RaveThe StarBoyagoda sets up a tightly paced novel in Original Prin that succeeds on a number of fronts. It’s a hilarious romp of a campus novel, poking fun at the market-driven ethos of the modern Canadian academy. It’s a touching look at the complicated sacrifices demanded of familial love. At heart, it’s a richly humorous novel that explores the struggle for spiritual believers in a fiercely secular world ... The first in a projected trilogy, Boyagoda ends the book on a cliffhanger that feels a tad too abrupt, a little too much like an adrenalin-filled Netflix season finale. With an instantly likeable protagonist...and a first-rate cast of supporting characters...in this first instalment, Boyagoda has crafted a novel that’s fresh and utterly original.
MixedToronto StarBarr unearths this period in South African history in part to explore how the brutal legacy of colonialism—first by Boer settlers, then by the British—sowed the seeds of racial division that plague the country today ... His history lessons are instructive and carefully researched ... Balancing the terrors...Barr offers moments of intimacy and tenderness ... While mostly adept at bridging these distant time periods, alternating the two narratives, rather than presenting the stories in strict side-by-side chronology, might have increased tension and deepened thematic resonance. The greatest disappointment lies in how the novel mostly evades the stories of Black and mixed-race South Africans ... Which is a shame, for Barr’s writing is strong, and his gifts for evoking the nuances of complex political history are elsewhere superb.
Ondjaki, trans. by Stephen Henighan
RaveToronto StarTransparent City is a lively and invigorating novel now available to English-speaking readers ...
Lucky for us. With Transparent City, Ondjaki takes his place among the great fabulists of the past century ... His shape-shifting prose has a lighter touch than the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but like the Colombian master, Ondjaki uses magic realism as a playful and blistering indictment against the tyrannical state ... It’s the exhilarating, kinetic emotion of the novel, however, that quickly seizes the reader ... Ondjaki has a knack for getting deep inside the hearts and minds of his characters ... a contemporary masterpiece.
PositiveToronto Star\"Farah’s fierce intelligence and deep compassion result in a morally complex, deeply affecting novel ... By shifting points of view between several of the main characters — most notably Mugdi and Naciim — he offers contrasting perspectives on questions of home, belonging, and faith ... Farah goes a little too easy on Norwegian society. There are few instances in the book of overt racism, for example. Instead, in Farah’s vision, Norwegians are unerringly tolerant and exceedingly helpful to newcomers, despite the rise in xenophobia across the country in recent years ... Nevertheless, North of Dawn is a fine introduction to Farah’s work, and an important exploration of the devastating impacts of religious radicalization.\
Mario Vargas Llosa, Trans. by Edith Grossman
MixedThe Toronto StarAt first glance, The Neighborhood is a thriller begging for more thrill. Vargas Llosa’s prose — at least in Edith Grossman’s workmanlike translation — is here flaccid and uninspired. What should perhaps be the most salacious details of Enrique’s sordid affair — a brazen orgy conducted under the influence of cocaine — reads instead like third-rate erotica ... His descriptions of the day-to-day fears of average Limeños — arrests, beatings, brutal murders — are crisp and wholly believable. The author is superbly skilled at demonstrating how class and race intersect to privilege or undermine ordinary Peruvians. While little sympathy is felt for the Miami-trotting, navel-gazing world of Enrique and his set, this perhaps is Vargas Llosa’s intention.
Yan Lianke, Trans. by Carlos Rojas
RaveThe Toronto StarYan Lianke’s latest English translation finds the Chinese master at the top of his game ... Taken together, Lianke’s pair of works, while set in rural China, offer a golden opportunity to reflect on our own fraught times. His satirical eye and generous heart are finely rendered in Carlos Rojas’ superb translation. These are tales to savour.
RaveThe Toronto Star...[a] gripping debut novel ... Habash deftly unpacks the recurring anxieties of millennial masculinity. Stephen’s physical grappling becomes an exquisite and complicated metaphor for the emotional and existential struggle of so many young North American men ... Much of the novel’s tension lies in grim uncertainties and Habash is gifted in his ability to imbue even the most mundane scene with nuance and muted suspense ... Despite its contemporary sensibility, the cryptic absence of technology — no smart phones, computers, social media, or texting — imbues the tale with a noirish, Twin Peaks feel ... A spellbinding coming-of-age novel, Stephen Florida is not the kind of book content with clean plot lines or loose ends tied up neatly. Instead, it’s a deeply satisfying peek into the mind and heart of a troubled young man trying desperately to rein in the chaotic and multiplying forces of a world he cannot control.
RaveThe Toronto StarWhile it’s become de rigueur to compare emerging short story practitioners with Munro, in the case of Willis, the comparison feels apt. Like Munro, Willis packs entire lifetimes into a scant few pages. And like Munro’s best work, these are stories concerned with the rueful backward glance; the almost archeological fascination with the lost ephemera of daily life ... While Willis’ concerns often veer into pop culture, she has a particular gift for exploring the simmering, underground power of teenage sexuality. Whether hooking up in the suburbs, skinny-dipping at summer camp, or trading shopping mall blowjobs for cash, her teenagers are in a perpetual struggle for autonomy, rapture, revelation, or simply a way to pass the time. As a whole, these are stories that eschew the tendency of many contemporary writers to call too much attention to acrobatic language or cool, ironic prose. Her writing is crisp, economical, unfailingly generous. These are compassionate stories, anchored in the belief that our lives achieve meaning through the stories we tell ourselves about our own experiences ... It’s this off-kilter two-step between deviance and redemption, shame and self-acceptance that imbues the work with its rich emotional power. This is a fully mature, beautiful realized collection. Indeed, in this dazzling suite of stories, Willis cements her rightful claim as a major new voice in Canadian fiction.