RaveThe MillionsI count Elisa Gabbert among the essayists I would eagerly read on anything. It happens to be the case that the things that tend to interest her—translation, literary style, and disasters, to name a few—tend to interest me, too. But the real pleasure of reading Gabbert is in letting oneself be carried along in her thinking, which is cuttingly clear and delightfully digressive ... Each [essay] is a journey through some of Gabbert’s idiosyncratic interests by way of her formidable intellect.
Han Kang, Trans. by Deborah Smith
PositiveBookforumThe White Book—which, like all monochromatic meditations, is both about its color and about other matters entirely—is a novel of birth and death in quick succession, circumscribed by another’s life ... The White Book, which is resolutely plotless, follows the narrator’s reckoning with this consuming grief ... whiteness is not simply purity, but something else—something inflected with the inextricability of the living from the dead, the reconstruction from the ruin. Like the color itself, it’s not something that can be accessed directly.
PositiveThe Baffler\"In Normal People, the romance that drives the novel is also shaped by intellectual and political concerns ... Normal People is narrated in close third person, alternating between Connell’s and Marianne’s perspective. This delightfully claustrophobic structure creates the sense that the novel’s central character is neither individual, but the interdependent (or perhaps codependent) couple ... Normal People, it seems, aspires to contest the individualism of the novel form through its own affective resources. This is a subtle goal, and at moments it gets lost among the book’s more conventional pleasures. But it’s also an ambitious one, and Normal People advances the project of Conversations with Friends in a compelling direction ... Rooney may ultimately find a more confrontational vehicle for her politics. But it’s refreshing to see a novelist so earnestly uncertain about the value of her task—and a complex pleasure to read the novels animated by such ambivalence.\
Amos Oz, Trans. by Jessica Cohen
PanThe BafflerOriginally published in Hebrew in 2017 and appearing now in Jessica Cohen’s English translation, Dear Zealots is a rallying cry to liberal Zionists who are growing worried that their vision of Israel’s future has not come to pass. The book attempts its best impression of clarity, directness, and level-headed optimism. It’s a narcotic cocktail of reassurance and shallow philosophizing for those moderates waiting for the age of extremism to pass so they can reclaim control of Israel and bring matters to their reasonable conclusion.
PositiveThe Nation\"This premise proves to be fertile ground for Lipsyte’s masterful satirical style ... With short chapters that shift abruptly in time and perspective, Hark barrels forward in what is less a plot’s steady progression than a series of digressive, accumulating riffs. The form works, not least because it mirrors the activity of Hark himself, whose whole routine began as a comedy act performed at company retreats ... At his best, Lipsyte’s jokes can be side-splitting—but not every joke lands ... At worst, [the book\'s jokes] extend Hark’s satirical viciousness to undeserving targets, which neutralizes its political force ... These missteps aside, the increasingly madcap absurdities of Hark... are in service of a moral vision ... [Hark] sculpts the shittiness into something both transporting and exacting, if not unerring. Of course, this won’t save us. But it’s a start.\
RaveJewish CurrentsBalint brings voluminous knowledge to bear on the trials and modulates gracefully between reportage, biography, and literary criticism. He successfully balances the tasks of bringing to life the narrative’s dramatis personae—principally Kafka and Brod in the past, and Eva Hoffe in the present—with teasing out the literary, political, and philosophical stakes of the conflict ... As Balint illustrates, Kafka has never been a major literary figure in Israel the way he has been in other parts of the world ... It’s strange, then, to think about the Jewish state claiming ownership of a writer on the basis of his Jewishness when his work productively engaged with that Jewishness in a way that is utterly irreconcilable with the self-assured, militantly nationalist Jewishness the state embodies and advances ... any national archive, though it may have some interest in literature as literature, is at least equally concerned with literature as a source of national stature and power. Balint is particularly poetic and poignant on this subject. \'A national literary archive, whether in Marbach or Jerusalem or anywhere else, is neither a neutral repository nor an arbitrary accumulation; it is a shrine to national memory and to the continuity of that memory. Like a church consecrated by its relics, or a temple by its Holy Ark, the archive as reliquary participates in the effort of a nation to distinguish itself from other nations ... They decide what material to archive, how to order it, and who may access it.\'
Clarice Lispector, Trans. by Benjamin Moser & Magdalena Edwards
RaveThe Nation\"The Chandelier rivals The Passion According to G.H. and Água Viva for sheer meditative intensity, but it differs from them in its narrative scope. More than any of these other works, The Chandelier unites Lispector’s narrative and anti-narrative impulses: It traces the path of Virgínia’s life, yet the seductive flow of its prose takes primacy over the articulation of a conventional story line ... The reader comes to feel as if the moments of narrative action are themselves interruptions of the real drama: the flow of the world’s hidden vital force ... What The Chandelier lacks in the narrative complexity and self-questioning that characterize Lispector’s later work, it makes up for in sincerity, ambition, and utter devotion to language’s possibilities.\
Carmen Maria Machado
RaveThe Millions\"Carmen Maria Machado’s debut story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, brilliantly continues Carter’s and Link’s tradition of literary fabulism. In line with the relationship Link proposes between the inherent intertextuality of fantastical literature, it’s also a Pandora’s box of bold re-thinkings of the short story form … Her Body and Other Parties also addresses the ways women’s lives have been and continue to be constrained by narratives that consign disobedient or unmanageable women to categories of madness or monstrosity … Formally daring, achingly moving, wildly weird, and startling in its visceral and aesthetic impact, Machado’s work is unlike any other.\
Yoko Tawada, Trans. by Susan Bernofsky
RaveFull Stop\"...[a] whimsical and wise novel ... The novel’s premise — three generations of famous polar bears who come into intimate contact with humans — is inherently playful, and Tawada nurtures this quality by putting the reality of the events of the first chapter into question in the second by describing the first chapter’s as legendary ... Tawada evokes the boundlessness and richness of possibility associated less with magical realism than with children’s fairy tales ... Memoirs of a Polar Bear puts its playfulness to serious use. With varying degrees of levity, Tawada draws parallels between species divisions and categories of human difference ... The novel’s imaginative acrobatics and philosophical depth are buoyed and energized by Tawada’s prose ... Tawada masterfully transports the reader to this place approaching transcendence, where language — so distinctly human, we suppose — brings us into imaginative intimacy with another kind of being.\
RaveFull StopNtshanga does more than merely illustrate the way this illness, like all things, plays a role in human symbology. Rather, the novel creates a space in which the reader can experience this metaphorization as well as critique it; it thus allows us to engage in the tension between metaphorization’s necessity and its damage. Ntshanga accomplishes this and his many other artistic feats by elegantly intertwining the personal with the political ... a beautiful novel, as fierce and formally innovative as it is lyrical and moving.