PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewI’ve heard it theorized that every great artist circles her own central fire, a core trauma too bright and too hot to touch yet whose light is caught, refracted, in her works. Miriam Toews gets so close to the fire that the pages of her books may as well be singed ... She is the kind of writer for whom the act of writing is clearly more important than being read. Her books are an excavation, an attempt to give shape to her own pain, like a moth who longs to catch the candlelight in its wings ... Toews is a master of dialogue, and she swirls the adults’ perspectives through Swiv’s imperfect ventriloquism as if she were mixing paints ... The reader is pulled into the intimacy of a dysfunctional family whose unconditional love would make any truly dysfunctional family jealous ... This book lives so much further from the flame than some of Toews’s others that the sweet threatens to overpower the bitter, to edge toward the saccharine. The pregnant mother, the dying grandmother — the end is in sight from the beginning, and Toews doesn’t steer away from a climax that knots the bow too perfectly ... If the book’s overwhelming tenderness makes the reader cry, they’ll be, as Swiv’s mother teaches her, \'tears of happiness.\'
Mieko Kawakami, tr. David Boyd and Sam Bett
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewHave you allowed yourself to forget, perhaps for the purposes of survival, the intense clarity with which you saw the world at 14? ... The Japanese novelist Mieko Kawakami has not forgotten ... Reading the notes they pass to each other evokes the same hot flush of shame as stumbling upon one’s own letters from that age ... Impeccably translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd, the book is full of masterly set pieces of violence, scenes of senseless bullying so lucid you can almost feel the pain yourself. To call these moments cinematic is perhaps to do them an injustice ... But the dissonances of the novel align into perfect vision for the breathtaking ending, which is an argument in favor of meaning, of beauty, of life. It is rare for a writer as complex as Kawakami to be so unafraid of closure, to be as capable of satisfying, profound resolution.
Virginie Despentes Trans. by Frank Wynne
MixedThe New York Review of BooksVernon Subutex 1 is grander in its ambition [than Despentes\'s other novels], but it sprawls, the voices of the characters blend together, and it’s occasionally sloppy ... The misogyny and xenophobia of her characters are startlingly aggressive; the book is filled with a bitterness that doesn’t taste quite as clean as rage ... a rather extraordinary act of creation and destruction, a realistic Paris evoked, transformed, and torn apart ... But Despentes, with her ear for spoken French, is almost impossible to translate, and Frank Wynne’s translation is no better than those of her other books ... Wynne, who is Irish, pulls from hacker culture, African-American vernacular, and slang from the north of England in an unfortunate mixture that undercuts a book whose greatest pleasure is the precision of its references.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"... even more metaphysical and experimental than [the author\'s previous works] ... The Silk Road merits being read twice, not because there is more joy to be found in the language once you know where the story is going but because there is something else to be found once you surrender to a journey without a destination ... Davis’s language has been compared to music, and though she can craft a lyrical sentence... much of the writing here reads more like an oblique spiritual handbook ... The Silk Road is unlikely to make its way onto any best-seller lists. And yet, for those willing to get lost in its spiritual haze, there is a uniquely un-2019 pleasure to be found: a meditative bewilderment that just might cede to enlightenment.\
Virginie Despentes, trans. by Emma Ramadan
RaveThe Paris ReviewVirginie Despentes’s ‘90s feminist punk pulp fiction makes for the best summer reading—all of her sparkling rage goes incandescent in the sunshine with a glass of something effervescent ... It’s pulp in every sense: propulsively readable, violent, sexy, with all the satisfaction of an inevitable ending. And yet it’s also a feminist parable, blunt and unrelenting in its wrath.