Some call Osamu Dazai the Japanese Thomas Bernhard—a masterful writer of estranged narrators, the relentlessly dour, and timeless cruelties. Originally published in 1948, and translated into English by Donald Keene in 1958, this extraordinary book recently found new life on TikTok, where it's introduced thousands of young readers to literature in translation.
A novel I return to when I can't read anything else. This unabashedly funny debut chronicles the post-academic life of writer Peter Cunningham. Martin’s characters are all sharp and easy to love, despite their errors. They drink too much, lay out their ambitions, overanalyze, pursue destructive relationships, and mine the dreadful ends of experience for something to poke and laugh about. There's even a love triangle. A brilliant book that names the unnameable gloom of being unsure and writing in the 21st century.
Always kooky but never clownish, One's Company is the most impossible of things: a zany novel about trauma.
Dermansky is one of the few writers for whom I’ll drop whatever I’m holding wherever I am because her books are always worth risking a broken toe.
This is classic Dermansky: acerbic, immersive, and the kind of fun that makes you question your moral compass a smidgen. Which, let’s face it, is the best kind of fun.
Hurricane Girl left me as concussed as the protagonist and there’s really no higher praise.
Something about the deadpan confidence of Haber's work has the power to convince me that imaginary paintings are real, conjured writers have walked the Earth, and the sky is purple and filled with green clouds. We're all gullible neophytes before Mark Haber's breathless novels. Saint Sebastian's Abyss is one of the first of its kind by an American writer, a sleek novel about Renaissance art, rivalry between friends and devotees, and the meaning of the obsessions that orbit our careers. There's not a single sentence in this book that isn't ecstatic.
Mieko Kawakami has the talent to quietly devastate through her poetic narratives, bringing a uniquely female voice to contemporary Japanese literature. While I read this in one sitting, I kept having to take little breaks to sigh and swell, taking in all the beautiful minute details of Fuyuko Irie's lonely freelance life, and the sparse moments of companionship she finds with the kind but mysterious physics teacher she met under strange circumstances.
A bookseller at the famed Brazos Bookstore in Houston, Mark Haber has written an unbelievably funny and dour novel about the nature of melancholy, set in a South American jungle. I still remember a particular scene involving rabid hounds roaming Tolstoy's estate, which was so detailed and so good I thought it was somehow true, but it was not. This is the joy of reading Mark Haber—falling into fictions face first.
Zambra's novels can be cheeky and experimental, but there's always substance. Chilean Poet is an exquisite book about bad juvenilia (in the funniest ways), unconventional fatherhood, and how the most obscure realms of literature and bookstores can connect generations. His characters can be jerks who love books, but boy, aren't we all?
The Chilean writer, painter, art critic, and avant-garde surrealist Juan Emar has never been translated into English… but if Megan McDowell’s brilliant translation is any indication, we’ll all be Emar fanatics soon. (Many of your favorite Chilean writers probably grew up reading him.) In Yesterday’s most notable scene, an ostrich defecates a lion. I couldn’t tell you what else it’s about, but I found it all wonderful.
This novel, like a certain Canadian punk band’s debut studio album, is all killer, no filler. Rejean Ducharme, a virtual unknown in this country, was a reclusive Quebecois author known for his fluvial cynicism. Ducharme's Berenice is an over-intelligent and cantankerous 9-year-old, the sum of her environment and the whole cruel human ecosystem, and yet she delights in the first snow of winter, and experiences 'some kind of miracle' while hunting for bugs. Madeleine Stratford has translated Ducharme in a strange and most meaningful way—with conviction, with clarity, with a bit of finger-pointing in every sentence. A book that will endure, even if I'm the only one who reads it.