Book Reviews

Mahmoud Dowlatabadi’s “Missing Soluch”

Published during revolutionary times in Iran in 1979, Missing Soluch is a 500-page tribute to the socialist ideas that so enthused the Iranian intellectuals and writers of that period. Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, who comes from a village in the north-eastern province of Khorasan, has worked in agriculture,… more »

S. Y. Agnon’s “To This Day”

"During the Great War, I lived in the west of Berlin, in a room with a balcony in a small boarding house on Fasanenstrasse." So begins To This Day, Agnon's shortest novel, first published in Hebrew in 1952. The narrator, a young intellectual stranded in Berlin during the war, is presumably at work… more »

Antonio Muñoz Molina’s “In Her Absence”

At the beginning of Antonio Muñoz Molina's In Her Absence, Mario Lopez, a provincial bureaucrat in 1980's Spain, returns home from work to receive a passionate kiss from the young, sophisticated wife he thought had left him for good just a few days before. Little is said about the incident,… more »

Sandor Marai’s “The Rebels”

The Last Waltz It is 1918 in Eastern Europe. In March, the Brest-Litvosk Treaty has been signed by the Soviet Union and the Central Powers, but war continues on the Western front. In May, graduating seniors in Kassa (Kosice, Slovakia today) prepare for graduation. Their original class of 50 in 1914 has… more »

Andrey Platonov’s “Soul”

Andrey Platonov brings out grand claims in others. Most excellent writers do this, but Platonov perhaps belongs in a special league. His chief translator Robert Chandler, in the introduction to the new Platonov collection Soul announces: "All Russians consider Pushkin their greatest poet; in time, I… more »

Mario Vargas Llosa’s “The Bad Girl”

Mario Vargas Llosa's engaging novel The Bad Girl is not only a story of thwarted love, it reveals a haunted swath of the third world diaspora. Its characters are cast about the globe like seeds in the wind. Homeless in their adopted countries, the host of nationalities that populate the novel become… more »

Pascal Mercier’s “Night Train to Lisbon”

Lisbon Calling We speak about the book that changed our life, the encounter that sent us down a path, the person who turned us around. It is at such moments we say we become who we are, and we can no longer, as Edgar Allan Poe's William Wilson discovers, return to the life we left. Raimund Gregorius… more »

Tomás Eloy Martínez’s “The Tango Singer”

Bruno Cadogan, a doctoral student in Spanish Literature at New York University, is making little progress on his dissertation, a study of Jorge Luis Borges's essays on the tango. As he wanders through the Village, a chance encounter with a specialist in Latin American culture launches him in a new… more »

Aharon Megged’s “The Flying Camel and the Golden Hump”

"Every book one opens, one finds in it things not found before."—S. Y. Agnon Published in Israel in 1982, and narrated in forty-two titled chapters, The Flying Camel and the Golden Hump, is an octopus of a novel, its referential tentacles reaching deep into the Western literary canon, as well as… more »

Dorothea Dieckmann’s “Guantanamo”

The United States has secret prisons spread throughout the world and a detention facility at a military base in Cuba specifically created to extract information from its inmates, most of whom are never charged with a crime. Faced with this news, Dorothea Dieckmann avoids high-minded rhetoric and angry… more »

Andrzej Stasiuk’s “Nine”

REQUIEM FOR NOTHING It is the blasted landscape the films of Bela Tarr, Fred Kelemen and Ilya Khrzhanovsky conditioned us to see. A vista the surrealist landscapes of Jan Saudek opened up. The grim, abandoned backwater of an Eastern Europe writhing under runaway capitalism. We have entered Tarkovsky's… more »

Fatou Diome’s “The Belly of the Atlantic”

"How each of us manages to make more evident his own resistance. For that is the way a man comes to core. By way of, the discovery of, his own resistance. (It is also, mark you, the way a poet – at least – makes himself of USE to society." – Charles Olson. The third-world native must… more »

Eça de Queirós’s “The Maias”

In a preface to the 1903 printing of his novel A rebours, Joris-Karl Huysmans lamented the greatness of Flaubert's Sentimental Education. The "paradigm of Naturalism," the novel fired a generation of writers. But: "it brought us little profit. It was perfect down to the last detail, and even Flaubert… more »

Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah is not Obliged

I was on a bus in Mali, somewhere in the desert between Bamako and Ségou, when we suddenly lurched to a stop. The sun was just starting to set, and the man sitting next to me said solemnly, "It's time for prayers." As we all shuffled off the bus, he threw his arm around the shoulders of the… more »

“Lost Paradise” by Cees Nooteboom

"The Darkness of the Lived Moment" One does. She, someone, she is not sure, leaves her home in a wealthy neighborhood of Sao Paolo and drives, she does not know why, perhaps it had been the car or Bjork on the tape deck that had done the driving, to "the very worst favela of all, a hell rather than a… more »

Anna Politkovskaya “A Russian Diary: A Journalist’s Final Account of Life, Corruption, and Death…”

Anna Politkovskaya's brutal murder reveals the incredible risks and the dangers she faced as a journalist reporting on the limitations of Russian democracy. A Russian Diary, her blow-by-blow catalogue of power abuses by and under Putin's government was being translated when, on October 6, 2006,… more »

“Written Lives” by Javier Marias

It is a small but unmistakable invitation to chaos in the prologue to his newly translated Written Lives when Javier Marias deadpans that he has made up "almost nothing" in the content of this book. Written Lives is a collection of biographies of canonical authors, and making up anything would constitute… more »

“Beside & Other Stories” by Uri Nissan Gnessin

Uri Nissan Gnessin was born in 1879 in a small town in the Ukraine. His father was a rabbi (a Lubavitcher), yet in addition to studying at his father`s yeshiva, Gnessin, with his father's perhaps reluctant permission, immersed himself in secular subjects, seeing himself as part of the Haskala (Enlightenment)… more »

Enrique Vila-Matas’s “Montano’s Malady”

In his second novel to be published in English in the US, Spanish writer Enrique Vila-Matas follows, sometimes quite literally, in the footsteps of authors as various as Cervantes, Montaigne, and Musil in a bi-continental search for the purpose of literature in a shifting world that seems evermore to… more »

“Paradise Travel” by Jorge Franco

Paradise Travel, the entrancing new novel by Jorge Franco, offers a heartbreaking and illuminating glimpse of the multi-faceted and confusing world of illegal immigrants in the U.S. For Franco, the Medellín-born prize-winning author of Maldito Amor, Mala Noche, and Rosario Tijeras, the underside… more »

The Mystery Guest by Grégoire Bouillier

In the middle of a cold Sunday afternoon, a thirty-year-old Frenchman sleeps on the sofa in his darkened Paris apartment. The phone rings. He picks up the receiver and hears the voice of the woman who left him four years earlier without a word of explanation. None is forthcoming: after four years of… more »

“A Heart So White” by Javier Marías

In A Heart So White Javier Marías examines the commonplace yet peculiar institution of marriage and all its attendant secrets and betrayals. Juan is a newlywed translator who shuttles between the UN in New York and the Hague for six to eight weeks at a time, while his young bride Luisa, also a… more »

“Preliminaries” by S. Yizhar

S (milansky) Yizhar (1916-2006) was born in Rehovot, in what was then Ottoman Palestine. His father, Ze'ev Smilansky, also a writer, had arrived from Russia at the turn of the twentieth century, and, like the father plowing a field in the first pages of Preliminaries, had come to take part in "the… more »

“Out Stealing Horses” and “In the Wake” by Per Petterson

Reviewed by Radhika Jones The narrator of Out Stealing Horses, sixty-seven-year-old Trond, is a man equally consumed by his past and his present. This balancing act between the reflectiveness of age and the action of youth gives structure to Per Petterson's affecting fifth novel, his second to be… more »

“The Savage Detectives” by Roberto Bolaño

When we consider Roberto Bolaño, we might also think of D. H. Lawrence or Yukio Mishima. Like them, he lived a mythic, tragic life. Like them, he compressed into a short period--in his case, a single decade--a lifetime's production of beautiful pages. And also like them, the myth of the man… more »

“Lost City Radio” by Daniel Alarcón

As the title might imply, the setting for this engaging first novel is never clearly defined. We are told of a chaotic South American city, nameless villages stashed away in an untamed jungle, and an anonymous war that has wrecked this unidentified country. Additional details, however, are left murky… more »

“The Inquisitors’ Manual” by António Lobo Antunes

The Portuguese novelist António Lobo Antunes has devoted much of his literary career to illuminating the period in his country's history from the waning years of the Salazar dictatorship, which ended in 1968, through the tumultuous return to democracy after the Carna-tion Revolution of 1974.… more »

Patrick Chamoiseau “Solibo Magnificent”

On Carnival evening in Fort-de-France, a magnificent teller of tales suddenly collapses on stage and dies, his throat snickt by the word. Whodunit and how? This rollicking novel packed with startling turns of phrase and set to a gently manic Caribbean beat, conducts an investigation into a universe that… more »


Before there was Brave New World, before there was Orwell's 1984, there was We. This classic dystopian fantasy is more philosophical and, despite its precision, humane than the stinging satires that followed it. But whatever it misses in satirical bite, it more than makes up for in its exacting and… more »

The Double

Most English classes teach us that parables and morality tales are antiquated forms of literature, replaced, in the way of natural evolution, by that creation of hardy Anglo-Saxon realism, the novel. But in truth, what new agers call "wisdom literature" has never left us, and the Portugese writer, Jose… more »

Money to Burn by Ricardo Piglia

Love and betrayal complicate a robbery gone wrong in this edgy true-crime novel based on a 1965 Argentine bank robbery. There's the drama of the botched raid itself, followed by a blowout afterparty, an attempted double-crossing of the corrupt local authorities, and a final shootout where, as a last… more »

Season of Migration to the North

A first reading of Tayeb Salih's Season of Migration to the North can be a bewildering experience. The episodic manner in which the story is laid out means that important information about the characters and their past is left out, thus giving the reader a sense of being lost in a strange country… more »

The Three-Arched Bridge by Ismail Kadare

Two books could not differ more in their approach to the barbarities visited upon the Balkans than S. and The Three-Arched Bridge. While Drakulić is at heart a reporter laying bare sickening truths, Kadare, exiled to France from his native Albania and a longtime subject of the repressive Hoxha regime,… more »

Chile: A Traveler’s Literary Companion

Marvelously concise yet richly detailed, here are twenty-two short stories by masters of Chilean literature (known and unknown) from Jose Donoso to Pablo Neruda. Organized as a travelogue, the stories take you from the coastal towns of El Norte to the heartland of Chile's El Centro to Tierro del… more »


If The Almond's subtitle-"The sexual awakening of a Muslim woman"-is not enough to draw a prospective reader's eye, its cover almost certainly is. The American edition of the novel, published pseudonymously (as was the original French), shows a woman's body from the knees up, arms raised… more »

The World Republic of Letters

"National literature is now rather an unmeaning term; the epoch of world literature is at hand, and every one must strive to hasten its approach," declared J.W. Goethe in 1827. He was right that a global literary culture would be generated by a "commerce of ideas among peoples" led by "the translator… more »

S.  A Novel of the Balkans

S. is less a work of fiction than an assault. Reading this novel is like entering a long, dark alley in an unfamiliar city. The pressure--and even stark fear--does not relent until the path has been fully traversed and one has reencountered the light. Yet S. is no melodrama or thriller. It is a stark,… more »


A Woman in Berlin could be a figment of a historian's imagination, so neatly and thoroughly does it satisfy curiosity about a moment in time. The anonymous journal of a thirty-four-year-old German journalist, A Woman in Berlin documents the final days of the Second World War, when Soviet troops took… more »


Have Mercy on Us All is a crime novel in the tradition of Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. It is the twelfth in a series by the French author Fred Vargas, a woman who decided to take on this nom de plume inspired by Ava Gardner's character in The Barefoot Contessa. Vargas is also a historian… more »

Summer In Baden-Baden

Plunging into this novel, one immediately loses one's bearings. The unrelenting rush of words triggers a dreamlike state that recedes only with the final line. The story opens with an unnamed narrator traveling to Leningrad at a snowy, gloomy time of year. In a parallel journey, Fyodor Dostoyevsky… more »

LOVERS OF ALGERIA by Anouar Benmalek

"This place is not worth living in," Jallal, the nine-year old orphan who spends his days on the streets selling peanuts and rummaging through garbage dumps, cries out again and again. His is a life of poverty and misery-a hard, sordid life, unfitting of a child. But Jallal lives in Algeria and in Algeria-at… more »


Luther Blissett is a Jamaican soccer player who, when acquired by the team AC Milan in the early 1980s, saw his career plummet as he was subjected to the sarcasm and racism of Italian soccer fans. His sorry tale inspired a group of Italian artists to take on his name and start a project that ranges from… more »


The stories that make up Celestial Harmonies, Péter Esterházy's exhilarating family saga, have doubtless been passed down through countless generations, but surely they have never been told in such an adrenaline-fueled rush, tumbled together into a vigorous narrative that is part history,… more »


Snow is not the first thing that comes to mind when most Westerners think of Turkey. Americans are most likely to have encountered only the country's Mediterranean coast, bikini-clad and by boat. So it is disorienting from the first to enter a novel set in a provincial eastern Turkish city in a heavy… more »

The Jaguar’s Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey by Salman Rushdie

Discovering Victoria Ocampo translations of Tagore (Tago-ray in local speak) is only one of the surprises in store when East encounters West in this magically realist voyage through Nicaragua by the Bombay-born Rushdie. Written in the mid 80's, when Sandinista was a household name in the U.S., the… more »


Constructed as a series of vignettes about characters whose fates will soon converge, a stylistic device highly popular in today's Hollywood, Egyptian author Alaa Al Aswany's Arabic best-seller The Yacoubian Building brings to life a seedy and despicable Cairo where only the corrupted and the… more »


Of the countries of the European Union, Poland boasts a comparatively high number of living or late poets who are known to the general public of American readers. This familiarity has often had to do more with circumstances of geopolitics than of poetics. Czesław Miłosz, Zbigniew Herbert, Tadeusz Różewicz,… more »


The first person we meet in this German war novel is already dead. Like most of the characters he is identified only by his rank (Lance Corporal). Killed by a rocket salvo, he dangles from a tree in a forest outside Leningrad. His hands and one foot are missing. A machine gun burst cuts down the tree… more »

Marjane Satrapi “Embroideries”

After a hearty lunch in Tehran, the men go off to sleep while the women wash the dishes. Marji prepares the samovar, steeping the tea for the proper forty-five minutes. She serves the older women in the drawing room, and thus begins an Olympic bout of trashtalking, Iranian style. "To speak behind others'… more »


Nina Berberova's Moura: The Dangerous Life of the Baroness Budberg chronicles a riveting moment in modern history through the eyes of Baroness Maria ("Moura") Ignatievna Zakrevskaya Beckendorff Budberg, a Russian aristocrat forced to employ great cunning to survive in the post-Revolution. This is… more »

Ernesto Sábato “The Tunnel”

At an art exhibition, a painter sees a woman admiring one of his works. Surprisingly, she has focused on the exact corner of the canvas that holds the key to the painting: a remote scene of a solitary woman staring out over the sea framed in a tiny window. The painter becomes consumed with the mysterious… more »

Lizard Tails by Juan Marsé

Lyrical language drives this novel set in World War II Barcelona and narrated by the unborn brother of the central character, fourteen-year-old David Bartra. David lives with his mother, Rosa, the beautiful wife of a communist insurgent who has gone into hiding; as the story opens she is under the surveillance… more »


In 1968, Ignacio Gallego, the patriarch of the Spanish Community Party, severed ties with a willful daughter, who had just given birth to a toddler with cerebral palsy in Moscow. The Kremlin covered for Gallego's callousness and informed his daughter that the boy, who was being held in a special… more »

The Noodle Maker

The pace of change in China over the last fifteen years has been extraordinarily fast; the pace at which its literature reaches us in translation shamefully slow. Chinese dissident writer Ma Jian is already known in the English-speaking world for his award-winning travel memoir of rural China in the… more »

Götz and Meyer by David Albahari

Serbian writer David Albahari's new novel is a deeply unnerving tale of obsession and memory, part Holocaust story and part rumination on the incompatibility of history and storytelling. The nameless narrator, a teacher whose family was killed in a Belgrade concentration camp, sets himself the task… more »

Conjugal Love by Alberto Moravia

Throughout his long and astonishingly productive career, Alberto Moravia never stopped exploring the erotic highways and byways. Of course, he tended to look on the dark side. Readers of his many fictions will search in vain for a life-affirming roll in the hay. Instead Moravia zoomed in on the pitfalls,… more »

A Woman in Jerusalem by A. B. Yehoshua

"He had now devoted three whole days to this woman, laboring faithfully on her behalf after giving his impulsive word to make her anonymous death his business." This short sentence (p. 143) could stand on its own as a capsule of a human story, very much like Hemingway's famous: "For sale. Baby shoes.… more »

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