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Reading Lists

The Watchlist: January 2022

Each month, Tobias Carroll shares a handful of recently released or forthcoming titles in translation that he’s especially excited about. This month's selection includes translated books from Mexico, Japan, Haiti, Argentina, and Norway.

From Deep Vellum Publishing | The Love Parade by Sergio Pitol, translated from the Spanish by George Henson | Fiction | 280 pages | ISBN 9781646051137 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “At the same time a fast-paced detective investigation and an uproarious comedy of errors, this novel cemented Pitol’s place as one of Latin America’s most important twentieth-century authors. Winner of the Herralde Prize in 1984, The Love Parade is the first installment of what Pitol would later dub his Carnival Triptych.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Mexican writer and Cervantes Prize winner Pitol (Mephisto’s Waltz), who died in 2018, offers an enticing and byzantine story of political intrigue set in Mexico City in 1973. Historian Miguel Del Solar seeks the truth about the murder of Erich Maria Pistauer, which occurred in 1942 in the Minerva building when Miguel was 10 and living there with his aunt, uncle, and his aunt’s unsavory brother, Arnulfo Briones, Erich’s stepfather.”

What I say: I’m always up for an interesting riff on a traditional mystery, and the way The Love Parade is structured around the investigation of a decades-old mystery means that it absolutely fits that bill. Throw in some fascinating real-life history about Mexico’s involvement in World War II, and then add a structure that sends the novel’s protagonist into increasingly complicated relationships; the result is both absorbing and offbeat.

 

From Farrar, Straus and Giroux | Present Tense Machine by Gunnhild Øyehaug, translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson | Fiction | 176 pages | ISBN 9780374237172 | US$25.00

What the publisher says: “On an ordinary day in Bergen, Norway, in the late 1990s, Anna is reading in the garden while her two-year-old daughter, Laura, plays on her tricycle. Then, in one startling moment, Anna misreads a word, an alternate universe opens up, and Laura disappears. Twenty years or so later, life has gone on as if nothing happened, but in each of the women’s lives, something is not quite right.”

What NPR says: “By synthesizing the sci-fi trope of parallel universes with stories from Genesis, as well as Greek mythology (i.e., Orpheus and Eurydice, Demeter and Persephone), Present Tense Machine—seamlessly translated by Kari Dickson—assumes varied yet unifying forms: as a gestational fable with a beginning, and middle, but no end; a metaphysical poem on infinite loop; a refutation and affirmation of mortality; and a lyrical essay on the gaps between an original text and its translation.”

What I say: Present Tense Machine isn’t your typical novel of alternate timelines and parallel universes. In many ways, it’s a kind of extended discussion of those works, and one that presents its own contents as a viable alternative to them. But it’s also suffused with an overarching sense of loss, which Øyehaug conveys throughout the book; it makes the moments where transcendence overpowers that loss all the more powerful.

 

From Amazon Crossing | Blue by Emmelie Prophète, translated from the French by Tina Kover | Fiction | 128 pages | ISBN 9781542031295 | US$12.95

What the publisher says: “Traveling alone from Miami to Port-au-Prince, our narrator finds comfort at the airport. She feels free to ponder the silence that surrounds her homeland, her mother, her aunts, and her own inner thoughts. Between two places, she sees how living in poverty keeps women silent, forging their identities around practicality and resilience. From a distance, she is drawn inevitably homeward toward her family and the glittering blue Caribbean Sea.”

What Litro says: “Prophète has worked as a broadcast journalist, a cultural attaché, and as the director of Haiti’s national library. As a writer, however, she occupies spaces that are abandoned, misrepresented and unseen, spaces that are inaccessible to the international literary elite, to her readers in Europe, to the government, the police, to anyone on the outside looking in.”

What I say: “Journeys always ended with a coffee. I loved the taste of airports,” says Blue’s narrator early in this short novel. Prophète, via Kover’s translation, demonstrates an impressive gift for lyrical prose. What makes Blue stand out is the way she turns familiar spaces—like, say, airports—into the sites of moments of beauty and reflection.

 

From NYRB Classics | The Silentiary by Antonio di Benedetto, translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen | Fiction | 176 pages | ISBN 9781681375625 | US$16.95

What the publisher says: “The Silentiary takes place in a nameless Latin American city during the early 1950s. A young man employed in middle management entertains an ambition to write a book of some sort. But first he must establish the necessary precondition, which the crowded and noisily industrialized city always denies him, however often he and his mother and wife move in search of it.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “[The] hero’s existential predicament might recall Kafka or Dostoevsky, albeit on a lighter scale. It develops in spare, careful prose and sustains a thread of dry humor in the narrator’s self-importance, especially in the pomposity and awkwardness of his expressions (shades of John Kennedy Toole’s Ignatius Reilly), suggesting the fledgling writer trying his tiny wings.”

What I say: Tonally, The Silentiary is nearly impossible to pin down—which is one of its many impressive qualities. On the surface, this is a work modest in scale and absurdist in execution; that said, it’s also a book that rewards deeper reading and analysis. Juan José Saer’s introduction to this edition offers plenty of food for thought.

 

From Columbia University Press | Longing and Other Stories by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, translated from the Japanese by Anthony H. Chambers and Paul McCarthy | Fiction | 158 pages | ISBN 9780231202152 | US$20.00

What the publisher says: “Most acclaimed for his postwar novels such as The Makioka Sisters and The Key, Tanizaki made his literary debut in 1910. This book presents three powerful stories of family life from the first decade of Tanizaki’s career that foreshadow the themes the great writer would go on to explore.”

What The Wall Street Journal says: “In all three stories, tears are the universal lubricant on which the plot machinery glides. Though there’s some joking and laughter, Tanizaki’s characters are frequently observed weeping. Theirs are lives in extremis.”

What I say: There’s a tremendous sense of loss shared by all three of the stories collected in this volume, with regret lurking close behind. Whether focusing on a dreamer wandering through a mythic landscape or a man becoming acutely aware of his own flaws, Tanizaki creates characters whose psychologies resonate and whose flaws are engaging.

 

Looking for more reading suggestions? Check out Tobias Carroll’s recommendations from last month.

 

Disclosure: Words Without Borders is an affiliate of Bookshop.org and will earn a commission if you use the links above to make a purchase.

English

From Deep Vellum Publishing | The Love Parade by Sergio Pitol, translated from the Spanish by George Henson | Fiction | 280 pages | ISBN 9781646051137 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “At the same time a fast-paced detective investigation and an uproarious comedy of errors, this novel cemented Pitol’s place as one of Latin America’s most important twentieth-century authors. Winner of the Herralde Prize in 1984, The Love Parade is the first installment of what Pitol would later dub his Carnival Triptych.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Mexican writer and Cervantes Prize winner Pitol (Mephisto’s Waltz), who died in 2018, offers an enticing and byzantine story of political intrigue set in Mexico City in 1973. Historian Miguel Del Solar seeks the truth about the murder of Erich Maria Pistauer, which occurred in 1942 in the Minerva building when Miguel was 10 and living there with his aunt, uncle, and his aunt’s unsavory brother, Arnulfo Briones, Erich’s stepfather.”

What I say: I’m always up for an interesting riff on a traditional mystery, and the way The Love Parade is structured around the investigation of a decades-old mystery means that it absolutely fits that bill. Throw in some fascinating real-life history about Mexico’s involvement in World War II, and then add a structure that sends the novel’s protagonist into increasingly complicated relationships; the result is both absorbing and offbeat.

 

From Farrar, Straus and Giroux | Present Tense Machine by Gunnhild Øyehaug, translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson | Fiction | 176 pages | ISBN 9780374237172 | US$25.00

What the publisher says: “On an ordinary day in Bergen, Norway, in the late 1990s, Anna is reading in the garden while her two-year-old daughter, Laura, plays on her tricycle. Then, in one startling moment, Anna misreads a word, an alternate universe opens up, and Laura disappears. Twenty years or so later, life has gone on as if nothing happened, but in each of the women’s lives, something is not quite right.”

What NPR says: “By synthesizing the sci-fi trope of parallel universes with stories from Genesis, as well as Greek mythology (i.e., Orpheus and Eurydice, Demeter and Persephone), Present Tense Machine—seamlessly translated by Kari Dickson—assumes varied yet unifying forms: as a gestational fable with a beginning, and middle, but no end; a metaphysical poem on infinite loop; a refutation and affirmation of mortality; and a lyrical essay on the gaps between an original text and its translation.”

What I say: Present Tense Machine isn’t your typical novel of alternate timelines and parallel universes. In many ways, it’s a kind of extended discussion of those works, and one that presents its own contents as a viable alternative to them. But it’s also suffused with an overarching sense of loss, which Øyehaug conveys throughout the book; it makes the moments where transcendence overpowers that loss all the more powerful.

 

From Amazon Crossing | Blue by Emmelie Prophète, translated from the French by Tina Kover | Fiction | 128 pages | ISBN 9781542031295 | US$12.95

What the publisher says: “Traveling alone from Miami to Port-au-Prince, our narrator finds comfort at the airport. She feels free to ponder the silence that surrounds her homeland, her mother, her aunts, and her own inner thoughts. Between two places, she sees how living in poverty keeps women silent, forging their identities around practicality and resilience. From a distance, she is drawn inevitably homeward toward her family and the glittering blue Caribbean Sea.”

What Litro says: “Prophète has worked as a broadcast journalist, a cultural attaché, and as the director of Haiti’s national library. As a writer, however, she occupies spaces that are abandoned, misrepresented and unseen, spaces that are inaccessible to the international literary elite, to her readers in Europe, to the government, the police, to anyone on the outside looking in.”

What I say: “Journeys always ended with a coffee. I loved the taste of airports,” says Blue’s narrator early in this short novel. Prophète, via Kover’s translation, demonstrates an impressive gift for lyrical prose. What makes Blue stand out is the way she turns familiar spaces—like, say, airports—into the sites of moments of beauty and reflection.

 

From NYRB Classics | The Silentiary by Antonio di Benedetto, translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen | Fiction | 176 pages | ISBN 9781681375625 | US$16.95

What the publisher says: “The Silentiary takes place in a nameless Latin American city during the early 1950s. A young man employed in middle management entertains an ambition to write a book of some sort. But first he must establish the necessary precondition, which the crowded and noisily industrialized city always denies him, however often he and his mother and wife move in search of it.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “[The] hero’s existential predicament might recall Kafka or Dostoevsky, albeit on a lighter scale. It develops in spare, careful prose and sustains a thread of dry humor in the narrator’s self-importance, especially in the pomposity and awkwardness of his expressions (shades of John Kennedy Toole’s Ignatius Reilly), suggesting the fledgling writer trying his tiny wings.”

What I say: Tonally, The Silentiary is nearly impossible to pin down—which is one of its many impressive qualities. On the surface, this is a work modest in scale and absurdist in execution; that said, it’s also a book that rewards deeper reading and analysis. Juan José Saer’s introduction to this edition offers plenty of food for thought.

 

From Columbia University Press | Longing and Other Stories by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, translated from the Japanese by Anthony H. Chambers and Paul McCarthy | Fiction | 158 pages | ISBN 9780231202152 | US$20.00

What the publisher says: “Most acclaimed for his postwar novels such as The Makioka Sisters and The Key, Tanizaki made his literary debut in 1910. This book presents three powerful stories of family life from the first decade of Tanizaki’s career that foreshadow the themes the great writer would go on to explore.”

What The Wall Street Journal says: “In all three stories, tears are the universal lubricant on which the plot machinery glides. Though there’s some joking and laughter, Tanizaki’s characters are frequently observed weeping. Theirs are lives in extremis.”

What I say: There’s a tremendous sense of loss shared by all three of the stories collected in this volume, with regret lurking close behind. Whether focusing on a dreamer wandering through a mythic landscape or a man becoming acutely aware of his own flaws, Tanizaki creates characters whose psychologies resonate and whose flaws are engaging.

 

Looking for more reading suggestions? Check out Tobias Carroll’s recommendations from last month.

 

Disclosure: Words Without Borders is an affiliate of Bookshop.org and will earn a commission if you use the links above to make a purchase.

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