The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann, trans. by Jen Calleja (Coach House Books 2020)
Reviewed by Aramis Grant
The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann, translated by Jen Calleja from German, follows middle-aged German professor Gilbert Silvester. Silvester is a researcher on beard styles in film, who, after dreaming of his wife cheating on him, reacts in his waking life as if his dream reveals an unquestionable truth. He allows his anger and disappointment to carry him overseas to Japan, where he meets a suicidal young man named Yosa Tamagotchi.
Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang, trans. by Ken Liu (Saga Press 2020)
Reviewed by Allison McCausland
Slow burn stories rarely find their place in modern storytelling. It is even rarer when a slow burn has so much thought and detail in its world-building that it warrants dissection of the most minute details. The novel Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang achieves this feat by taking its time revealing Jingfang’s extensive research of physics, economics, and social systems.
Sparrow by Mary Cecilia Jackson (Tor Teen, 2020)
Reviewed by Maayan D’Antonio
Jackson’s debut novel tells the story of 17-year-old ballerina Savannah Rose—“Sparrow” to her friends and family. Sparrow has been chosen to dance the role of the Swan Queen, with her best friend and dance partner Lucas as the prince. But dancing isn’t Sparrow’s only talent. Her real talent is keeping secrets—a practice distilled into her by her long dead mother.
OBIT by Victoria Chang (Copper Canyon Press, 2020)
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
I wrote my first and only obituary in 2018, for my uncle. His name was Thom. He died quite suddenly, at 48, after decade-old cancer cells appeared again in his colon, took over his liver, swallowed him up.
Which is to say that I am no expert in the articulation of existence. And anyway, how do you go about writing a single document that might convey the precious, imperfect, complicated, wonderful nuances of an entire life? For Victoria Chang, the obituary is not just a death notice, but a mode. In her latest collection, OBIT, she asks: What continues to live when someone we love dies? What dies with them?
“I used to think that a dead person’s words die with them. Now I know that they scatter, looking for meaning to attach to a scent” (18)
This Close To Happy: A Reckoning with Depression by Daphne Merkin (Farrar, straus, and giroux 2017)
Reviewed by Patricia Steckler
Not glamorous, not an artistically-hued state of suffering for the more sensitive souls on earth. Not a story that can be told with the dramatic climax and victorious transcendency that characterizes heroic tales. No. Depression is unabated suffering whose victims, often blamed for self-absorption, shunned as social pariahs, writhe in silence. Daphne Merkin, the writer and literary critic, tells her depression tale in the dark memoir, This Close To Happy: A Reckoning With Depression.
The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper (bloomsbury 2020)
Reviewed by Madeleine Nowak
If I really wanted to do Phil Stamper’s debut YA novel The Gravity of Us justice, I’d pull out my phone and video myself live walking through the streets of New York City while I shared my thoughts with you. To review the book this way would be the best homage to Cal, the wonderful narrator Stamper has crafted, a social-media-savvy, budding seventeen year-old reporter from Brooklyn who suddenly finds himself transplanted to Clear Lake, Texas when his dad is picked as an astronaut candidate for NASA’s first mission to Mars. In Clear Lake, Cal is pulled away from everything he loves from Brooklyn, but unexpectedly brought closer to Leon, the son of another astronaut and the perfect love match for Cal.
Evidence of V: A Novel in Fragments, Facts, and Fictions by Sheila O’Connor (Rose Metal Press, 2019)
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
We are not taught to think of women in prison. The cells which contain women, we are told, are physical, social – women are victims, and men their assailants. Like so much gendered terminology, we have prisons, and then we have women’s prisons. As if an afterthought, as if a near impossibility that a woman might have the ability, the audacity to act against the norm. Have we not, we ponder, created enough of a cage for women out of invisible walls – out of the nuances of our socially constructed expectations, exploitations? And what to do with a girl who is not considerate of the walls we have put up for her? What to do with a girl who wants something else?
Sea, Land, Shadow by Kazuko Shiraishi, trans. by Yumiko Tsumara (New Directions Books, 2017)
Reviewed by Clara Guyton
Nicknamed “the Alan Ginsberg of Japan” by Kenneth Rexroth, Kazuko Shiraishi brings readers a sight-seeing drive through the mystical mountains of Japan in her collection Sea, Land, Shadow, complete with sharp turns and curves, moments of awe-inspiring depth and darkness, and instants of effervescent lightheartedness.
“on a mountain road in a traffic jam
I have poetry, so I’m fine…” (8)
As we embark on a new decade, I wanted to provide a guidebook for a year of reading – a list which might offer, loosely, a template for reading to encourage you to hear new voices, support new authors, and step outside your comfort zone.