Nota Benes, November 2018

Ahilan

Then There Were No Witnesses

Trans. Geetha Sukumaran

Mawenzi House

The Tamil poetry of Sri Lanka is a blend of past and present, telling of the cruelties and splendors of modernity and history alike, here through the eyes of art historian and poet Ahilan in his third volume. This dual-language tribute to the trauma and torture of northeast Sri Lanka is gory and visceral yet lends an air of dignity to the horrific, raw events it transcribes.

 

Radwa Ashour

The Journey: Memoirs of an Egyptian Woman Student in America

Trans. Michelle Hartman

Olive Branch Press

Following Egyptian feminist, critic, and acclaimed writer Radwa Ashour’s time spent at college in the United States, this memoir tells the story not only of Amherst in the 1970s but of the evolution of an artist and activist far from home. Full of honest detail and engaging insight, this window into the first forays of a global figure show the connections of activism and writing across time as well as continents.

 

Linda Berrón

The Dossier

Trans. Mayela Vallejos Ramírez & Edward Waters Hood

Chiringa Press

A Spanish-born writer and educator currently living in Costa Rica, Linda Berrón makes her novel debut in The Dossier. Revising the myth of Don Juan, this edition includes a preface by noted Latin American literature scholars Mayela Vallejos Ramírez and Edward Waters Hood. In form, it is a man’s dive into his own romantic past and future in the form of his recording of lovers in one long dossier—until, of course, one woman breaks the cycle.

 

Best European Fiction 2019

Ed. Alex Andriesse

Dalkey Archive Press

Best European Fiction collects thirty-two works of fiction from across the European world, including numerous pieces in translation. It spans not only language but style and subject matter while running the gamut from lighthearted and humorous to deeply thoughtful and serious. It introduces the reader to the exquisite breadth of these literary traditions and yet never fails to remember that these all come from a thriving, worldwide “Republic of Letters” that reveals something new each time.

 

James Bridle

New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future

Verso

 Technologist James Bridle takes aim at the twenty-first century’s obsession with computation as the solution to all problems, his central argument being that the data we collect has already outstripped our ability to draw meaningful conclusions from it. Touching on a wide variety of topics, including search algorithms, surveillance, climate change, and many more, Bridle makes a compelling case for pumping the brakes on technology to allow ethics to catch up.

 

Zoltán Böszörményi

The Conscience of Trees: Selected Poems

Trans. Paul Sohar

Ragged Sky Press

Veteran Hungarian poet and novelist Zoltán Böszörményi has graced the pages of WLT before—and for good reason. This volume perfectly encapsulates his sophisticated and lofty style of diction as well as his fluid ability to blend ideas, images, and feelings into a flowing river of artistry. The poems provide all the comfort and complexity of a nature walk, gently encouraging the reader to contemplation.

 

The Dark Blue Winter Overcoat and Other Stories from the North

Ed. Sjón & Ted Hodgkinson

Pushkin Press

Bringing together fiction from across the Nordic region, this anthology showcases representatives of the diverse and disparate regions of the European North in a fresh way. Tinged with fairy tale and mythos, the various climates and styles of the authors show a variety of perspectives on the Nordic contribution to literary history as well as the literary future.

 

Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Panopticon

Trans. Tess Lewis

Seagull Books

“Short texts on enormous subjects are nothing new,” says Hans Magnus Enzensberger at the beginning of this series of essays by one of Germany’s premier writers, intellectuals, and critics. Spanning a wide variety of oddities that make up our world, this book of twenty musings is exactly the quick and refreshing read an intellectual might pick up for two minutes or two hours.

 

Anjum Zamarud Habib

Prisoner No. 100: An Account of My Days and Nights in an Indian Prison

Trans. Sahba Husain

Zubaan Books

A moving documentation by a Kashmiri activist, this book tells the true account of one woman’s time in an Indian prison after being arrested circumstantially under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Part journal and part manifesto, the honest and emotionally resonant writing will move anyone interested in the plight of those imprisoned as well as their families, and Habib paints a realistic picture of state politics today.

 

Nicolai Houm

The Gradual Disappearance of Jane Ashland

Trans. Anna Paterson

Tin House Books

This short novel is the first appearance in English of one of Norway’s younger but most gifted authors. In The Gradual Disappearance of Jane Ashland, Nicolai Houm turns the trope of a writer in search of a subject on its head by showing Jane’s tragedies in flashback, elaborating eloquently on her grieving process as she ill-fatedly stumbles through the Dovrefjell mountain range attempting to rediscover inspiration and closure.

 

Bohumil Hrabal

Murder Ballads and Other Legends

Trans. Timothy West

Three String Books / Slavica

Following its original publication by fifty years, this short-story collection by one of Czechoslovakia’s most lauded writers finally appears in English thanks to Timothy West’s translation talents. A mix of old and new, folktales and urban legends, this collection shows Bohumil Hrabal’s surrealist influences as well as his roots in the history of his homeland. It is at once whimsical, darkly comedic, and comes fully illustrated with woodcuts.

 

Petra Hůlová

Three Plastic Rooms

Trans. Alex Zucker

Jantar

In this, her fourth of eight novels, modern Czech writer, commentator, and Jiří Orten Award recipient Petra Hůlová sets a Prague sex worker free to tell her story—and what a story it is. Though fictional, the foul-mouthed and straightforward way that Hůlová’s protagonist delves into her clients’ psychology, personal lives, and the world at large is harshly amusing and draws one in from start to finish.

 

Alicia Kopf

Brother in Ice

Trans. Mara Faye Lethem

And Other Stories

Catalan author Alicia Kopf writes a sort of hybrid novel—“part research notes, part fictionalized diary, part travelogue”—so deft that it received the 2017 English PEN Award. A compelling metaphorical journey that compares the struggles and strains of family to polar expeditions, this cleverly written and illustrated novel doesn’t flinch from its exploration of coming of age in the modern world.

 

Kripi Malviya

ale(theia)

Hawakal

This thin volume by Indian psychologist and poet Kripi Malviya is a case study in the minute made eloquent. Simple words simply put bring out the themes of psychic discovery, awareness, and transcendence that make up the work of this unique writer both on and off the page. Her expertise in multiple fields shows in the diction of technicality mixed with that of the sublime, which together portray a mind turned inside out.

 

Erik Martiny

The Pleasures of Queueing

Mastodon

The Irish comic novel is a recent but much-needed addition to the canon of the Emerald Isle, and The Pleasures of Queueing is a perfect example of the kind of metaphor-strewn playfulness one can expect from such. Telling the story of a very large family and one young man’s attempt to escape its constant din, this novel is as strewn with historical context as it is witticism, making it a joy to read.

 

Hubert Mingarelli

Four Soldiers

Trans. Sam Taylor

The New Press

Set in the harsh winter of 1919 during the Russian Civil War, Hubert Mingarelli brings his lauded abilities to revitalize the familiar in this tale of young men bonding in adult friendship for the first time. A reprieve from war is the opportunity these men seem to crave before inevitably being harshly thrust back to the front lines.

 

Yukiko Motoya

The Lonesome Bodybuilder: Stories

Trans. Asa Yoneda

Soft Skull Press

Imaginative and unusual Japanese dramatist and writer Yukiko Motoya makes her book-length anglophone debut in The Lonesome Bodybuilder, a collection of short stories containing her Akutagawa Prize–winning novella An Exotic Marriage. The stories in this colorful volume see through the veil of the bureaucratic everyday and reveal the surreal that rests behind each changing-room door and under each umbrella.

 

Guadalupe Nettel

After the Winter

Trans. Rosalind Harvey

Coffee House Press

In a tale of intertwining fates and the threads of interiority that connect the most disparate souls, Mexico City–based Guadalupe Nettel perfectly explicates the loneliness of expatriation as well as the gravity of a momentary meeting when one longs for love. In the words of two isolated dreamers, Nettel tracks the course of a lifelong love affair as it fills and empties both parties, with longing tangible in each interaction with one another and their worlds.

 

Wilfred N’Sondé

Concrete Flowers

Trans. Karen Lindo

Indiana University Press

Congo-born French writer Wilfred N’Sondé continues his expansive influence on the French front of the Afropean writers’ movement by chronicling the crushing life of a young girl in Paris’s projects. Amid abuse and murder, Rosa Marie dreams of calm and freedom, showing the harsh truth that sometimes is the mother of the most uncompromising of hopeful and romantic spirits.

 

Kristín Ómarsdóttir

Waitress in Fall

Trans. Vala Thorodds

Carcanet Press

In a wide-ranging anthology of poems selected from seven collections and thirty years of work (thus far), this collection gives anglophone readers a sizable introduction to esteemed Icelandic poet Kristín Ómarsdóttir. The poems tingle with the everyday, snippets of sex, cooking, warfare, and everything in between. The poet’s brevity belies the skill she demonstrates in creating her work, accruing broader meaning with each new piece.

 

The Other Irish Tradition

Ed. Rob Doyle

Dalkey Archive Press

In this anthology of traditional, contemporary, and experimental Irish literature, Rob Doyle’s curation stretches across cultural literary history. He assembles the work of Irish writers who pushed beyond the conventions of their time, whether past or present. Not claiming status as a new canon, this anthology seeks instead simply to offer a new perspective, and it provides an at-once welcoming, defamiliarizing, and intriguing entry into the more obscure side of Ireland’s literary tradition.

 

Yasmina Reza

Babylon

Trans. Linda Asher

Seven Stories Press

Tony Award–winning playwright and novelist Yasmina Reza delivers a story of the extraordinary that so often comes out of the ordinary. Written in simple language that contrasts with the high stakes of the plot, a woman with a heart bigger than her small domestic existence departs on a life-changing journey with a man she just met, not realizing the repercussions, big and small, her risk-taking will entail.

 

Hiroaki Sato

On Haiku

New Directions

When Japanese writer Hiroaki Sato moved to New York at the age of twenty-six, he doubtless had no idea he would one day write a book that would follow the same trajectory. This combination of history and criticism tells of the haiku, one of poetry’s most simple and beloved forms. Moving from its inception in Japanese monasteries to its widespread use in the Western world, Sato gives a complete picture of the form’s journey and significance.

 

Jan-Philipp Sendker (with Lorie Karnath & Jonathan Sendker)

The Long Path to Wisdom: Tales from Burma

Trans. Lisa Liesener & Kevin Wiliarty

Other Press

Over the past twenty years, Jan-Philipp Sendker and his colleagues have accrued a vast catalog of Burmese folk and fairy tales through travel to the region, both for research and for pleasure. With layers that can appeal to any age level and the historic variability one might expect from such a collection, The Long Path to Wisdom is a window into Burmese culture through the lens of a great German storyteller.

 

She Called Me Woman: Nigeria’s Queer Women Speak

Ed. Azeenarh Mohammed, Chitra Nagarajan & Rafeeat Aliyu

Cassava Republic Press

Through twenty-five firsthand accounts of living as a queer woman in Nigeria, the editors of this original and boundary-defying volume show that just as in the West, there is no one way to know or to be LGBTQ. In a country where same-sex marriage is forbidden, these brave individuals tell how they came to know they were different and how they live now, showing the differences and similarities in a community too often whitewashed.

 

Ognjen Spahić

Head Full of Joy

Trans. Will Firth

Dalkey Archive Press

In this collection of sixteen short stories, Montenegrin writer Ognjen Spahić, winner of the 2014 European Union Prize for Literature, snapshots the ordinary but also the extraordinary stories he seems to see in each corner of the land. From vampires to tired husbands, these stories paint precise pictures.

 

Michelle Steinbeck

My Father Was a Man on Land and a Whale in the Water

Trans. Jen Calleja

Darf

Though a first-time novelist, Swiss author Michelle Steinbeck is far from inexperienced, having written in prose, verse, and dramatic forms as well as journalistically. Told in a matter-of-fact yet whimsical style, this morbid bildungsroman tells the “Freudian adult fairy tale” of a woman traveling in search of her father, corpse in a suitcase at her side.

 

Dubravka Ugrešić

American Fictionary

Trans. Celia Hawkesworth & Ellen Elias-Bursać

Open Letter

Originating in the early 1990s, this collection of essays by Neustadt laureate Dubravka Ugrešić is written in the style of dictionary entries that reveal the untruth which so often underlies what we think of as objective fact. Through her terse but poignant observations, Ugrešić pulls away the pleasant wallpaper over the face of global violence and inequality, exposing the absolute uniqueness of life’s opulence in the United States.

 

Malaika Wa Azania

Memoirs of a Born Free: Reflections on the Rainbow Nation

Seven Stories Press

In a South Africa that had already declared itself to be post-apartheid, the image of racial integration and progress put forward by the current government is torn apart by the current generation. Living within structures still ravaged by institutional disparity, the image of the “rainbow nation” is belied by the lived experienced dutifully expounded in this first long-form work by an activist voice of contemporary change for black consciousness.

 

Xie Hong

Mao’s Town

Whyte Tracks

The first of a trilogy that will catalog China’s evolution under Mao Tse-Tung, Chinese poet-turned-author Xie Hong shows the catastrophic effects of being considered different in a differing climate through the eyes of the children in a provincial village. Written with the tender honesty of adolescence, this book is a powerful portrait of not only its historical epoch but of the human spirit at large.

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