Category Book Reviews and Recommendations

Haunted Hemming & Hawing: My Heart Hemmed In by Marie NDiaye

I’m honestly not sure where to start with Jordan Stump’s recent English translation of French writer Marie NDiaye’s My Heart Hemmed In, because it feels like I’ve been preparing to read this book for a long time, a long time before I knew of its existence and perhaps even before it was published in its original […]

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Through the Sad Wood Our Corpses Will Hang by Ava Farmehri

You can judge a book by its cover, to an extent. You can also, maybe to an even greater extent, judge a book by its title. Debut novelist Ava Farmehri borrows this one from Dante, and subsequently presents a work that lives up to its impact. Sheyda Porrouya, a twenty-year-old Iranian born at the time […]

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Get (Sucked) In: The Hole by Hye-young Pyun

Kafka’s Metamorphosis has in part occupied such a terrifying place in the modern imagination because Gregor Samsa’s awakening in the body of a “monstrous insect” involves the change of both his appearance and perceived usefulness. The idea that a person could simply wake up one day, look different, be considered less relevant to society and therefore […]

Binary Banter: The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise, Perec-style

I read both French and English, but I’m not sure how my binary is. Normally, when it comes to French texts I’m curious about, I grab either the original or the English translation, depending on what’s most readily available. If it’s the translation, I nurse the intention of reading the original French and comparing the […]

Adolescent Amaro: Niccolò Ammaniti’s Anna

Probably mostly due to fear of popular culture, I’m immediately mistrustful of a book that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world inhabited entirely by children. That these feelings are somewhat mitigated by the thought of these plot parameters being plunked down in Sicily rather than, say, New York, doesn’t absolve me of my pre-judgment so […]

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Alain Mabanckou’s Piquant Picaresque: Black Moses

Francophone Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou’s Black Moses, out this year in an English translation by Helen Stevenson, is about a boy, then man, whose full name in the Lingala language means “Thanks be to God, the black Moses is born on the earth of our ancestors.” Despite already having this supreme mouthful of a designation, our main character […]

Smothering Heights: Nature and Necessity by Tariq Goddard

Exploring the lives of unpleasant people in fiction always carries risks. Awfulness for its own sake or to hammer home a point, no matter how skillfully rendered, can easily grow tedious. Mere jabs at capitalism, materialism and the like will grate on the nerves of the intelligent reader the fifth or sixth time around. Nature […]

Tap, Tap, Tap: Somebody with a Little Hammer by Mary Gaitskill

What I love about Mary Gaitskill is that she somehow managed to never be corrupted by, I mean, learn, the writer’s code of conduct. There are many things you’re not supposed to do, as a writer. For one, you’re not supposed to write a long personal essay about the grief you suffered over a runaway […]

Girls & Monsters: Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s Harmless Like You

If I say, “This book, the chapters of which are separated by descriptions of painter’s pigments, alternates between the point of view of the main character, Yuki—who grew up with Japanese parents in New York, made friends with a future model in high school and went on herself to become an artist and move to […]

Art That Makes You Feel Sick: Bae Suah’s A Greater Music, Translated by Deborah Smith

Bae Suah’s 에세이스트의 책상, translated into English by Deborah Smith and available as A Greater Music from Open Letter, has a wintry feel to it. To be fair, much of the book does take place in winter. But while A Greater Music covers a number of years and therefore seasons, it’s winter that casts its pervasive blanket over […]