Nota Benes, September 2017
The Overlook Press
Canadian writer David Bergen’s Stranger follows a Guatemalan woman who carves a path to the United States through a hostile world steeped in disparity and exploitation in order to retrieve her daughter. Bergen crafts a world not too far removed from our own, neither in time nor condition, through unflinching, intimate prose.
This challenging collection of poetry marks Kamau Brathwaite’s departure from the United States back to his native Barbados—a cultural “lynching” that references the collection’s evocative title. With typography, layout, graphics, syntax, and spelling all on the table as fair game for play, each poem in Strange Fruit demands slow consumption and digestion before moving on to the next.
Z. P. Dala
The Architecture of Loss
When Afroze receives word that her estranged mother is on death’s door, she leaves her home in Cape Town to visit Zululand. As the daughter and mother wade through their pasts to reach reconciliation, they must also navigate the scars and secrets left behind by the country’s Apartheid era. South African author Z. P. Dala’s crisp writing exhumes the festering pieces of the past in a story that strives toward hope and forgiveness.
The Redemption of Galen Pike
Australian author Carys Davies pieces together this collection of short stories with a myriad of characters from all over the globe, detailing their experiences with suffocating isolation. Davies explores each new environment with a precision of language that fully fleshes out the unique environment of every story and makes the characters dynamic and compelling in such a short space.
Trans. Michael Katims
Michèle wakes up on the floor of her living room after having been raped, and the fallout settles on top of a life already tangled into knots. French author Philippe Djian steps into the mind of this independent and caustically sarcastic woman as she maneuvers a web of complex relationships while refusing to become reduced to a victim. His spare, biting prose captures the nuances of strength and weakness, challenging their perceived duality.
Lighthouse for the Drowning
Trans. Huda Fakhreddine & Jayson Iwen
This bilingual collection of Lebanese poet Jawdat Fakhreddine’s poetry (originally published in Arabic in 1996) offers a tantalizing bridge between modernist poetry and the classical Arabic verse tradition. Fakhreddine’s verses are open and intimate yet possess innumerable layers of interpretation in conversation with poets in both the European and Near Eastern tradition.
Trans. Emily D. Johnson
Yale University Press
This translation of letters that Latvian poet and novelist Arsenii Formakov wrote to his family provides a lucid firsthand account of life within the Russian gulags. Risking his safety with each letter, he supplements descriptions of his hardships with his own poetry stemming from the incarceration. Gulag Letters is a piece of history and art plucked out of the stream of time and placed into the present.
The Invented Part
Trans. Will Vanderhyden
The Invented Part chronicles the journey of an author who, dissatisfied with the state of modern literature, decides that in order to rectify the situation he must use the Hadron Collider to become a metaphysical writer capable of rewriting the world into his own story. Argentine author Rodrigo Fresán’s manic prose propels readers from one page to the next.
Torsa Ghosal, a PhD candidate in English at Ohio State University, writes her debut novel of an ethnographer named Ira Chatterjee, whose searches for those who have been forgotten bring her back to her hometown of Kolkata. Constructing the narrative primarily through a series of emails, Ghosal brings readers in with powerful concision.
Turtle Point Press
Erdağ Göknar draws heavily upon his family’s emigration from Turkey to fill this volume of poems that maps out the distances, both physical and conceptual, spanning where we’ve come from to where we are. Rich with history, Nomadologies digs deep into the foundations of notions of home in verses that linger in the mind with the same grace with which they dance across the page.
The Discovery of Honey
The aptly named protagonist of The Discovery of Honey, Hero, is a force to be reckoned with from the day she is born. An omnipotent narrator who revels in disclosing others’ secrets, Hero dashes through a myriad of small-town adventures. Quirky and comedic, Terry Griggs’s work brings a cast of characters to life in rural Canada.
Mohammed Hussein Haikal
Trans. John Mohammed Grinsted
While there is predictable controversy over whether Zainab is the first Arabic novel or the first Egyptian novel, this novel’s powerful critique of the treatment of women near the turn of the twentieth century resonates across the years. Haikal’s depiction of rural Egyptian life is a value-added bonus, ensuring Zainab a central place in the library of any serious admirer of Arab literature.
Omar Robert Hamilton
The City Always Wins
MCD / Farrar, Straus & Giroux
During the 2011 revolution in Egypt, Mariam and Khalil are at the core of the action, fighting for their ideals, their city, and each other, but all that becomes jeopardized when the regime begins to unravel. Omar Robert Hamilton crafts the crackling atmosphere of being at the cusp of a dramatic, historical change.
Treasury of Childhood Memories
Trans. Pamela J. Olubunmi Smith
Pan-African University Press
Akinwumi Isola steps back into his childhood in Yoruba to recount thirteen stories of the antics and adventures of the adolescent boys with whom he spent his youth. His lyrical prose re-creates the memories of friendship and community that have been buried underneath the passing years and changing times, teasing out a better understanding of his world in the process.
Trans. Wieland Hoban
University of Chicago Press
Blumenberg is the story of a German philosopher by the same name and a handful of his students who all come face to face with the sudden appearance of a lion nobody else seems able to notice. Translated from German, Sibylle Lewitscharoff’s work is filled with a likable cast of characters pulled along by the flowing, poetic prose.
Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions
Coffee House Press
In Tell Me How It Ends, Valeria Luiselli sits down to ask undocumented Latin American children in the United States forty questions. Using their responses, she creates this essay to shine a light on them, forcing people to confront the stark reality these children face every day. Sharp and compelling, Tell Me How It Ends demands that they be seen.
The Nine of Diamonds: Surroial Mordantless
Bloodaxe Books (Dufour Editions, distr.)
As much an act of magic as a volume of poetry, The Nine of Diamonds is a psychogeographic collection of poems that asserts MacGillivray’s pride in her Scots heritage. Chock full of death, magic, rage, and power, The Nine of Diamonds jumps off the page like an uncontrollable howl against the unyielding tides of history.
Trans. Anne Milano Appel
Yale University Press
In Blameless, Italian author Claudio Magris centers his story on a collector with an obsessive fervor for relics of war and the inner turmoil of his curator, who cannot tell if her work is revealing the horrors of war or simply deifying them. Magris’s stream of prose braids these pieces of history together into a story that brings the horrors of the past uncomfortably close to the present.
Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab
Jonathan Lewis-Adey’s mother left when he was nine, but when he finds his estranged parent again, he is surprised to find that the person he knew as his mother has become a man named Sydney. Set in the Trinidad of her upbringing, Shani Mootoo’s vivid writing explores the pain and confusion Jonathan experiences as a result of Sydney’s choices.
João Gilberto Noll
Trans. Adam Morris
Two Lines Press
The narrator of Brazilian writer João Gilberto Noll’s Atlantic Hotel tears his way through Brazil, adopting personas and crafting backstories to suit whatever he sets his sights on, until his wandering and deception place him in a situation where he is unable to slink away. Leaping forward at a breakneck pace, the narrator’s chaotic journey, wrapped in uncertainty, carries readers along with him.
Alfredo de Palchi
Trans. John Taylor
Xenos Books / Chelsea Editions
This stunning collection by Italian poet Alfredo de Palchi pairs autobiographical poetic prose with short poems inspired by a trip to his childhood home. Enlivened with themes that range from the erotic to the deeply mystical, Nihil is both a representative cross-sampling of de Palchi’s work as a poet and an impressive testament to more than a decade’s worth of writing begun more than seven decades into a poet’s life.
Trans. Angela Rodel
Set against the backdrop of a Bulgaria under Soviet communism, six neighbors embark on a hunting trip that becomes a collision of passions and histories. With powerfully pragmatic prose, Ivailo Petrov’s tragic work details the deep wounds inflicted on rural Bulgarian communities by the Soviet regime, using the stories of these six men as an intensely personal example.
The Magician of Vienna
Trans. George Henson
The final volume in his “Trilogy of Memory,” The Magician of Vienna is Mexican author Sergio Pitol’s partly fictional autobiography of a life steeped in literature. Through lyrical prose that spins with all the mastery of an acrobat, this book is a rebellion against a degenerative neurological condition that affects him even as he writes it.
Understanding Biographies: On Biographies in History and Stories in Biography
Trans. Gaye Kynoch
University Press of Southern Denmark
In light of a surge of interest in biographies in recent years, Danish historian Birgitte Possing examines the genre to reveal the multiplicity of styles and methods within the field. Wielding her expertise in history and precise language, Possing digs to the center of biography and its place in society, both currently and historically.
J. M. Servin
For Love of the Dollar: A Portrait of the Artist as an Undocumented Immigrant
Trans. Anthony Seidman
Mexican journalist J. M. Servin recounts his nearly ten years in the United States as an illegal immigrant in For Love of the Dollar. Through his critical, cynical, and often humorous prose, Servin reconstructs stories that lend a raw, human element to the discourse of immigration, undocumented workers, and the very concept of being Mexican or American.
History of a Disappearance: The Story of a Forgotten Polish Town
Trans. Sean Gasper Bye
In Poland, the ruins of a small town bury a history of war, displacement, and uranium mining so intense that the town degraded into a shell of itself. Polish journalist Filip Springer fleshes out the history of the town known as Kupferberg, and then Miedzianka, exploring not only the town’s global significance but also adding a human element to the history by looking at the lives of individuals who comprised the town.
Sweet Bean Paste
Trans. Alison Watts
Down on his luck and his dreams out of reach, Sentaro passes his days in a confectionary shop making dorayaki, a Japanese pancake filled with sweet bean paste, until an elderly woman named Tokue changes his life forever. Durian Sukegawa’s concise prose results in a warm tale of human connection.
Trans. Rachael Small
Moroccan writer Abdellah Taїa’s Another Morocco compiles stories from his first two books, creating a selection of stories that paints a picture of working-class Morocco and the strength of those who suffer under oppression. The first openly gay writer to be published in Morocco, Taїa employs his patient, composed prose to explore the maturation of self (see WLT, Sept. 2013, 45–47).
Faustin Titi & Eyoum Nganguè
An Eternity in Tangiers
Trans. André Naffis-Sahely
This compact but powerful graphic novel details one young man’s journey from his home in West Africa toward what he hopes will be a new life in Europe, only to find himself stranded in Tangiers. Artist Faustin Titi’s sensitive line and watercolor finishes bring Eyoum Nganguè’s scenes to life and personalize this eternal story that offers a glimpse into the life of so many African refugees.
A River, One-Woman Deep: Stories
Philippine American Literary House
In this collection of stories, Filipina American Linda Ty-Casper runs her fingers along the scars left behind in the wake of historical events in the Philippines, parsing out what it means to live through and after the trauma of dictatorships and war. Her sobering descriptions of the intersection of the global and personal create a moving narrative, brimming with strength and humanity.
To Each Unfolding Leaf: Selected Poems (1976–2015)
Trans. John Taylor
Bitter Oleander Press
This edition brings the major works of Swiss poet and essayist Pierre Voélin to anglophone readers for the first time. Presented en face, Voélin’s poetry confronts the inhumanity of man to man while navigating the complex relationships between humanity and the natural systems that produced such a complex and conflicted animal.