Erpenbeck\'s fiction is not necessary to appreciate this collection—though there are certainly insights into her work that are enriched by her discussion of some of it here. Many of the pieces cover similar terrain, the areas of particular interest to her that she also addresses in her fiction, from language itself to more social-political issues such as that of migration, and the thoughtfulness to her fiction comes across similarly in these well-turned pieces. There\'s a refreshing variety to her approaches, too; some of these are small, even incidental pieces—a few hundred words on a particular theme or subject—but pretty much all of them are at least in some way distinctive, as Erpenbeck puts a great deal of effort into finding just the right way to present and frame the piece in question. Not a Novel is a very good little collection, and while perhaps some opportunity has been missed in not translating the entire German original, the volume one really must look forward to is the—\'memoir in full\'—rather than put together from pieces, as here—that one hopes Erpenbeck will eventually write. As this collection already makes clear, hers is a life (and writing-life) well worth examining—and she is very good at putting things—her own life and experiences included—under the lens.
Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
PositiveComplete ReviewThe narrative, like the protagonist herself, is restrained, almost neutral in its description. It is effective: most of what is described speaks for itself ... Along the way, it also offers a neat picture of early 1960s Iceland, from the shared kitchens and bathrooms to the (would-be) littérateurs of the day to, more generally, nature there, from the cold to volcanic eruptions ... Miss Iceland is well done, and quite an impressive work.
Guy P. Raffa
PositiveThe Complete ReviewDante\'s Bones is a thorough study—exhaustive, even. Well-researched and quite well presented, it covers the history of the remains, and the battles over them, well. The twist, of the unexpected rediscovery (in 1865) of something that most hadn\'t realized had been lost, is amusing, of course, and Raffa structures much of the account around that—but it\'s impossible to get around the fact that not all that much happens to the remains themselves. This small disturbance is a good story—so also in Raffa\'s telling of how the Franciscans seem to have gone about it—but of course the rest of the time practically all of Dante\'s remains simply remained in one place or another, which isn\'t all that exciting. Some more interesting things did happen around them—not least in the role they played as part of the greater Dante-veneration, including why physical possession was considered symbolically important—and Raffa covers that quite well too, but with a focus on the remains Dante\'s Bones isn\'t (and doesn\'t mean to be) a larger study of all of Dante\'s legacy across the centuries ... a welcome addition to the large library of works on Dante, covering its territory very well.
Nam-Nyong Paek, Trans. by Immanuel Kim
MixedThe Complete ReviewFriend is not high-quality fiction, and the writing hardly very polished prose; it strongly resembles much of the socialist realist fiction familiar from the Soviet-bloc nations. It is, no doubt, primarily of interest as an example of specifically North Korean fiction—since any is almost impossible to find for those who don\'t read Korean—but is also of some interest simply literarily. Paek shows a decent touch in unfolding his story, and there are character-portraits here which have some real depth. If there is a great deal of black and white here, Paek also manages an impressive amount in surprisingly many shadings of grey. Workplaces—including factories, entertainment-halls, fields, courtroom—do figure prominently, but Paek\'s focus on individuals and family, and his willingness to acknowledge failings, make for a novel that manages to be engaging, and even quite moving, even beyond its context. Friend is an example of a book that is more \'interesting\' than \'good\'—but there\'s enough to it that is good, too, to make it worthwhile. It does offer a (limited) glimpse of aspects of life in North Korea (in the mid-1980s)—but its strengths are beyond that, in its depiction and handling of its characters and their flaws and struggles (particularly relationship-struggles).
Linda Bostrom Knausgaard, Trans. by Rachel Willson-Broyles
PositiveThe Complete ReviewWhat\'s remarkable about The Helios Disaster is how lucid Anna\'s voice and account is. Despite being lost in a haze, despite barely being able to communicate with those around her—often she is unable or unwilling to talk; later she is barely capable of doing so because of the medications she\'s given—she expresses herself clearly, observing rationally even as she often remains uncomprehending. Those around her rarely can get through to her, and she can rarely explain herself, yet she conveys both others and herself in clear and precise terms—if also often childishly (or mentally unstably) unable to make connections. Everything may be a fog, yet it\'s also razor-sharply delineated ... an unusual novel of mental instability and of childhood, presented in a striking voice. Boström Knausgård handles mental illness well, putting the reader in Anna\'s lucid but damaged mind, and while much of the novel can seem abrupt, the impressive, compact narrative does more than enough.
Alberto Barrera Tyszka, Trans. by Rosalind Harvey and Jessie Mendez Sayer
MixedThe Complete ReviewThe stories Barrera Tyszka presents offer a solid slice of the uncertainty of Venezuelan life of the time, the basic plot-lines of each offering a great deal of potential ,,, But it\'s a lot to juggle in a relatively short space, and most of the storylines feel rather thin, Barrera Tyszka eliding over periods of time and only sketching many of the characters, or allowing them to slip from view too often and for too long. There are times, when he takes his time, that the narrative impresses, but almost each of these storylines also gets short shrift some (or much) of the time; admirably, Barrera Tyszka mostly avoids sheer shock value—but given the (realistic) almost anticlimactic resolutions to much that happens (including Chávez\'s death, which readers of course knew was coming) these stories need more elaboration; as is, they feel slighter, less attended to than they should. The Last Days of El Comandante does offer an interesting glimpse of Venezuela at the time of Chávez\'s death, and hints of the odd (but, sadly, hardly uncommon) phenomenon of a personality—rather than substance—dominating a nation\'s politics (and, predictably, running the country into the ground). Barrera Tyszka is particularly good on the everyda—and also on the odd Cuban connection and the complex interplay between Cuban (national and personal) interests and Venezuelan ones at the time. But one wishes this were presented as a much bigger saga—or that Barrera Tyszka had focused more tightly one or another of his (too-)many storylines.
Marcial Gala, trans. by Anna Kushner
MixedThe Complete ReviewThe Black Cathedral winds up being an odd mix of character-/neighborhood-/nation-studies and suspense story, Gala dangling the mystery surrounding the collapse of both the Stuart family and the grand cathedral project but drawing that out over a very long time ... Despite being a fairly compact novel, it is, however, a(n overly) diffuse picture, with so many characters and stories—many intertwined, but also straying (especially in the case of the dominant Gringo) far afield. One other interesting aspect of the novel is the racial one, as the Stuart family (and many of the other characters) are black and this features, on some level, in much that happens (including when and in how Gringo adapts to the United States). Gala weaves this into his novel well—but he\'s weaving a lot into this novel, and elsewhere seems to promise too much (with the cathedral-project, for example), the ultimate delivery of some of this rather weakened. The Stuart family members\' often limited presence in so much of the novel is a problematic void—and in its resolution, where they (or some of them) are more at the fore, the fact that we have learned so little about them to that point undermines that as well. An interesting and colorful if ultimately too loose (with its so many threads ...) read.
Nino Haratischvili, Trans. by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin
PositiveThe Complete Review... very much a novel of the century and specifically of the Georgian experience for those hundred-plus years ... It becomes a lot to pack in, and occasionally is awkward, history forced into the narrative ... The historical markers do help anchor the arguably somewhat unwieldy story, giving readers a hold along the way, but The Eighth Life really is better when it is family-focused, almost outside of time ... Haratischvili\'s book is huge, but she struggles to contain -- or include -- all of this, and things begin to feel a bit hurried and stuffed-in here; the novel is only really saved when she gets back on track in the penultimate (but actually final) part, the seventh book, in which Niza tells her story -- and, specifically, her struggles to bring Brilka (back) into the fold ... Haratischvili can get heavy-handed, down to the details ... a paced novel, relentless in story, the chapters further divided into short sections making for a quick -- but not hasty -- succession of action. In many respects, The Eighth Life is in fact a potboiler -- a well-crafted one, with little let-up ... The novel begins to lose a bit of its hold in near-contemporary times -- the number of characters and threads, as well as the tumultuous post-Soviet Georgian history, becoming a bit much for Haratischvili to handle; it even threatens to become an historical epic trickling to a bit of a tepid end. Instead, Haratischvili not only salvages the story but finishes off the work-as-a-whole in surprisingly better fashion, making more of the story in making The Eighth Life more than just a historical family epic ... At times the melodramatic bits can get annoying, but Haratischvili always presses on so fast and offers so much more that it\'s an almost impossible to resist page-turner ... It\'s not quite the \'Georgia\'-novel one might expect -- Haratischvili gives the history-overview as she races along, and she does do some of the settings well, but doesn\'t quite capture life beyond the family, with a very few exceptions; this is very much an inward -looking, character-driven and -focused story. But there\'s so much of everything that readers get their fill of Georgia and darkest Soviet history, too ... is, oddly, not quite the novel it seems to want to be -- that Soviet, century-spanning panorama-novel -- but is all the more successful in its limited sphere. Its success -- and the novel is unquestionably a success -- lies beyond any contain-a-whole-century-and-nation aspirations. It is littered with flaws -- rarely major ones, but certainly quite a few small annoying ones ... simply sweeps the reader up and along; it is a very, very good read.
Linda Boström Knausgård, Trans. by Martin Aitken
RaveThe Complete ReviewThis interior monologue is beautifully written, short sentences and wending trains of thought that convincingly echo a young girl\'s thoughts. Boström Knausgård does get carried away with her own artistry and cleverness at times—there\'s a maturity to some of this that belies an eleven-year-old\'s mind—but beyond that, it is almost pitch perfect in translator Martin Aitken\'s exceptional rendering ... This is [a] beautifully, disturbingly evocative work of fiction, a journey through a child\'s mind and eyes of trying to handle and make some order of complex emotional states and varieties of experience, the lens not so much foggy as cautious, a juggling of memories and thoughts and experiences, and an attempt to find and maintain at least a semblance of control over the world around this child verging on but oh so wary of adulthood. If perhaps overly and too readily reliant on mental instability—as cause, explanation, and fear—Welcome to America is nevertheless an exceptionally accomplished work.
Svetlana Alexievich, Trans. by Keith Gessen
MixedThe Complete ReviewIf there\'s any problem with Voices from Chernobyl it is that it remains steadfastly at the personal and individual level. This is, no doubt, intentional, and on one level very successful ... translator Keith Gessen\'s four-page preface offers about all the hard facts found in the book, and that isn\'t many. There\'s not even a map, to make clear where these places are. And the terminology remains unexplained ... it would have been helpful to understand what the dangerous levels [of radiation] might be, etc. Again: Alexievich presumably means her readers to feel the same uncomprehending frustration at these numbers and terms that those that actually faced the radiation exposure did—but that doesn\'t make it any less frustrating ... The stories in Voices from Chernobyl are \'fantastic\', and their authenticity adds to their weight—yet it\'s not an entirely satisfactory testament to this catastrophe ... in this selective but opaque presentation (where exact locations and time-frames often aren\'t clear) Alexievich utilizes neither the advantages of fiction, nor those of fact. These are personal and individual accounts, part of the big picture but not enough to convey anything near it all (as a novel or a fuller documentary would have better been able to). Moving and powerful, Voices from Chernobyl still feels inadequate. But then maybe any book about Chernobyl would.
Margarita Liberaki, Trans. by Karen Van Dyck
PositiveThe Complete ReviewThe girls move in this quite busy world, among a considerable variety of people, but the focus remains interior, almost floating in that sort of timeless late-adolescent world—with Maria, when she settles down, floating in the next such bubble, of a life dominated by her babies. It makes for an appealing and quite rich novel of young women\'s lives—with interesting secondary characters and stories, too—with some creative twists and touches by Liberaki in how she presents and unfolds her tale. There\'s a bit of narrative instability—creative Katerina isn\'t entirely given the reins—but even when Liberaki shifts to other story-forms (as with the diary excerpts) and suggests other perspectives the writing is strong and often arresting. A nice piece of work.
Yukio Mishima, Trans. by Sam Bett
PositiveThe Complete ReviewStar is short even for a novella, but quite effective as (self-)portrait of a pop star—one that feels strikingly current and familiar, too, despite having been first published more than fifty years ago ... Mishima nicely captures this alter-world of stardom, his observations convincing ... Star is a compact, short tale, but Mishima presents a full and convincing character- (and condition-) portrait in this sharp little novella.
Daša Drndić, translated by Celia Hawkesworth
PositiveThe Complete ReviewEEG is sprawling and unwieldy, with sections that are intense in their focus but the narrative then shifting, often entirely elsewhere. A loose web of connections does help hold the larger narrative together ... for all its seemingly unstructured sprawl EEG isn\'t really messy; it isn\'t even hard to read or follow ... Ban—and Drndić\'s—passion make for a powerful book; EEG is, despite its seeming disarray, a riveting, provocative read.
PositiveThe Complete ReviewThere is a greater emphasis on relatively modern times, but Hyder offers an excellent survey of all of Indian history. Some of the expected highlights are here, but Hyder does an excellent job of skirting along history\'s periphery, giving a better sense of the day to day life and general feel of India across the ages. The book is decidedly North Indian, with regrettably little mention of the south ... Hyder tells a fascinating and fast-paced story, and she is generally able to sustain the narrative through the short and often separate episodes of the novel ... The amount of history presented makes aspects of the book difficult for those not entirely familiar with Indian history. With only a few footnotes the text may not provide enough support for those overwhelmed by the barrage of names, personages, and events ... Hyder\'s \'transcreation\' of her own text into English generally works quite well. Quite frequently, however, her English is anachronistic—too modern for the times described ... an interesting, valuable, and entertaining read. The quick sequence of so many events and the obscurity of the subject matter may put off some readers. It is, however, highly recommended, well worth the effort.
Valeria Luiselli, Trans. by Christina MacSweeney
PositiveThe Complete ReviewWhile the set-up can seem somewhat confusing—and the seemingly drifting character of much of what is recounted seem to provide little hold (note that the original Spanish title translates as \'The Weightless\') the writing...is well-crafted, playful even as it touches on the very serious. Luiselli also manages particularly well maintaining a sense of fundamental uncertainty, from the mundane everyday concerns of wife and mother, to ghostly presences, to, lastly, even the ground below no longer providing stability. A wonderfully rich text—and nice slice(s)-of-New-York novel—Faces in the Crowd is— despite being less than 150 pages long—an impressively substantial work, in every sense.
Ernst Jünger, Trans. by Thomas S. Hansen and Abby J. Hansen
PositiveComplete Review\"There are suggestions and glimpses all along of a general despondent gloom, but Jünger rarely elaborates on them, keeping things succinct ... Yet in this odd mishmash, there\'s much that is personally revealing too; certainly a good (if not fully three-dimensional) picture of the man emerges ... Jünger\'s chivalric world-view will hardly convince, and readers are unlikely to be changed anywhere near as much as Jünger might wish or imagine... but, even for all its limitations, A German Officer in Occupied Paris is a remarkable slice of World War II, and makes for fascinating reading.\
Zsofia Ban Trans. by Jim Tucker
RaveThe Complete ReviewThe clever and enjoyable premises are one thing, but what really impresses in Night School is Bán\'s free-wheeling, wide-ranging style. This is cheeky, playful writing, but with a great deal of depth to it. There\'s little convention here, with shifts from one line to the next ... There\'s an enjoyable and very wide variety of stories but perhaps the only slightly disappointing thing about the collection is that it\'s not entirely cohesive; some of the stories -- good though they are -- feel a bit of an odd fit, all the more so because a large core do seem to be of a (very fine) piece. The textbook-like arrangement is inspired, complete with the illustrations, but a few of the pieces do feel like they\'re a bit forced into it ... Beyond that, however, this is an impressive, even wonderful work, Bán\'s dense, bubbling flow of ideas and words carrying readers along like on some wild river raft-ride ... very smart, good -- if dizzying -- fun, by a remarkably assured writer.
Un-Su Kim, Trans. by Sora Kim-Russell
MixedComplete Review\"The novel unfolds nicely ... Eventually, The Plotters becomes more cinematic than novelistic, with a variety of showdowns and Reseng pursuing both his own and other agendas (leading to more showdowns); it\'s quite well done and reasonably exciting, but also somewhat by the book (i.e. the traditional thriller formulae). The Plotters is a solid hit-man thriller ... Sufficiently character-focused, Reseng is perhaps ultimately too single-minded—indeed, Kim saturates his story with what eventually becomes a too-fatalistic feel—but it\'s engaging reading to the bitter end.\
PositiveThe Complete ReviewSookja Cho\'s presentation of The Tale of Cho Ung is well-thought-out and very good ... The Introduction provides a good overview, and the translation is straightforward and accessible—with then a wealth of thorough endnotes (over 250 just for the 130-odd pages of text) explaining terminology and references, providing a welcome deeper layer of insight into the story. The Tale of Cho Ung feels a bit rough—perhaps a result of there being no single definitive version of the tale, making for something of a grab-bag feel to any arrangement—but it\'s a reasonably appealing adventure story. Certainly, it is of literary and historical interest; read in combination with the supporting material, there\'s a lot to be found in it beyond the mere story. It\'s certainly of some interest, and quick and short enough to make for a decent read even without close engagement with the endnotes.
Bragi Ólafsson, Trans. by Lytton Smith
MixedThe Complete ReviewIt\'s an interesting variation on the stalker-story, with some decent additional layers to it ... Bragi entertainingly leads readers along G. and Aron\'s trail, but Narrator still seems more unexplored potential than fully worked out. There\'s something to be said for not making it too neatly recursive, with the manuscript as the novel, and it\'s not like Narrator is a long ramble to nowhere, but it feels like aspects of it should have been more fully developed.
Yasmina Reza, Trans. by Linda Asher
PositiveThe Complete ReviewIt\'s a somewhat odd narrative, in the way Elisabeth\'s account swirls around, lapping out into bits and pieces (and photographs) from the past, while the crime itself is almost pathetic (and the victim then presented as barely more than an object). Reza is at her best in the asides, the easy summing up of lives—and life slipping away—and the awkwardness of human interactions. The balance—with actual murder—is a bit harder to strike, but in teasing out what happened, and the small twists that then follow, Babylon is reasonably successful. Not quite a thriller, Reza\'s more melancholy-philosophical speculation on the human condition is still quite well done and entertaining.
Christian Kracht, Trans. by Daniel Bowles
PositiveThe Complete ReviewThe Dead captures its time—the early 1930s, with its political, social, and cultural unrest—well, including, for the most part, in its use of celebrity cameos ... Kracht uses this particular age of cinema very well too, and the examples of the work he presents (mainly, but not solely, Nägeli\'s) work well with/in the larger story. The Dead itself isn\'t quite the literary equivalent of an art-house film, but there\'s a flatness to it—in part also due to the almost clinical presentation, and Kracht\'s refusal to indulge in his spectacles (as a thriller, and thriller-flick, would). It\'s an odd piece of work: intriguing, often vivid, and memorable, in a way, but just not quite right, either.
Dag Solstad, Trans. by Tiina Nunnally
RaveThe Complete ReviewT Singer isn\'t a harsh judgement of its title character; indeed, there\'s little judgement at all. But Singer is revealed, starkly—an unusual portrayal of a character in fiction (which tends towards much bigger protagonists; Singer\'s life isn\'t average or simple, but there\'s little that\'s in any way extraordinary about it). And the novel is personal, too: Solstad emerges, occasionally, and so also near the end, as he tries to clarify and explain ... T Singer can\'t be reduced to a \'story proper;\' the telling isn\'t straightforward enough, the authorial presence —even if not necessarily the direct voice—too obvious, especially in its shaping and the (shifting) presentation of the narrative, and choosing what to highlight and what to skim over. Yet that fairly simple story underneath, describing that man, Singer, and his life, from age thirty-four to around fifty, is a deeply impressive and moving one too.
Curzio Malaparte, Trans. by Jenny McPhee
MixedThe Complete ReviewThe Kremlin Ball is unfinished. The parts published here are polished, but the novel peters out a bit, and ultimately feels more like a series of sketches than a coherent whole—though one gets a sense of what Malaparte was trying to shape it into. Certainly, what there is—even if slightly disordered, and with a bit of repetition—is fascinating, and an insightful glimpse of a peculiar time and place—and class. The writing is very good too, Malaparte nicely expressive about what he experiences— but the parenthetical subtitle does describe what this is: \'Material for a Novel,\' which hasn\'t quite been shaped into a novel yet.