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.
Jon Fosse's Septology cycle has been one of my most meaningful encounters of the pandemic. Hypnotic, soothing, intellectually reverent. Damion Searls is the perfect translator for Fosse's unending sentences, that repeat and circle back on themselves with mathematical beauty, creating some of the most significant literature I've read on alcoholism, faith, and artmaking I can remember. Septology could fill a hundred volumes, and I would read forever.
It's incredible what the Germans can do—disgust you, isolate you, toss you—the reader—to the curb and expect devotion in return. (Unfortunately, it works.) Wolfgang Hilbig's The Interim is the revered German writer's most complete and erudite of his works translated into English. Isabel Fargo Cole doesn't miss a beat of Hilbig's humor and disorientation. The Interim reads like literature crawling out of the drain; the novel's narrator, known only as C., is both loveable and inescapable in his singular history of two Germany's: East and West. As C. has it: "Literature that refused to serve the purpose of distraction was punished by being passed over on the market. . . the best distraction was what sold the best." The Interim is the opposite of such distraction; it also happens to be a damn good book.
The inaugural publication from Fern Books, AN IDEAL PRESENCE is a book about death, dying, care, and the cold logistics of it all. A work of fiction by an OuLiPian with the fatal energy of Alice Oswald's Memorial, I was as amazed by this polyphonic novel as I was humbled by its reverence for the profession of caregiving in our often unremarkable final hours. An instant favorite.
Our ill-fated narrator is Aurora Berro, who dies in the novel’s opening pages when a vinyl record, screaming across the sky like a “demented boomerang,” slices her jugular in unspectacular fashion. What ensues is a nightmare of vaudevillian overtones and magnificent solitude (think Carmen Boullosa meets Jon Fosse meets Marx Brothers). Out of the Cage made me feel uneasy in my skin, uneasy about the fact of my birth, and suddenly unsure of how my mother really felt about me.
When Geissler's narrator, a writer and translator, is unable to afford a life on freelance wages, she takes up a seasonal position at an Amazon fulfillment center. As a prose writer, Geissler is like a German Valeria Luiselli or Sheila Heti; like no other book I've read, she makes the humiliations of wage labor unavoidably clear. Read this if you've ever purchased a book from Amazon (or a shower curtain, or anything really). This book is not a journalist's hit piece on the megacorporation—it's a nightmare, an intellectual life subdued, a novel full of nuance and dread worthy of Kafka.
Selva Almada's novel lasts only a moment but echoes across deserts. She treats the subject of God with an honesty both skeptical and earnest. In this sharp translation by Chris Andrews, Almado is one of those mysterious debuts who has eschewed naivety, achieving perfect mood.
From the legendary Japenese author Osamu Dazai, father of Yuko Tsushima, comes this miserable book, hardly a novel at all, a book about extreme alienation and cruelty that somehow perfectly describes the discomfort and obscurity of coming of age.