Book Reviews

Can Xue’s “Five Spice Street”

Who is Madam X? Madam X sells peanuts at the stand with the red-painted sign. Madam X is an occultist, a collector of mirrors and corrupter of neighborhood children. Madam X is a home wrecker. Madam X is a threat to communal harmony and morality. Madam X is a sexual deviant. Madam X is a virgin. Madam… more »

Franz Kafka’s “Amerika: The Missing Person”

Literary translators strive to make their texts count as literature in the language they are translating into. In English, more often than not, this means producing a text that will not threaten to break the spell of reading. Sensitive translators know that there are any number of things that can sever… more »

Satoshi Azuchi’s “Supermarket: A Novel”

In 1969, a dapper and promising young man named Kojima leaves his comfortable position at a renowned bank to come work at his cousin's supermarket chain, an adolescent company with good returns but also many challenges before it. Kojima, a starry-eyed idealist, thinks the supermarket will offer the… more »

Takashi Hiraide’s “For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut”

"Spirits wrapped in a skin of green. Each one lushly growing, a hanging drop of a thunderstorm!" Takashi Hiraide's collection of prose poetry For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut is a multileveled and labyrinthine exploration of how things small in scale have the potential to transcend their physical,… more »

Dumitru Tsepeneag’s “Pigeon Post”

The term "pigeon post" refers to the use of homing pigeons to deliver messages. Perhaps the best known was the French Pigeon Post of the Franco-Prussian War in the late nineteenth century, which allowed messages to travel into Paris across Prussian lines, representing a fluidity between an otherwise… more »

Ingo Schulze’s “New Lives”

In his foreword to New Lives, Schulze writes that he had been casting about for ideas for a new novel and had begun to collect material on a newspaper tycoon, Heinrich Turmer. When he discovers that Heinrich is actually Enrico, a classmate of his in Altenberg and brother of Vera, the woman he loved,… more »

Saša Stanišić‘s “How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone”

"What's going to happen is so improbable that there'll be no improbability left for a made-up story." So thinks Aleksandar Krsmanović on April 6, 1992, the day the war forces his family to move into the basement of his grandmother's apartment building along with friends, neighbors and refugees… more »

Pierre Martory’s “Landscapist”

From swans with amputated purple wings, to a gnome with a hairlip, to a tired unicorn dreaming "of yelling schoolboys, Plato badly digested," Pierre Martory's collection The Landscapist: Selected Poems is certainly one of the most unusual and intriguing books of contemporary poetry. In his introduction… more »

Arkady Babchenko’s “One Soldier’s War”

For Arkady Babchenko, there is no way out. Drafted in 1995 to fight in the first Chechen war, he re-upped in 1999 to fight in the second one. There would never be any life again but the war. "Yesterday's soldiers no longer belong to their parents," he writes of his experience in Chechnya. "They belong… more »

Per Petterson’s “To Siberia”

In 2007 Per Petterson had his second publication in the United States: a short, unostentatious, and penetrating novel entitled Out Stealing Horses. It was a surprising commercial and critical success, propelled in no small part by Thomas McGuane's feature-length review in the New York Times Book… more »

Alaa Al Aswany’s “Chicago”

Since the publication of his successful debut The Yacoubian Building (2004), Alaa Al Aswany has become one of Egypt's most celebrated writers, a vocal opponent to the corruption and nepotism that have characterized President Mubarek's regime. Yet his new novel, Chicago: A Novel(translated from… more »

Rubem Fonseca’s “The Taker and Other Stories”

In Notes from Underground, Dostoevsky writes, "Every man has reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone, but only to his friends. He has other matters in his mind which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But there are other things which a man is afraid… more »

Suzane Adam’s “Laundry”

The story begins in a swirl: "For two days I've been running around, trying to understand, put things together, find some clarity, explain. Not lose my mind. This isn't the time to lose it." The speaker of these sentences, Ephraim, struggles to make sense of the sudden disturbing actions of his… more »

Edgardo Rodriguez Julia’s “San Juan: Memoir of a City”

Cities impose their will upon us, and what we say about them has as much to do with "the regimen cities keep over imagination"* as it does with us. The city that swallows the writer is in turn, however he can manage it, swallowed by the writer: the Dublin of Ulysses, the Paris of Remembrance of Things… more »

Peter Stamm’s “On a Day Like This”

When Andreas, the narrator of Peter Stamm's On a Day Like This, first arrives in Paris from Switzerland to teach school, he sees Chet Baker play. "He sat slumped on a barstool with his trumpet jammed between his legs," he tells Delphine, a colleague half his age, shortly after they become involved.… more »

S. Yizhar’s “Khirbet Khizeh”

Long considered a classic, Khirbet Khizeh—also spelled Hirbet Hizeh (Arabic: The Ruins of Hizeh)—was first published in Israel in 1949, some months after the end of the 1948–49 war. On the surface, this novella is about a clean-up operation in the last months of the war. A small army… more »

Stefan Zweig’s “The Post-Office Girl”

Cultural critic Clive James has called Stefan Zweig "the incarnation of humanism," and a fairer and more apt four-word assessment of the late Austrian writer and his work could not be imagined. Thankfully, New York Review Books Classics recently re-issued their third offering from this sadly largely… more »

Ferenc Karinthy’s “Metropole”

To write of Ferenc Karinthy's Metropole is to emphasize, as Nietzsche reminds us, that we need history, "but not the way a spoiled loafer in the garden of knowledge needs it." Metropole, like Kafka's The Trial, Karin Boye's Kallocain, Huxley's Brave New World and Orwell's 1984, is… more »

Ana Maria Shua’s “Quick Fix”

Flash fiction, sudden fiction, short short fiction—the high school students I've taught prefer the term "nanofiction" for this genre because of the connection with their iPods. This compressed form has flowered in Latin America possibly more than in any other region of the world, from Julio… more »

Rabih Alameddine’s “The Hakawati”

Rabih Alameddine has spun a honeycomb of fable, family history, and Lebanese lore in his newest novel, The Hakawati. I was struck initially by the book's title, the Arabic word for "storyteller." It seems to be the first time a novel has come out from a major press with an Arabic title; moreover,… more »

Carlo Lucarelli’s “Via delle Oche”

If more historical crime fiction were like Carlo Lucarelli's De Luca trilogy, I'd probably read more of it than I do now. What makes Lucarelli's brand different? For one thing, the De Luca books are compact and almost devoid of picturesque period detail. Lucarelli gets at the heart of the… more »

Elena Ferrante’s “The Lost Daughter”

"The hardest things to talk about are the ones we ourselves can't understand." With that simple and unnerving sentence on the second page of this astonishingly economic novel, author Elena Ferrante is giving readers fair warning: brace yourselves, painful, discomforting truths are about to be revealed… more »

Lars Saabye Christensen’s “The Model”

"Model Kits" "Historians who constantly present their Scotland Yard credentials," T. J. Clark writes, "never fail to miss what the real crime was."* In The Model, Lars Saabye Christensen makes certain that Scotland Yard historians are not disappointed. In doing so, of course, his clues blind him as well… more »

Yoko Ogawa’s The Diving Pool: Three Novellas

To watch someone undetected, to observe them from afar, to steal a glance without getting caught—these are powerful pleasures. But it's also a high-stakes game, for there is always the chance of being found out, the met glance and the blushing look away. The narrators in Yoko Ogawa's collection… more »

Jenny Erpenbeck’s “The Old Child & Other Stories” and “The Book of Words”

Addition by Subtraction In Jenny Erpenbeck's fiction, girls are tabula rasa to be instructed step by step by teachers and fathers (state substitutes) to be handmaidens. They are empty vessels to be filled, captives in training to serve. In one story, a teenager arrives at a home for orphans without… more »

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