MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThere are many excellent passages, insightful biographical sketches about the lives of his favorite writers or tender reflections on his beloved wife. And Guillermo Bleichmar’s translation is consistently graceful. But there are too many paragraphs describing his pencils and his favorite cafe, too many environmental catastrophes listed off as if we don’t know about them. Too much simply pointing at realities all of us already see. Where Benjamin’s writing is energized by his erudition Baudelaire’s by passion and invention, and Pessoa’s by his immersive voice, Muñoz Molina’s narrator seems content to catalog, as if writing things down is enough to make them interesting ... It is an increasingly pressing project, as the refuse keeps piling up, but also increasing is the need for imagination in transforming the refuse into something that will move us.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalA collection of six tales, most of them closer in length to novellas than short stories, first published in 1853 and newly translated by Isabel Fargo Cole ... The titles Stifter gave these pieces—each named for a different type of stone—refer to a childhood rock collection he describes in a preface. The point is to assure readers that this is but a humble gathering, each story a simple stone, charming upon close inspection. In reality, Stifter’s tales are not simple at all, but sweeping and complex ... It is through storytelling that drama enters Stifter’s tales. Stories are not just accounts of experience; they are a primary means by which we encounter the world ... Catastrophe is always there, waiting to disrupt the bucolic normalcy, a dark note of existential indifference and an admonition against forgetting ... Had this volume contained an additional six stories, Stifter’s writerly patterns might start to feel repetitive. But the variations here are fresh enough to operate more as themes than formulas, and the collective result is like a map to a particular literary sensibility, a worldview in which storytelling is at the center of humanity, but humanity is not the center of the world.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThese people and events are real, though the book they appear in, ostensibly a memoir, reads much more like a novel, filled with lively characters and satisfying story arcs, but with little of the roughness of real life ... a classic comic-philosophical road story, playfully conscious of its own traditions ... Many of the book’s loveliest passages are pure geography; as he drives, Jay describes to Borges the passing landscapes of Scotland, to which Borges adds literary and historical context. The pressure to capture Scotland in words for the great Jorge Luis Borges forces Jay to think about language in a new way, to \'up his game\' as a poet, and this artistic journey, occurring alongside their physical journey, becomes the book’s emotional backbone: Jay’s coming-of-age, caught between a distant war, a seemingly unrequited love, and the liberating spirit of literature ... Mr. Parini’s efforts to meld his autobiographical story with Borgesian themes comes off a bit forced—a sort of \'Greatest Hits of Borges\' track layered awkwardly over the palimpsest of his own lived experiences ... Borges’s fictions are like bottomless pits you fall into, where philosophical mysteries of identity and consciousness refuse to resolve themselves. Borges and Me holds no such mysteries, which is no doubt part of why its evocation of the spirit of Borges’s fiction falls flat. Jay is a subtly drawn protagonist, but by the end of his journey, his crisis of self has resolved neatly in a carpe diem-style climax, where a confrontation with death (of his friend in Vietnam) becomes a path to embracing life (going after the girl), all of it made possible through his liberating week with Borges. It is perhaps a reasonable ending for a \'novelistic memoir\' but lacks the open-ended complexity of a \'Borgesian ‘fiction’ \'; in that sense, readers looking for an \'encounter\' with Borges will be disappointed. What they will find instead is a fun, tightly crafted, tenderhearted literary adventure, an improbable tale that, like many improbable tales, happens to be true.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewFor most of its 1,000 pages, Lucy Ellmann’s brilliantly ambitious seventh novel follows the unspooling consciousness of an Ohio housewife circa 2017, and does so almost entirely in one long, lyrical, constantly surprising sentence ... her voice has a distinct cadence ... since she is a curious, politically conscious, slightly frenetic person, we step into and out of subjects from Donald Trump to purple martins, global warming to Laura Ingalls Wilder, animal cruelty, school shootings, SpaghettiOs, industrial pollution, hydrangeas, even the word \'hydrangea\' ... At times there’s such fury to these ruminations that the book seems to shift into direct cultural critique; at other times it all seems simply part of the story. The author’s hand never points us either way ... Whatever strangeness it presents has to do with the fact that, notwithstanding Ellmann’s great skills in narrative and character development, the overall effect is less plot-driven drama than vast existential collage. This is a novel, but it is also, fundamentally, a very long and meaningful list ... as accumulative, as pointed, as death-addled, as joyous, as storied, as multitudinous and as large as life.
PanThe New York Times Book Review\"The novel’s drama lies in Daphne’s tale, which God gradually tells: the story of her own messy existence, and the mess she is making of His. Unfortunately, Daphne’s story proves a little scattered, in part because she is kept at such a remove from the reader that she never emerges as a complex, coherent character, only as an object of God’s fascination. Humor is famously tough to translate, and perhaps I Am God is a more successful book in Italian than in this English version. The premise is certainly fun. The problem is that God, here, isn’t provocative or charismatic enough to pull off a one-man show ... If God in a novel cracks a joke, it can be silly or grim or anywhere in between, but it has to be funny.\
Fleur Jaeggy, trans. by Minna Zallman Proctor
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThese are haunting books, both with narrators struggling to retrieve a past that exists only in their memory and through notes and photographs ... they depict the mind in a holding pattern, circling around subjects that, being absent, can never be reached ... That same abyss is visited with a lighter heart and more graceful wit in These Possible Lives, a collection of three biographical essays, lyrically translated by Minna Zallman Proctor ... Brilliant, associative and short, Jaeggy’s essays have the beauty and economy of poems but the souls of portraits.
Clarice Lispector, Trans. by Benjamin Moser & Magdalena Edwards
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe Chandelier fits a common pattern for second novels: It takes up the most remarkable attributes of its author’s first book and does all those same things, only more so. There is the Woolf-like fluidity of inner and outer worlds ... The writing is again relentless, exultant — what a later Lispector character called \'ecstasy without a peak\' — but here it comes in longer stretches and with fewer breaks ... As her thoughts grow increasingly untethered from the physical space of her story, they lose momentum. So much swirling begins to feel, paradoxically, like stasis: less like “flowing” and more like being stuck ... in The Chandelier, it tends to smother whatever else she is up to ... Lispector is up to some extraordinary things. There is her weird genius for description ... There is her uncanny dialogue, and the ease with which she elevates even the most mundane reality.
Fleur Jaeggy, Trans. by Gini Alhadeff
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe first, I Am the Brother of XX, is a collection of stories, monologues and memoir, less cohesive than her previous books but with the same stark, surprising prose, here translated by Gini Alhadeff. These are grim tales, often violent ... Yet even in these softer, melancholic pieces, darkness seems never far away, and literally isn’t, since much of the book is filled with tales of death and madness ... It is also filled, to an uncanny degree, with actual portraits ... For Jaeggy, a painting or photograph is a doorway to the dead, and entering through it involves existential risk.