RaveThe Guardian (UK)Carlos Rojas’s exceptional translation makes English feel new again. Yan’s linguistic daring, and the novel’s relentless stream of provocative images and observations, create a sensuous and riveting world ... Yan’s knowledge and appropriation of revolutionary language—Mao Zedong’s poems, slogans and most famous directives, plus a heady array of literary texts, songs and propaganda from the Chinese and Soviet revolutions—is formidable. Large sections of Aijun and Hongmei’s speech are borrowed words. But Hard Like Water is neither mockery nor satire; it is a sharp, desperately moving analysis of the logic of ideology. Its mashup of literary and political texts poses the uncomfortable and timely question: how did each of us arrive at our certainties? ... The mass tragedy at the heart of this novel is not satirised or exaggerated; it is all too real ... a work that makes contradiction the heart of its syntax: every page confronts us with what is permitted and what is desired, what is myth and what is true, how one person’s liberation is another’s disappearance.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Voices of the Lost , awarded the 2019 International prize for Arabic fiction, is the latest novel from the celebrated Lebanese writer Hoda Barakat. Translated by Marilyn Booth, the novel is constructed primarily of letters written by five migrants or asylum seekers from the Arab world, all of whom have departed or fled their unnamed countries. The five letters form a chain as each letter falls, by chance, into the hands of another migrant; one letter is salvaged from a trash can, another from the seat of an airplane. The finder is then moved to write their own letter, and thereby make sense of their present isolation ... Against this background of unnamed places and abstracted histories, Barakat attempts to create specificity – real human voices. The voices are often piercing; but at times, they are thin, as if imagined only up to the limit of what the narrative thematically requires. Movingly, they seem to address not their mothers or lovers or brothers, but God or some other omniscience ... The five letters are followed by a short section of counterpoints: brief glimpses into the lives of four intended recipients or acquaintances. Rather than letters, these snapshots take the form of internal monologues ... The recitations in Voices of the Lost are searing. Yet the construction of the novel – the device of found letters, the late addition of a heroic postman keeping a register of what cannot be delivered – creates an uneasy space where contrivance is an insistent part of the fabric.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThe work is pared down to its essence, and arrives like a holding space for work to come ... Whereabouts is composed of 46 chapters, or entries, sequenced over the course of a year ... narrative is not what this book is after. Each entry, most only a few pages long, stands on its own; any could be removed without leaving an absence ... The entries sometimes sing and sometimes perplex. This is partly because although written by the same narrator, they seem to emerge from a person not fully realized ... This is a difficult novel because the pain of the narrator’s isolation feels extremely real. The book sheds dramatic structure, connective tissue and other characters, as if they were all part of a lifelong cage ... Where the novel grows thin is when the \'I\' begins nearly every sentence; the more the \'I\' controls the language, the more the life of the mind seems to recede. Lahiri’s commitment — to write fiction in Italian, while also, in this novel, paring language down to a minimalist power — begins to create a generalized syntax, disconcertingly simplified ... It’s not that the descriptions are clumsy; rather, language glides along the surface of things. The polished words sometimes seem to lose contact with living existence, providing instead a skillful description of a two-dimensional world — a picture of a picture.
Mieko Kawakami, trans. by Sam Bett and David Boyd
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Novelist and politician Shintaro Ishihara described Breasts and Eggs as \'unpleasant and intolerable\', which might be another way to say that it is not afraid of sperm, used menstrual pads, poverty and the working poor. Natsuko’s language, as translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd, is actually quite polite. I had the feeling of listening to someone speaking in the dark: casual intimacies interspersed with fanciful, terrifying and dreamlike interludes ... Section one is compact and ferocious ... Section two, the bulk of the book, is digressive and reflective ... In Bett and Boyd’s translation, Kawakami’s feminism is vivid, but the language occasionally feels placid; meanwhile, in Kawai’s translation, feminism and language collide in a way that feels deliciously irreverent.
Yoko Ogawa, Trans. by Stephen Snyder
RaveThe GuardianThe Memory Police is finely translated by Stephen Snyder and reaches English-language readers as if sent from the future. Ogawa’s weightless and unadorned prose weaves a world where memory is always associative; we remember not just the object itself but what it conjures ... The Memory Police doesn’t lend itself to easy analysis; we cannot say the state is Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia or Nazi Germany, or wrap the novel neatly around any specific historical amnesia ... While a reader may feel the need to interpret it solely as a political novel, the book also reads, accurately and passionately, as a profound meditation on dying ... When the story arrives at its fruition, its power seems to come out of the thin air and thin existence in which its characters are trapped. Yet the force of its ending is cumulative and phenomenal, and taps into the very source and meaning of memory. The Memory Police is a masterpiece ... It is a rare work of patient and courageous vision.
Ma Jian, trans. by Flora Drew
RaveThe Guardian...a biting and humane novel of stunning concision ... Bleakly funny, incisive, stinging and – in its most destabilising passages – gut-wrenching, China Dream, brilliantly translated by Flora Drew, is set at a time when reality and dystopia have begun to bleed into one another ... Ma has a marksman’s eye for the contradictions of his country and his generation, and the responsibilities and buried dreams they carry. His perceptiveness, combined with a genius for capturing people who come from all classes, occupations, backgrounds and beliefs; for identifying the fallibility, comedy and despair of living in absurd times, has allowed him to compassionately detail China’s complex inner lives.
Peter Ho Davies
PositiveThe GuardianThroughout the book, Davies’ handling of genre and form, moving from historical romance to fragmented narrative to a final section that presents earlier chapters as the unfinished work of the writer John Smith, is both purposefully distancing and multilayered, creating another history out of alternate puzzle pieces.