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.”

Continue reading

Review: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

kang

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

rain-of-the-future

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)

Continue reading

SNOW: Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others and Me by Teffi

51uhkr0cdsl-_sy344_bo1204203200_

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

Review: Mãn by Kim Thuy

kim thuy

Mãn by Kim Thúy, trans. by Sheila Fischman (Vintage Canada, 2015)

Reviewed by Rebecca Valley

Usually, the books I pluck from bookstore shelves are familiar – familiar authors, familiar titles from endless lists of books I have to read before I die lest I pass on without have experienced the one literary treasure I’d been holding out for. This book was different.

I found Kim Thuy’s novel Mãn in the clearance section of Elliot Bay Books in Seattle, a little gem among a hodgepodge of forgotten coffee table history tomes and books of smoothie recipes. Continue reading

Recommended Reading: Women in Translation


by Rebecca Valley

#WITMonth snuck up on me. I was busy tying up all the loose ends from our August 1st launch, and when I finally resurfaced I discovered that my Twitter feed was inundated with a library’s worth of books by ladies from around the world. Among the stacks of recommendations were old favorites like Silvina Ocampo and Isabel Allende, and acquaintances like Han Kang, whose book The Vegetarian has been on my to-read list for months. What truly amazed me, though, was the sheer number of authors I’d never discovered — women whose names I had never heard, whose titles I had yet to uncover. Continue reading