It helped me better understand how it feels to be an old woman, and a young woman, and a couple, and a person.
What happens when you reverse the journey at the core of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness? When you stop assuming there's some "dark" mystery or savagery hiding in the wilderness, you can then begin to see how these narratives are constructed by civilizing forces to justify their endless pillage and conquest. If all that sounds preachy, don't worry. This book doesn't settle for pot shots or polemic. Instead it wonders how so many people--reactionaries, reformers, postcolonialists, scholars and poets alike--find themselves complicit in the wages of empire. Come for the disarmingly sunny storytelling, stay for one of the most unsettling endings in modern literature.
In this novel of a convent during the Black Death, nuns come and go naturally, as the seasons and years do, and all actions are entwined with and mimic the surrounding landscape. The coming and going; the kneeling and sowing; the shuffling and praying; the rains, the frosts, and the tides won't convert you, but will cause you to marvel at creation, at living and dying and the space between.
"This book — a satire of identity politics which takes place in a Sydney private girls school — is hands-down the funniest and smartest book I have read all year. Tied up with a critique of contemporary feminism, Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto, and the empathic aggression of the Discourse, Inappropriation feels necessary in a way few books do, and will make you feel brilliantly squirmy and uncomfortable in the way a novel absolutely should. Inappropriation is simply wonderful."
A favorite of Patti Smith's, and a Werner Herzog movie just waiting to happen, this novella by the bonkers and prolific Aira (his best I think) recounts the misadventures of an Austrian painter who believes a sojourn to the Pampas of Argentina will help him perfect his radical new technique, only to discover – in a phrase coined by my friend after reading – that sometimes the landscape paints you.
At a certain time of year, when the weather cools, I begin to crave a certain kind of book that I've come to describe as children's books for adults: a little dark, a little magical, but ultimately comforting. A Girl Returned is something like a fairytale in reverse: a thirteen year-old girl is taken from the seaside home of her elegant and wealthy adopted parents and returned to the chaotic household of her original birth family in a small Italian village. A cross between Jane Eyre and Elena Ferrante, this is a coming-of-age story to anyone who has felt like a stranger where they ought to belong.
— Madelaine L
Amparo Dávila is 92 years old, and alive, and a force of nature, and basically unknown in North America until now, with the first english language translation of her award winning work — scratch that — award-defining work (they named a Mexican literary prize for fantastic literature after her). And this collection contains some of the most fantastic, surreal — and unsettling — stories you will find.
One of the most bracing and clear-eyed mediations on alienation and depression ever written, No Longer Human, follows Ōba Yōzō (a loose stand in for Dazai himself) through his life, from young boy to adult, as he tries and fails repeatedly to in some way exist within a society he feels unable to connect to. Lacking the self-pity that would have marred lesser works, No Longer Human is an unflinching yet powerful look at the way desolation can twist someone to the point of feeling completely dejected from the world around them.
A customer came in one day in search for this book, and when she told me the title I couldn't help but ask what it was about: "the essence of summer." With an ongoing obsession of bottling up a feeling in time (perhaps nostalgia) I was immediately drawn to this book and wouldn't put it down. The dialogue between Sophia and her grandmother had me laughing out loud, reminding me of how idiotic my mother and I are to each other, and allowed me to experience a summer I long for in this sweltering, stinky city.
For anyone who cares about summer, the experience of being old, the experience of being young, or the seasonal cadences of a small Scandinavian island, this book is utterly sublime.
A scalded, self-sacrificial account of heartbreak in a lonely city, and a haunting daybook of letting go. Published posthumously after the author's suicide at twenty-six, this auto-obituary is so vivid and full of life that it both typifies and inquisitively exceeds any literary cult of youthful morbidity. Rather, the author's letters read as an intensive inventory of artistic and erotic obsessions, so many vignettes of short-lived domestic bliss shot through with storm and stress. At turns one of the the saddest and the most ecstatic books I've read.
These six moody stories by Eileen Chang, who wrote during and about 1930s Shanghai and Hong Kong, are a revelation - startling and vivid tales of romance and cruelty and betrayal and longing, complicated by family, war,and class divisions, and the collision of ancestral traditions with modernity.
A comic novel about a group of British citizens in an outpost on the Gangetic plain of India in 1857, the year of the Great Mutiny. They are holed up in the local administrator's fortified residence, under siege by mutinous, British-trained Indian soldiers, quickly dying off from bullets, disease and starvation. Their philosophies, their justifications, their bigotries and their skewed colonist moralities are similarly under siege, and begin to fester as if in a warm, damp container, some disintegrating, others flaring up like eruptions of mold. Very funny, very engrossing, and very interesting.
It doesn't matter what The Waves is about, the characters or the plot, nothing else matters but what it does to you. Reading this, Virginia Woolf's most experimental novel, is a lot like letting yourself surrender to the ocean. The pull of the tide, the submersion and fear and weird comfort. It took me years to get around to reading this book, years I now view as wasted, half-lived. This is maybe the only book I ever needed to live.
Believing, at first, that all you need from Olga Tokarczuk are the stunning images and sensations of motion; of movement from one pinprick of space to another; of discrete moments in endless flights; you'll soon find yourself reveling in the vertiginous interiority and flashing absence of narrative ailerons as the stories in Flights repeatedly lead to the unexpected, subterranean, and extraordinary. Brace yourself for longterm impact.
I'll admit that I raised an eyebrow at the jacket copy's comparison of this classic Hungarian wartime novel to Harry Potter-- but reader, I was convinced. A gothic boarding school, a rebellious teenager, a secret résistance, a cast of enigmatic teachers with hidden motives and identities, and the looming threat of war, all the ingredients are all the same. But Szabó's mischievous humor, her tender eye for detail, and her determined, often hapless characters are inimitable.
Comparisons to Dostoyevsky at his most embittered are warranted, but Shneour’s misanthropic narrator also often sounds like an incel getting ready for a shooting spree. I don’t know how much of this uncannily contemporary impression is thanks to Irish yiddishist Daniel Kennedy’s new translation of this 1905 bestseller, but the social isolation, the informally acquired gun, and the involuntary celibacy are all there no matter how you translate it.
Fox came to me when I was feeling glum, disappointed by contemporary literature. Ugresic saw my disillusionment, raised me this searing indictment of writers, and then - paradoxically, miraculously - restored my faith, by sheer dint of style. This loose association of stories, which follows a middle-aged Croatian writer as she attends various dubious literary functions, travels home, and ruminates on Russian literature, is more meta-fiction than novel. Ugresic is, in my book, nothing less than a curmudgeonly genius, with the discursive subtlety of Kundera and the righteous anger of Ferrante.
Brimming with desire and confusion, I found this surreal book to be the exact right kind of sexy, disturbing, and heady. It captures perfectly that decomposing and displaced feeling of intractable infatuation. Like being somewhere foreign – both inside – and out.
One of the most important voices of the AIDS crisis, Hervé Guibert tends to be remembered for his outspoken position on the disease in France before it killed him, as well as for being a close friend of Foucault. While most of his work is out of print in English, Guibert is well due for a renaissance. His smart, confessional writing worms its way into your heart. Crazy for Vincent is a perfect introduction. A sometimes too-real depiction of sexual obsession, this book has the kind of finely-wrought episodic prose that makes people fall in love with Maggie Nelson's Bluets, with the same ability to move you and make you weep if you're so inclined. I am, and did.
This fearless, raucous, profane picaresque traces the downward spiral of the iconic owner of the defunct Revolver record shop, Vernon Subutex, after his patron, the punk rock antihero, Alex Bleach, dies of a drug overdose. Despentes is the Dante of downcast France, taking us through all the levels of modern hell from internet scourges to violent racism to sexual predators, mob madness and all varieties of moral turpitude. Not for the faint hearted, this if the first in a trilogy to be translated from French to English. Civilization beware. This is not science fiction, this is your life.
A bitter and hilarious rant on the nature of mediocrity and talent. At the funeral of his friend, the narrator reflects on the time they spent studying piano with Glenn Gould, and how his out sized brilliance left them ruined and in awe.
— Jacob S.
Nobody - fictional or otherwise - has ever argued more compellingly than Simon Tanner that, within the interstice between youth and adulthood, one should seek not stability but bliss.
Bowie liked it. I can see why. It's about a woman living in communist East Berlin attempting to reconstruct the life of her dead friend via the notebooks and jottings she left behind. There is so much unsaid, so much neither the reader nor the narrator can know about this person who has passed. The descriptions of East Berlin rhyme with Trump's America, a time when we're unable to recognize our country, our friends and neighbors, our own lives. For fans of Lispector, Chris Kraus, Ferrante, and Walser.
Fresh, funny, soulful, raunchy, interesting, smart.
Hands-down one of the best collections I've read this year! It's made up of two novellas and seven stories, though Sexual Education (the second novella) alone is well worth the jacket price. And that has everything to do with Charlotte Coombe's translation, which so brilliantly captures the visceral, frequently unglamorous language around sex, the body, teenagerdom and the drudge of lower middle-class life - it's the kind of dazzling translation you can immediately tell the translator has found an English voice that truly works for their author. Darkly funny, feminist, and with a touch of the weird, and whether translated literature is new for you, or it's your main "genre," you can't go wrong with this delightful book
— Jacob R
The tragic French lesbian boarding school melodrama of your dreams.
Intense, and deeply moving. Part research, and part family lore passed down over a generation, Half of a Yellow Sun sheds light on the Nigerian Civil War from 1967-1970. Ngozi Adichie is one of the best storytellers I have ever encountered. She poured out so much knowledge and wisdom, thoughtful critique and just the right amount of Ngozi Adichie shade. I learned so much. I wept. I held my breath. And the ending was perfectly, unperfectly fitting.
Following a family, and a family curse, through generations, Makumbi has written an epic novel of Uganda where the personal, political, and supernatural are blended so seamlessly that "magical realism" seems too coy a term to describe it. Reminiscent of Rushdie's Midnight's Children, the mystical acts as an inextricable and inexorable element of reality in Kintu, and the characters' responses to it are heartbreaking and enthralling.
When Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature I asked my abuela (who has read every single one of her books) where I should start with her, and this is the one she lent to me. Now, six years later, I have finally read it, and my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. Here are 10 stories on women’s relationships with men (how they change and how they corrode) where Munro compacts novels into 30 pages, emotional climaxes into single sentences, each time making it seem effortless, weaving stories of not-quite-heartbreak that always leave a small pang in the chest regardless.
A monied young man, well-versed in the art of palm-wine imbibing, sets out to find the spirit of his dearly departed palm-wine tapster—as no one else can tap palms at the breakneck pace he drinks that sweet nectar. A fantasy-adventure delivered as Nigerian folk-tale. An experience more akin to listening to a great yarn than reading a novel.
There's a great tradition of people returning to The Transit of Venus and realizing its brilliance the second time around - Geoff Dyer and Michelle de Kretser, and now me. I first read Shirley Hazzard's novel when I was nineteen, mooning around my father's house with a head cold. I liked it fine, and retained fond memories of the two Australian sisters making their way in 1950s Europe. But it took me nearly a decade to come back to it. And my thoughts now are that maybe this is the only novel we ever needed? Like, maybe the rest of us should just give up the ghost, because Shirley Hazzard achieved perfection back in 1980. All we can do now is perform shapes and shadows of literature, genuflecting before her genius.
This book was written in the stars...or at least with the stars in mind. Each character in this New Zealand gold rush epic corresponds to an astrological sign, and the plot is directly informed by planetary movements on 12 days in 1865. While built on certain cliches - the Taurus is a banker and as a Taurus I say: *eye roll* - style and plot are not victims of the contrived structure. Expect seances, opium dens, murder, shipwrecks, star-crossed lovers, and plenty of secrets.
Short and riveting enough to read in a day, The Driver's Seat is steeped in the weirdness of summer in a 1970s Meditteranean town, complete with Manson-like hippie figures leaving trails of macrobioic rice, paranoid women lost in malls, the constant expectation that something terrible is about to happen.
I'll admit, I'm a bit of a sucker for sprawling historical novels (although this only spans about twenty years), but I'm not exaggerating in saying that it's one of the best I've ever read. Whether you're a sucker for historical fiction like me, or are a lover of decadent, thoughtful prose and characters, whatever the topic may be. But the topic is yet another point in favor of this wonderful book: it's about Palestine and its people during the British mandate era, and this Palestinian perspective on history is sorely underrepresented in English. Hammad is a ridiculously talented writer, and this is definitely a debut not to be missed.
— Jacob R
A brilliant book, and unputdownable. Milkman, which won the 2018 Booker Prize, is a novel about a young girl in a nonspecific war-torn place, although the non-specificity of proper nouns is part of the menacing ambiguity of what is obviously 1970's Belfast, peak-Troubles. The girl, who crosses paths with a member of the IRA, is a case study in the formlessness and fury of young girlhood, but it is also a novel that delivers you a world fully formed, lyrically dense, and funnier than anyone would lead you to believe. Rarely do I think books that win big awards are deserving of them. Milkman is.
A story of dance, DJ sets, sex work, Paris, and New York. It's a philosophical and emotional striptease, a mystery, a madness made more powerful by its major conceit: this love story is told without identifying the gender(s) of its lovers.
Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye-meets-Romeo and Juliet-meets-CSI. In a plague-ridden Mexican city, a fixer for the Mob known as The Redeemer is tasked with preventing urban warfare when two rival narco families end up with the dead bodies of each other's dearest child. Yuri Herrera works magic in a mere 100 pages, transporting you to a breathtakingly realized world, where, hiding under the neo-noir surface, the real stakes are no less than the mediating limits of language itself. Herrera, himself, exceeds.
You're reading it, aren't you? Why, the ad in the paper for the Italian villa! Just think, all that wisteria and sunshine...I could kiss your cheek for the joy of it all! No, dear, it's not impossible: I can positively see us there.
The sexiest book I have ever read, while simultaneously being one of the most precise, emotional and razor-sharp. Be prepared to cry in public, God knows I did.
Like On the Road if it extended into the characters adulthood and was also brilliant. Endless, discursive, beautiful, overwhelming, a complete triumph of the imagination.
— Jacob S.
Like an anti-Thoreau, the narrator of Pond, a novel-in-stories lives alone in the Irish countryside, quietly and cheerfully coming a little undone. Sensitive and deeply attuned to the world around her, Bennett's book reads a little like Lydia Davis, a little like Beckett. A one point, the narrator says that English is not her first language, that she has not yet discovered her mother tongue, and by the time I finished Pond I felt exactly the same way - tongueless, disquieted, all anew.
Our Lady of the Nile is a Catholic girl's boarding school drama of a higher magnitude, one that ends not only in sexual awakening and the pain of coming-of-age, but in genocide. Set in Rwanda in the lead-up to the 1994, Mukasonga's novel-in-vignettes slowly traces the fault lines that tear apart both the school and the country. I grew up reading British, French, and American boarding school novels (it's a weird sub-genre I have a lot of affection for), but never one like Our Lady of the Nile. With this novel Mukasonga engages with the colonial implications of the boarding school genre, asking us to see the parallels, the diversions, and the dangers of demonizing the least powerful.
If, like me, you finished Ferrante then flung yourself at every next book in desperation, disappointed when each failed to match that Italian's intellectual splendor then lo, here is your salve. It's a fiction as rich and tangled as real life. Were I mad I might literally consume this book one perfect page at a time in hope of gaining a mite of its wisdom and verve. Until then, a portion of my person is set aside for The Golden Notebook: for its main character, Anna Wulf, the writer who cannot write; for its ambitious, relevant structure (novels within novels within notebooks within notebooks); for the words it gave to feelings I've never dared give words. Save this for when nothing less than magnificence will do.
Landon is right. If you thirst always for the heady thrills of a Ferrante novel, read The Golden Notebook, which brings the sweep of history into the bedroom and the bedroom into the sweep of history. Gender, art-making, depression, empire, the frustrated utopianism of the left—its concerns are very much today's.
Masterfully crafted and downright spooky, this supernatural page-turner bores deep into two primal human fears: that man and nature are alienated from each other and it will cost us dearly, and that the children know more than us and we can't protect them, or ourselves. Try to remember what’s important.
Take a happily adulterous couple and their lovers, swap the sub-personal compulsion of 'elective affinities' for the horrific fatedness of Greek tragedy, and cast these poor attracted saps into the drawing rooms of mid-century Anglo-Saxondom to archly parodic results. A caustic, comic (dare I say) romp through the contradictions of bourgeois sexual morality.
If you're looking for a book where things make sense, and everything wraps up neatly and nicely, this is not the book for you. On the other hand, if you're looking for something disturbing, murky, uncertain, and cerebral, then Marie NDiaye is the writer for you. Her language (in Jordan Stump's excellent translation) is grotesque, looming, and decadent, seeping into every page and oozing out of every word. Once you've sunken yourself into this world of paranoia, you won't be able to stop turning the pages as you watch the madness and cruelty unfold in this small French town.
— Jacob R
This book is so sharp and thin it's more knife than novel. It's poetry. It's philosophy. It's an existential roller coaster. It's like getting struck by lightning. Be careful. You may never be the same.
What is the essence of family unity? For Natalia Ginzburg, it's first and foremost words, a common vocabulary, the shared life and habits they evoke. With luminous prose and extraordinary emotional sincerity, the author tells the story of her antifascist Jewish family during the dark years of Mussolini's regime. Part fiction, part memoir, Family Lexicon is funny yet deeply moving; a celebration of the time-transcending connections we make in early life - forever holding the memory of who we were, as well as the promise of who we can become.
What a bizarre work: a post-meta "novel" of suggestive narratives in collaboration with workers at a factory. It questions the genesis of art and the validity of narrative. Both maddeningly abstruse and revelatory, I was baffled and angry with it, though at times in deep, layered love.
A little while back a coworker came up to me, placed a collection of Josephine Rowe’s short stories in my hands, and said “Read this.” I did, and the moment I finished them I wanted more. So I went and read her novel, and it was just as great. Filled with sentences that never go how you expect and prose that nestle themselves in the brain, Rowe crafts a bleak but honest account of life in small town Australia. The way family shapes you, the scars it gives you, and the haunting effect trauma has on you. Equally more bewitching and brutal than it looks, A Loving, Faithful Animal lingers within long after you finish it.
A little novella with a lot of emotional heft and complexity. The narrator, a woman in postwar Italy, pines for companionship, deals with the indifference of egocentric men, and discovers that lust and revulsion often go hand in hand. With its intimate candidness and unadorned style, The Dry Heart feels like a first-person Jeanne Dielman.
Five women living very different lives in late 20th century Iran escape men to find strength and sensitivity in themselves and each other. My favorite character is also a tree. My next favorite can read minds. There is tragedy, yes, but there is far more magic, mindfulness, and courage.
Some books are time machines. This is one of those books. Follow the Shaposhnikov family and their friends as war flings them mercilessly to the various frayed edges of Soviet Russia (and beyond). If you're willing to brave the darkest chapter in recent history, you'll be rewarded with an epic story that swallows you whole. Tender and wry, modest and immense, bursting with sentiment and satire, often heartbreaking but never boring—this book may change your life.
This weird Russian novel imagines humanity some 200 years after the cataclysmic Blast. Slapstick but cynical, Tolstaya writes like Bolaño, but a Bolaño tripping balls on LSD instead of heroin - they share a sentimental nihilism, or a precise tossed-offedness. In other words, instead of lists of dead girls, we get straight-faced descriptions of people's post-nuclear Consequences, like nostrils sprouted on knees and extra legs. This book is hilarious and tragic, bizarre and bizarrely moving. (There is, I think, a little Benedikt in all of us.)
Often cited as the primary influence on George Orwell's 1984 (with famed occult writer Colin Wilson going so far as to say that he doubted Orwell's volume would have found publication in the United Kingdom had there been a decent English translation of this book available at the time), We is an innovative, passionately pro-democratic novel on its own terms. Both an imaginative exploration of human consciousness and a vehement argument against totalitarianism - the creeping of which was well underway at the time and place of its writing in the Soviet Union of the 1920's - We was almost impossibly ahead of its time, and - sadly - is all too timely, present day. Read and remember: there can be no final revolution!
Banana Yoshimoto's short and delicate novel discusses broken families, taboo love affairs, suicide, and overcoming loss, yet her characters approach these topics as if they were common and familiar, emphasizing on human relationships and mutual understanding, all while navigating through the everyday musings and passing thoughts during Japan's lost generation. Reading this feels like you're alone drinking coffee with a friend on a dark rooftop in Tokyo, feeling the crisp air of a deep blue night, holding tight and not wanting it to ever end.
Having just crossed over, Yang Fei arrives in the afterlife which acts more as a waiting room for people who have yet to be cremated back on earth. Here, he meets the souls of people he's lost, whose stories from their lives offer us thoughtful observations of modern China. The stories, while often tragic, are told all so beautifully... and they show that when the physical world of greed, power, and status is removed, we're left with only the most fundamental aspects of our life: empathy, compassion, and human bonding.