Although I had already read a couple of books by W.G. Sebald, I had yet to read THE RINGS OF SATURN, a novel many claim to be his best. W.G. Sebald was a German author who spent the latter half of his life in England as an author and lecturer. His books defy description but are testaments to the possibilities of literature.His novels often deal with nature, memory, decay and deftly mix fact and fiction - they are curiously scattered with photographs detailing the works of art or nature he is writing about. THE RINGS OF SATURN - merely an account of a walking tour through Suffolk - creates an astonishing web of history, nature, philisophy, the rise and fall of civilizations and a lot more. Although he largely eschews plot, his books are immensely readable. Put simply, there is nothing in the world like Sebald's work.
Mexican master Sergio Pitol returns with the third book in his 'Trilogy of Memory'. A mix of travelogue, memoir and fiction, THE MAGICIAN OF VIENNA infects the reader with Pitol's knowledge and passion for a life filled with travel and literature. These books do not have to be read in order and I can't recommend Sergio Pitol highly enough. You will see the world and find yourself emersed in gorgeous and profound writing.
Have you ever read a book and felt that you were holding in your hands a classic, something indipsensable to a language and a culture? Chronicle of the Murdered House is such an example. This book has hints of Dostoyevsky, Garcia Marquez and Antonio Lobo Antunes. Already a classic in Brazil - this book is not only beautifully written and profound, but a joy to read. The dysfunction of a prestigious family in a provincial Brazilian jungle, complete with gossip, backstabbing, cross-dressing and suicide attempts.There's a fully-formed universe taking place in a run-down mansion rotting away in the jungle. Despite having the weight and breadth of a classic, its 600 pages fly by. I dare anyone to read it and not appreciate its artistry and breadth.
A comedy of manners and a classic of Spanish literature, Leopoldo Alas' book focuses on Bonifacio, a timid and a failed clerk, a man who is frightened of everything, including his wife. Bonifacio falls in love with a second-rate opera singer who believes him to be a wealthy patron. Part satire, part heartfelt snapshot of provincial Spain, HIS ONLY SON, is a tender and often hilarious novel.
Already a hot commodity in Latin America, Samanta Schweblin's
English-language debut, FEVER DREAM is exactly that. A haunting, sparse,
undefinable book that whispers in the ear, imparting a quiet sense of
existential dread. Simply a conversation between a woman in her hospital
bed and a young boy named David, who kneels beside her and demands she
recount a series of recent events. What transpires is a short, creepy tale
that is hard to define but impossible to put down. One of the books I'm
most excited about this year!
Magda Szabó, the brilliant author of THE DOOR, returns with another psychologically complex story about family and the rifts between generations. Ettie has just been widowed and her daughter, Iza, urges her to move to Budapest where she practices medicine. However hard the mother and daughter try to accomodate the other, rifts seem inevitable. Szabó has a keen eye and a masterful sense of the motives that drive us. Behind the backdrop of Communist Hungary, IZA'S BALLAD is another unforgettable tale of family and the unseen destruction of good intentions.
The title of this quiet and remarkable book perfectly sums up the beauty that's inside. A WHOLE LIFE by Austrian author Robert Seethaler, tells the entire life of Andreas Egger, an unremarkable man living in a remarkable century. In its brief 150 pages, the reader experiences the simple but eventful life of Eggers, from a young mountain climber to a widower to a prisoner of war in World War II. Fans of STONER and TRAIN DREAMS will find much to love in this elegant and universal story, as a man sees the world around him transform. A book of astounding restraint and quiet beauty, A WHOLE LIFE is illuminating, reminding all of us of the fleeting time we're given on this planet. Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize and translated beautifully by Charlotte Collins, A WHOLE LIFE is brilliant.
This poetic and haunting novel, translated from the German by Tess Lewis, centers around a young girl coming to terms with the history of her family—a Slovenian-speaking minority in Austria. By telling her grandmother's story of war and oppression, the narrator finds her own voice. The prose is gorgeous and endlessly quotable. ANGEL OF OBLIVION delves fearlessly into the nature of identity, language and tolerance, speaking to the power of resistance and the courage required in not forgetting.
Underappreciated in her lifetime, Lucia Berlin's selected stories, A MANUAL FOR CLEANING WOMEN, displays the lucid eye of an American original. From blue collar settings in the American Southwest to her grandfather's dentist's office, Berlin seemingly tosses off words and sentences that serious readers will relish. An astonishing collection that introduces (or reminds) us of an important voice in American fiction.
An early novel by Nobel Prize winner Herta Muller and in English for the first time, this hypnotic novel delves into the relationships of two young couples in Romania during the Ceausescu regime. Paranoia quickly sets in when one of them is suspected of being in the secret police. Taut, precise and morally complex, this novel is a literary page-turner of the highest order. Deftly translated by Philp Boehm.
This debut novel by acclaimed short story writer Carlos Castán is a deeply moving and darkly rewarding novel, reminiscent of Javier Marías. A middle-aged man, fighting depression, seeks solace in the friendship of Jacobo. Both men discuss books, movies and lost relationships deep into the night, that is until Jacobo is found stabbed to death. More introspective and probing than thriller, the voice of the protagonist burrows deep into the reader's mind, not releasing its grip until the final page. Dense, literary and philosophical, BAD LIGHT is sentence by sentence, one of the strongest, best-written novels of the year.
Another excursion into the great mind of Argentina's Juan José Saer. Faux history merges with absurdist humor in sublime language; THE CLOUDS follows a doctor as he takes five mental patients to a recently constructed asylum. Notorious for his sentences (nay, paragraphs) that meander like the best of Proust, this novel does not disappoint. Beautifully excessive and wonderfully astute, THE CLOUDS will leave the reader breathless. A meditation on madness, exile and the process of writing.
LIke a fine-cut gem, this short novel tells the story of a brother and sister in Rome who are suddenly orphaned. Beautiful, tragic, surreal, A LITTLE LUMPEN NOVELITA is a great introduction to Bolaño.
A timeless masterpiece about a young shopgirl and her experiences during the Spanish Civil War. Vivid. Heartbreaking. Utterly essential.
Juan Villoro is a prolific and celebrated author in Latin America, though, shockingly, THE GUILTY is his first book to be translated into English. And what a revelation! Villoro’s stories are funny, contemporary and not afraid of the darker sides of Mexican culture. While mocking every absurdity in modern life, Villoro cunningly reveals the deep dissatisfaction in Mexico and its inhabitants. Some of the most razor-sharp stories I’ve read in a long time, packed with mariachi singers, illegal migrants and much more.
Have you ever begun a book and immediately felt you were in the hands of a classic? That's what Magda Szabo's THE DOOR is like. THE DOOR has the simplest premise, but the moral complexity of a great tragedy. Magda, a successful author, decides to hire Emerence, a peasant housekeeper well known in the village. What follows is a psychological portrait of two very different women over a period of decades, replete with the passions and barbs inherent in complex friendships. Beautifully translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix, THE DOOR will leave you speechless with admiration.
There’s hardly a subject more universal than the loss of a loved one. One of the biggest challenges of literature is finding an approach that feels vital and new, a way of examining such a monumental topic without falling into the tired and the trite. Helen Macdonald’s incredible memoir, H IS FOR HAWK, feels like something new and important, and without even trying to be.
After the unexpected death of her father, Macdonald falls into a depression. She picks up falconry, a lifelong passion, is picked up again when she adopts Mabel, a young goshawk. Her own story is set against that of TH White (a falconer and author of THE SWORD IN THE STONE). I have little if any interest in hawks and falconry: the magic of this book is that it doesn’t matter. The language and intelligence of Macdonald’s writing sweeps the reader away. H IS FOR HAWK contains some of the most beautiful writing about nature I’ve ever read. It also describes depression, the English countryside, history and the unspoken relationship between human beings and nature. It is both an elegy and a celebration. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
Sergio Pitol is a celebrated name in his native Mexico, a winner of the prestigious Cervantes Prize. He has lived in Warsaw, Rome, Barcelona, Beijing, Paris and Moscow, both as a translator and a diplomat but, I think most importantly, as a reader. I emphasize reader, because THE ART OF FLIGHT is a book about reading. It is a multi-genre hybrid, described as a memoir on a “life lived through reading.” It is a memoir and yet, it is so much more. An entire library is contained within its pages. Reflections on the architecture of Venice can lead to a chapter on translating the Hungarian great Gombrowicz. Meditations on Joseph Conrad to Anton Chekhov to Jorge Luis Borges. The heady politics of 1960’s Mexico crop up, as does the construction of the Berlin Wall. The simultaneous existence of living and reading in the 20th century cohabitate brilliantly in this book.
If you are one of those who believes the experience must be lived to be true, that Alice and the Cheshire Cat are merely words on a page, that Ahab’s biblical diatribes are just hyperbole from the brow of Melville, and that these in themselves do not count as experience—if you are one who does not believe in the transportive and life-affirming nature of literature, than this book is not for you.
That said, this book is for everyone else. Dallas-based publisher Deep Vellum has the bragging rights for being the first publisher to bring Pitol into English, with more Pitol books on the way.Translator George Henson does an incredible job translating Pitol’s style into beautifully rendered English. A few years ago, author Valeria Luiselli was asked which writer should be translated into English that hadn’t yet been, and her unequivocal answer was Sergio Pitol. Lucky for us, that is no longer true. The art of flight, indeed.
Anna Sun’s first novel, DREAMERS OF THE ABSOLUTE, is the story of a young woman searching for both love and the meaning of life. This may seem common enough fodder for a novel, but in the modest hands of Sun, a quiet masterpiece emerges. This young woman travels to rural Kentucky to visit her brother, her only living relative, who has taken a vow of silence at a Trappist Monastery. Unable to speak with him, she spends seven days contemplating and reflecting on past relationships, as well as her own future. Quiet, meditative and revelatory, this small novel is a powerful reminder of the importance that simplicity and beauty play in literature.
BARTLEBY & CO. is Spanish author Enrique Vila-Matas’ strange and unconventional novel about writers who can’t (or don’t) write, tackling silence in literature. In a series of footnotes (part anecdote, part philosophical) he explores the history of writers who were “artists of refusal,” that is, writers who refused to write, or writers who wrote once and stopped--or perhaps wrote, but only for themselves. Erudite, wistful and immensely readable, BARTLEBY & CO. explores phantom books and invisible texts; it ponders projects abandoned and confidence usurped. Vila-Matas’ protagonist writes that a book knocks at our door, and “when we go receive them, they disappear; we open the door and they are no longer there. It was undoubtedly a great book, the great book that was inside us, the one we were really destined to write, our book, the very book we shall never be able to write or read now. But that book, let it be clear, exists.” What do Franz Kafka, J.D. Salinger, Arthur Rimbaud and more have in common? Mainly they were all “writers of the no” - authors who by choice or chance, bad luck or the times in which they lived, resolved to stop writing. The novel’s namesake has much in common with his creator, for Herman Melville, as in Bartleby’s famous line, ‘I would prefer not to,’ spent the second half of his life in almost total publishing silence. For anyone interested in the writers who existed between the margins or didn’t find (or chase) success or were abandoned by fate, this is the book for you. As our narrator tells is, “there are as many writers as ways of abandoning literature.”