Review: The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, trans. by Stephen Snyder (Pantheon 2019)

Reviewed by Rebecca Valley

“’Long ago, before you were born, there were many more things here,’ my mother used to tell me when I was still a child. ‘Transparent things, fragrant things… fluttery ones, bright ones…” (3)

In her essay “Fairy Tale is Form, Form is Fairy Tale,” author Kate Bernheimer defines the fairy tale for a contemporary audience – what fairy tales are made of, what doors they can open.

“With their flatness, abstraction, intuitive logic, and normalized magic, fairy tales hold a key to the door fiercely locked between so-called realism and nonrealism, convention and experimental-ism, psychology and abstraction. A key for those who see these as binaries, that is.”

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Review: How to Pull Apart the Earth by Karla Cordero

How to Pull Apart the Earth by Karla Cordero (Not A Cult, 2018)

Reviewed by Leonora Simonovis

Featured in Oprah Magazine under the title “17 of the Best Poetry Books, as Recommended by Acclaimed Writers for National Poetry Month” How to Pull Apart the Earth is described by writer Laura Villareal as a journey into “the collective memory found in [the author’s] personal history, reminding us that we are rooted in the same familial tenderness.” The beautifully written 71 poems speak to the author’s identity as a Chicanx/Latinx woman raised in the border town of Calexico and themes of family, migration, and awareness, as well as identity and belonging, are seamlessly weaved throughout.

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Review: The Hole by José Revueltas

The Hole by José Revueltas (New Directions, 2018)

Reviewed by Andres Vaamonde

In 1969, writer and leftist revolutionary José Revueltas was in prison. It wasn’t his first time. More than thirty years earlier, when Revueltas was a teenager, he served multiple bids for his participation in the then-outlawed Communist Party of Mexico. He never attended university. Still, he became an important (if controversial) intellectual figure in Mexico, eventually finding himself in a cell in the infamous Lecumberri Prison in 1969 with nothing but time, fury, and, somehow, a typewriter.

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Review: The Emissary by Yoko Tawada

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The Emissary by Yoko Tawada, trans. by Margaret Mitsutani (New Directions 2018)

Reviewed by Rebecca Valley

It had been my intention all along to review Yoko Tawada’s most recently translated novel The Emissary this week, and the announcement that Tawada was the recipient of the first award for translated literature since the National Book Award became the National Book Award in the early 1980s only solidified my thrill at getting the chance to write about this novel. Though all the books selected this year are exciting – I am particularly interested in finally reading Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend – I am particularly happy to see this nod to translated books in American literature. Compared to most countries America’s publication of translated works is nominal, and I respect and appreciate the National Book Award in their effort to encourage publishers to look internationally for new voices. Continue reading

Review: Park Bench by Christophe Chaboute

park-bench-9781501154027_lgPark Bench by Christophe Chaboute (Gallery 13, 2017)

Reviewed by Rebecca Valley

In April, I visited Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in Los Angeles with my mother. It was an impulse decision – it was hot, Madame Tussaud’s was air-conditioned, and deep down my mother and I are both too vain to resist a good photo shoot. We wandered past eerily life-like figures of Snoop Dogg and Betty White into a gallery of movie sets, where I found the thing I didn’t know I was looking for – a young Tom Hanks in a khaki suit, back straight and feet slightly pigeon-toed, seated on a half-empty park bench. Continue reading

Review: Tell Me How it Ends by Valeria Luiselli

tell me howTell Me How it Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions by Valeria Luiselli (Coffee House Press, 2017)

Reviewed by Rebecca Valley

In Tell Me How it Ends, novelist Valeria Luiselli sheds the cloak of fiction to write a different kind of narrative – one that, as the author’s daughter discovers, doesn’t have a neat ending. The book tackles Luiselli’s experience volunteering at an immigration court in New York City, where she translated the answers migrant children gave to the questions that stood between a return to their home country and the promise of a new life in the United States. Continue reading

Review: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

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The Vegetarian by Han Kang (Hogarth Books, 2015) trans. by Deborah Smith

Reviewed by Rebecca Valley

On the surface, the story of Han Kang’s Man Booker prize-winning novel The Vegetarian sounds almost like a fairy tale. It is the story, after all, of a woman desperate to become a tree. But the pages themselves weave a different sort of tale – one of nightmares, of abuse, of the misunderstandings and cruelties which stem from an attempt at independence. In three parts, it winds itself around one starving woman, and the myriad ways the other characters seek to control her desires. It is horrifying, stark, unflinching book which sneaks up on you, startles you. After reading this book, I was afraid to look in the mirror. Continue reading

Review: Rain of the Future by Valerie Mejer

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Rain of the Future by Valerie Mejer (Action Books, 2013) Trans. by Forrest Gander, C.D. Wright, and A.S. Zelman-Doring

Reviewed by Rebecca Valley

In her book Rain of the Future, Valerie Mejer begins underwater. She writes:

 

“In the green water I saw your eye and in it I saw that Arabian palace

filled with birds and broken glass.

My sun-baked body at the edge,

wind in my lungs, its whistle,

my torn world, my grief,

my soggy passport, my shell with no pearl,

you lift them, delicate cloud, into a liquid world.” (15)

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SNOW: Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others and Me by Teffi

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Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me: The Best of Teffi (New York Review of Books Classics, 2016)

Reviewed by Rebecca Valley

I can thank Women in Translation Month for my introduction to Russian author Teffi, born Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1872. Last year, the New York Review of Books published two translations of her work, Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea, an account of her last few months living in the Russia and the Ukraine before she was forced into exile in Paris in the 1920s and 30s, and Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others and Me, a collection of autobiographical short stories that span everything from her flirtations with Rasputin to life as a writer in the months before the Russian Revolution. I chose the latter collection because I’m a sucker for Rasputin, but these stories delve so much deeper – into the difficulties of motherhood, finding a place for art in revolution, and discussions of power and powerlessness as a woman at the turn of the century – and they accomplish all that with a stunning balance of humor and poetic language. Suffice to say, I devoured these stories in a weekend, and I have plans to snag a copy of Memories at the next appropriate moment. Continue reading