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Book Reviews

September 2018

“Do You Hear in the Mountains…,” by Maïssa Bey, Probes the Untold Pasts of Algerian History

Reviewed by Jocelyn Frelier

In this charged work of autofiction, Bey explores her ties with the Algerian War for Independence, during which her father was killed.

August 2018

Intimate Experience Feels At Once Palpable and Remote in Jin Eun-Young’s “We, Day by Day”

Reviewed by Peter Campion

"We, Day By Day" is Jin Eun-Young’s first full collection published in English. Early on, she encountered Korean poetry of the 1980s and its spirit of political protest and carried the conviction and intensity of those verses into more mysterious, interior realms.

July 2018

Gunnhild Øyehaug Flirts with Hollywood While Considering the Essence of Life in “Wait, Blink”

Reviewed by Ane Farsethås

In her novel "Wait, Blink", Norwegian writer Gunnhild Øyehaug devises a whimsical, yet earnest probe into the human condition, filled with a dizzy range of topics. From golf books to “the essence of life”, from Tarantino to Dante, passing though fictions about the dream life of president George W. Bush and the childhood of literary theorist Paul de Man, it’s all equally worth a moment of curious observation.

June 2018

A Quietly Radical Tale of the Rise and Fall of Communist Russia in Eugene Vodolazkin’s “The Aviator”

Reviewed by Sam George Jackson

Born in 1900, Innokenty Petrovich Platonov wakes up one day to find himself in a modern hospital, in 1999, with the body of a young man and memories that barely reach the 1930s. As he strives to figure out what happened to him, personal memories and historical investigation combine to create a harrowing narrative of Russia's history in the XX century, from the makings of revolution to the collapse of the Communist regime. "The Aviator" is a quietly radical novel, which challenges contemporary official narratives about Russia's past.

Gaël Faye’s Debut Novel, “Small Country,” Sets a Coming-of-Age Story amid the Rwandan Genocide

Reviewed by Emily Roese

A French bestseller and winner of the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens, "Small Country" holds a mirror to the childhood of the Burundi-born rapper and author Gaël Faye, who emigrated to France with his French father, Rwandan mother, and younger sister in the 1990s. They were a Tusi family living in Burundi and decided to flee when they realized that the conflicts in war-torn Rwanda threatened their lives. In his perceptiveness, developing love of literature and nostalgia for a pre-war idyll, Gaby calls as much to Faye’s history as it does to the artistic career he would follow.

May 2018

“Bad Words” Illuminates Ilse Aichinger’s Bouts with the German language after the War

Reviewed by Anne Posten

Austrian writer Ilse Aichinger was an important figure in the “Gruppe 47,” the seminal meetings that significantly shaped post-war German literature, but remains largely unknown outside of the German-speaking word. The late short prose works collected in "Bad words" show how she grappled with a language grown unusable and unruly after the horrors of the Second World War. In her daring and masterful texts, Aichinger wrote against or through a language that could no longer be trusted; a language become foreign, which could only be reclaimed through further foreignization—or through silence.

April 2018

In “Moon Brow,” Shahriar Mandanipour Recounts the Iranian Revolution Through the Fragments of Trauma

Reviewed by Damara Atrigol Pratt

"Moon Brow", by Shahriar Mandanipour, recounts the recent history of Iran through a fragmented narrative structure that emulates the disjointed remembrances of trauma. While the political facets of its story report the grim consequences of the Iranian Revolution, the physical and emotional world described in the novel is alive with vivid and provocative encounters. The book offers beauty while confronting the ugliness of revolution, oppression, and war.

Julián Herbert Watches Over His Dying Mother and Casts a Sharp Eye on Mexico in “Tomb Song”

Reviewed by Ángel Gurría-Quintana

In "Tomb Song", Julián Herbert combines a visceral lament about his mother's death from leukaemia with a scathing portrayal of Mexican society. The book’s title plays on the Spanish expression for a lullaby – a cradle song. Except that here the narrator – also named Julián Herbert – is keeping vigil over his dying mother in a hospital room in the north-eastern Mexican city of Saltillo, and writing the book as a way of finding comfort while coming to terms with her life.

March 2018

“My Little Small,” by Ulf Stark and Linda Bondestam, Tells a Sweet Fable with Philosophical Musings

Reviewed by Mary Ann Scheuer

Ulf Stark and Linda Bondestam’s sweetly eccentric picture book "My Little Small" tells the story of a creature who lives alone in a cave until she befriends a sun spark. On the surface, it’s a story of finding a small friend to care for. Dig a little deeper, and Stark’s philosophical ruminations come through.

“The Song of Seven,” a Children’s Classic by Tonke Dragt, Considers the Joy and Perils of Fiction

Reviewed by Evan Kleekamp

In "The Song of Seven," a classic of children's literature by Dutch author Tonke Dragt, a schoolteacher woos his students with stories about his heroic alter ego. The division between the teacher and his adventuring alias disappears when a mysterious count summons enters the scene. Through the mishaps of her narrator and protagonist, Dragt explores the means and ends of storytelling.

February 2018

Yoko Tawada’s Dystopian Novel “The Emissary” Delivers a Bitingly Smart Satire of Present-Day Japan

Reviewed by Andrew Hungate

In a Japan that has once again closed its borders to the outside world, the infant Mumei and his great-grandfather Yoshiro face the perils of a dysfunctional society that seems hauntingly familiar

Well-Meaning Plans Give Way to Destructive Obsessions in Andrés Barba’s “The Right Intention”

Reviewed by Jeff Tompkins

The destructive consequences of his character's obsessions, traced with an almost clinical precision, are the substance of Barba’s absorbing, unnerving stories.

January 2018

In Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay’s “Abandon,” a Destitute Woman’s Desire to Write Clashes with Motherhood

Reviewed by Darren Huang

Since her debut novel, Shankini (2006), the Indian writer Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay has been exploring female sexuality with an uncompromising and subversive vision.

Pastoral Scenes with an Intimation of Apocalypse in “Untimely” Poems and Prints of Bohuslav Reynek

Reviewed by Meghan Forbes

"The Well at Morning" offers a selection of Reynek's poems and prints that spans five decades.

December 2017

“Into English”: A Collection of World Literature That Debunks Age-Old Translation Myths

Reviewed by Kasia Szymanska

Books such as Into English help us to understand how translation transforms our reading and how it changes us, too.

The Torn Gaze: Elke Erb’s Poems Take a Close Look at Different Ways of Seeing

Reviewed by Andrew Shields

Elke Erb is a poet of observation, and her observations often lead quickly and vividly to problems of the act of observing.

In “Using Life,” Ahmed Naji Imagined a Riveting Ride across a Dystopian Cairo, Then He Was Arrested

Reviewed by Mary Catherine Ford

The trial and sentence condemning Naji to prison for his work sparked protests in Egypt last year and brought his work international attention.

November 2017

From Excess to Ascesis: Ryszard Krynicki’s Verses Confront the Perils and Ruins of History

Reviewed by Sean Gasper Bye

Even as the early raging poet's later work opened to a broader set of concerns, it's clear he never lost his desire to challenge simplistic narratives and to ask difficult questions.

October 2017

The Well-Stocked Mind: In Juan Benet’s Essays, a Magisterial and Daunting Exploration of the Form

Reviewed by Anne Posten

In "The Construction of the Tower of Babel," the Spanish writer tackles Bruegel, the Bible, and the necessity of treason

Beyond the Rice Fields: A Sweeping Look at the History of Slavery and Modernization in Madagascar

Reviewed by Kate Prengel

Malagasy writer Naivo's ambitious historical novel grapples with love, colonialism, and the transformation of a society.

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