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The Watchlist: September 2019

By Tobias Carroll

Each month, Tobias Carroll shares a handful of recently released or forthcoming titles in translation that he’s especially excited about.


From Coffee House Press | When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back: Carl’s Book by Naja Marie Aidt, translated from the Danish by Denise Newman | Memoir | 152 pages | ISBN 9781566895606 | US$22.95

What the publisher says: “In March 2015, Naja Marie Aidt’s twenty-five-year-old son, Carl, died in a tragic accident. When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back chronicles the few first years after that devastating phone call. It is at once a sober account of life after losing a child and an exploration of the language of poetry, loss, and love.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “The difficulty of articulating grief is itself a cliché of the grief memoir, but Aidt’s shattering of genre forms both underscores the feeling of speechlessness and gives it a palpable shape. (The book’s orthography bolsters that sense, playing with font sizes, line breaks, and italicization; translator Newman handles these rhetorical shifts with grace and clarity.)”

What I say: Given its subject matter, it’s not surprising to learn that this is a powerfully sad book. It’s also deftly structured, pulling off the impressive feat of writing about one specific death alongside meditations on the act of writing about death. The result is a haunting book, an elegiac memorial that takes a host of formal risks that pay impressive emotional dividends.

Read fiction by Naja Marie Aidt


From Book*hug Press | Fanny and The Mystery in the Grieving Forest by Rune Christiansen, translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson | Fiction | 196 pages | ISBN 9781771665186 | US$23.00

What the publisher says: “Fanny, a seventeen-year-old high school senior, has lost both her parents in a car accident. Granted permission to live independently in the family home located on the outskirts of a small Norwegian town, she passes the days performing her unchanging routine: going to school, maintaining the house, chopping and stacking wood, and keeping the weeds at bay. As Fanny grieves and attempts to come to terms with the sad circumstances of her life, a fairy tale-like world full of new possibilities begins to emerge around her.”

What Aftenposten says: “An exquisitely written novel of grief. Rune Christiansen shows yet again why he is one of Norway’s leading literary stylists. Reading him is a pleasure unlike any other.”

What I say: Set in the aftermath of tragedy, Christiansen’s novel unfolds as a series of stark fragments as protagonist Fanny comes to grips with her altered circumstances and endeavors to make connections with those around her. These fragments are sharper-edged than they seem, and the juxtaposition of whimsical feeling with an evocative handling of depression leads this novel toward its powerful, haunting conclusion.

Read poetry by Rune Christiansen


From Hamad Bin Khalifa University Press | Waves by Abdullah Ibrahim, translated from the Arabic by Karim Traboulsi | Memoir | 536 pages | ISBN 9789927118685 |

What the publisher says: “Ibrahim recounts his past as the son of a family of farmers and landowners in Kirkuk: an idyllic place, where a mosaic of people from many different places and regions lived together and were neighbors in every sense of the word. But things changed with the start of the Iran-Iraq War when Ibrahim was conscripted into the Iraqi Army to fight for Iraq.”

What I say: This weighty, ambitious memoir begins with a number of memories and images that take a bit of time to resolve themselves into distinct threads. Once they do, and once Ibrahim’s structural metaphor for this book becomes clear, Waves accrues momentum as it traces its author’s aesthetic and literary evolution at a time of political chaos and charts the gray areas that emerge over several decades of Iraqi history.


From Riverhead Books | Fly Already by Etgar Keret, translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston, Nathan Englander, Jessica Cohen, Miriam Shlesinger, and Yardenne Greenspan | Fiction | 224 pages | ISBN 9781594633270 | US$27.00

What the publisher says: “The thread that weaves these pieces together is our inability to communicate, to see so little of the world around us and to understand each other even less. Yet somehow, in these pages, through Etgar’s deep love for humanity and our hapless existence, a bright light shines through and our universal connection to each other sparks alive.”

What the New York Times says: “In many ways these sardonic and very short fables are the next installment in the series of strange scenarios cooked up in Keret’s brain since his first collection appeared in Hebrew in 1992.”

What I say: Keret’s latest collection features a few stories that feel overly clever, but the best of these works are as sharp, funny, and surprising as anything he’s ever written. Fly Already also showcases Keret’s more overtly science fictional side in tales both unsettling and hilarious. It’s a fine reminder of why Keret has accumulated a large audience over the years.

Read fiction by Etgar Keret


From New York Review Comics | The Tenderness of Stones by Marion Fayolle, translated from the French by Geoffrey Brock | Graphic Novel | 144 pages | ISBN 9781681372983 | US$32.95

What the publisher says: “Marion Fayolle is one of the most innovative young artists in contemporary comics, and in this startling, gorgeously drawn fable she offers a vision of family illness and grief that is by turns playful and profound, literal and lyrical. She captures the strange swirl of love, resentment, grief, and humor that comes as we watch a loved one transformed before our eyes, and learn to live without them.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Fayolle’s visual storytelling makes a profound statement about how people attempt to understand and respond to the process of watching a loved one being eroded and to accepting their mortality.”

What I say: When does the surreal become devastating? Fayolle’s graphic memoir uses a deeply stylized series of visual metaphors to represent terminal illness. Initially the gulf between the images and the truth of what’s happening is painful; gradually, though, the style begins to feel like a conscious coping mechanism, and the true power of this book kicks in. The result is a gripping account of one family’s pain and the unsettling forms that grief can take.


From Dover Publications | Yesterday by Ágota Kristóf, translated from the Hungarian by David Watson | Fiction | 112 pages | ISBN 9780486839134 | US$12.95

What the publisher says: “In spare, elegant prose, this modern novella recounts a troubled young man’s flight from a judgmental village. Tobias, the illegitimate son of a prostitute and the local schoolmaster, finds peace with a factory job in the comfortable anonymity of a city. But his fragile respite is shattered by the appearance of Caroline, his boyhood love, who materializes with a husband and child in tow.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “Alternating between dreamlike passages that may be Sandor’s writing, and the bleak account of his days, the novel offers a lucid, poignant narrative of the struggle to find meaning in a world of ‘unbearable waiting and . . . inexpressible silence.’”

What I say: There are few wasted words in this short novel. Kristóf’s narrative creates a sense of violence and unpredictability hanging over the proceedings; the fallibility of memory and the way that desire causes us to lie to ourselves also plays a significant role. Throughout the book, Kristóf creates a sense of volatile elements on the verge of colliding; here, it’s a matter of when, rather than if.


From Dalkey Archive Press | Change Me by Andrej Blatnik, translated from the Slovenian by Tamara M. Soban | Fiction | 194 pages | ISBN 9781628973365 | US$15.95

What the publisher says: “Andrej Blatnik’s ambitious novel, Change Me, tells the story of a man’s determination to radically transform himself and to alter the world that has embraced globalization as the God of the future.”

What Kirkus Reviews says: “With some echoes of Kafka and Vonnegut, this novel looks for the soul of the twenty-first century and finds an abyss.”

What I say: Blatnik’s stylized novel blends quotidian elements pertaining to the estranged family at its core with unexpected doses of the speculative. Much like how its structure finds uncanny resonances between the two halves of a divided couple, Blatnik’s work here leaves you nodding in sympathy before plunging you into a bizarre corner of contemporary urban life.

Read fiction by Andrej Blatnik


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

Published Sep 20, 2019   Copyright 2019 Tobias Carroll

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