At The Literary Review, I explore Transit Books' epic new release, Kintu, by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. Conceived as a national mythology, Uganda's answer to Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, this ambitious novel, I argue, is a timely tale for all audiences, and thus, with this debut, Makumbi stands to become a powerful voice for our globalizing world. What is, ostensibly, a knitting together of multiple personal stories -- of seemingly disconnected characters whose individual searches for identity do not crystallize until they themselves converge -- becomes a collective tapestry of personal versus communal, national versus global, and the ripples of meaning colliding with unexpected beauty.
My review of Catalan modernist Mercè Rodoreda's War, So Much War was selected for publication in the summer issue of The Puritan. The novel, which I call "literary quicksilver" for its defiance of conventional literary forms, was published only three years before the prolific writer's death in 1983 and now appears, courtesy of Open Letter Books, in a "hypnotic" and "incandescent" English translation by Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent. Tensely psychological, Rodoreda's deft manipulation of voice serves as a perfect vehicle of expression for the novel's existential themes, foregrounded in this nameless, place-less war which suggests an interior, rather than a geographical, landscape. Yet despite the vague setting, Rodoreda devotees will recognize the author's recurrent pastoral imagery, simultaneously violent and bucolic, and her provocative stream-of-conscious narration peopled with fascinating characters. Explore the enigmatic territory of the self with my review of a welcome addition to the Rodoreda corpus in English.
Today sees the English-language release of Mexican novelist Juan Pablo Villalobos' I'll Sell You a Dog (translated by Rosalind Harvey), which I reviewed for The Literary Review. Featuring a curmudgeonly narrator, Teo, who repeatedly disavows writing the novel you are reading, I'll Sell You a Dog is at once an uproarious satire and a poignant meditation upon art, frustrated ambition, aging, and the human need for meaning-making. Surrender to this "riotous ouroboros" of a novel, as Teo, heading a cast of quirky characters, flings you haphazardly through his life story.
At The Literary Review, I examine a "distinctive voice in contemporary fiction" with 101 Detectives, an ambitious story collection from South-African writer Ivan Vladislavić. The eleven, decidedly postmodern stories contained in this volume show a "technical dexterity" that is well-suited for the author's perennial themes: identity, otherness, and the commodification of art amidst globalization. Yet running through these complex conceits is the hidden vein of the interpersonal - those quotidian accounts of individuals reaching out to a vast, confounding world, desperate for a toe-hold, some connection - that resonates long after the multi-layered structure of the stories has been mined of its sociopolitical implications, thereby bringing the universal home.
Contemporary readers are fortunate that New Directions recently re-released this overlooked classic of the Black Arts Movement. At The Literary Review, I take a look at Fran Ross's Oreo: the book's literary context and its modern-day resonance, in particular its picaresque heroine's role as embodiment of America's diverse cultural identity. The novel interrogates a wealth of sociological themes such as race, ethnicity and feminism, all with a delightfully irreverent tone that mixes high and low culture and will have readers of all tastes laughing out loud. Keenly satirical, linguistically innovative and unabashedly erudite, Oreo has long been ripe for rediscovery.
My latest review looks at finalist for this year's Best Translated Book Award, Valeria Luiselli's Faces in the Crowd (translated by Christina MacSweeney). This "haunting, intelligent masterpiece" introduces English readers to a boldly original voice in world literature. Not only does MacSweeney's deft handling of the narrative's braided voices, metafictional layering and inventive use of language signal that this translation is more than deserving of the award. Readers will also find themselves under the spell of the novel's shifting sands, pitching back and forth in time and place, in a narrative which steadily builds to a breathtaking conclusion.
Meet Erasmo Aragón, the anxious, self-deluding and extremely unreliable narrator of Horacio Castellanos Moya's The Dream of My Return (translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver), which I reviewed recently at The Mookse and the Gripes. Erasmo's torturous attempts to remember his past, all while planning a possibly foolhardy return to his native El Salvador, will leave the reader reeling. A "maddening yet provocative whirlwind" of a psychological novel which unsettles with its explorations into questions of memory, trauma and identity, The Dream of My Return is worth returning to again and again.
My latest review at Reading in Translation looks at a picaresque masterpiece from Georgian author Mikheil Javakhishvili, Kvachi. In its exploration of themes from personal legacy to the stain of twentieth-century history to the ambivalence of Georgian identity, Kvachi proves "both epic and intimate." Thanks to Donald Rayfield's painstaking translation, modern Anglophone readers can enjoy this "devilishly provocative, heartfelt and ironic" novel in its most complete version to date (in any language), making it a literary event not to be missed.
Publication announcements, bookish items of note and the occasional literary musing.