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  • ESSAY Living Bones

    by Josh Billings

    the appearance of Antagony in English, almost half a century after its original publication, is good news for readers hoping to expand their definitions of what a novel is and can do. The long delay before any translation of it appeared has as much to do, no doubt, with the blatantly unmagical nature of the reality it examines (life under Spanish dictator Francisco Franco) as with its relentless formal experimentation. Nevertheless, it is a difficult novel, one that treats history as a dream from which one can only awaken by a relentless and ruthless dissection of storytelling itself. [read full essay]

    ESSAY Review 31's Books of the Year 2022

    by Review 31

    Translated literature features prominently in our contributors’ picks this year. The selection includes contemporary voices like Claudia Durastanti and Johanne Lykke Holm as well as veteran filmmaker Werner Herzog, and reissued classics by the likes of Arthur Rimbaud, Yuri Felsen and Alexander Lernet-Holenia. There are also poetry collections by Emily Berry and Zaffar Kunial, novellas by Jessica Au and Charles Boyle, works by two Jameses — Hannaham and Buchan — and a couple of debuts: Camilla Grudova’s ‘macabre dream’, Children of Paradise, and Sean Thor Conroe’s opinion-splitting autofiction, Fuccboi. [read full essay]

    Many Lives In One

    Stephanie Sy-Quia, Amnion

    reviewed by Ben Ray

    A constantly shifting constellation of voices, Amnion travels through space and time at dizzying speed in a startlingly complex, dense, and personal exploration of identity and heritage. If one were forced to summarise this twisting kaleidoscope of a publication, it could be described roughly as Stephanie Sy-Quia’s scrapbook of memories, anecdotes, and reflections, charting her family’s history across continents on a journey of self-discovery — but, of course, this would hardly do justice... [read more]

    Against Death and Boredom

    Philippa Snow, Which As You Know Means Violence: On Self-Injury as Art and Entertainment

    reviewed by Katherine Franco

    If you walked into the storefront at 3 Mercer Street on 29 November 1975, you would have received a glass of wine from the artist Lil Picard. You would then have been encouraged to spit this wine on writer Kathy Acker’s naked body. The activity goes by the name of Tasting & Spitting, a performance piece by Picard and starring Acker in Lower Manhattan. Acker is, of course, pissed at Picard by the performance’s end: for appropriating Acker’s moniker the ‘Black Tarantula’ within the... [read more]
     

    Everybody Would Win

    Luke Savage, The Dead Center: Reflections on Liberalism and Democracy After the End of History

    reviewed by Luke Warde

    Luke Savage begins the first essay of The Dead Center, ‘Liberalism in Theory and Practice’, by describing his first ‘formative’ political memory: the evening of November 4th, 2008, when Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. Given who he was and what he represented, this was in itself an event of colossal historical importance. Yet much of Obama’s true significance lay not in what he had just achieved, unprecedented as this was, but in what he promised: a better,... [read more]

    Value Systems

    Edward F. Fischer, Making Better Coffee: How Maya Farmers and Third Wave Tastemakers Create Value

    reviewed by Sean Russell

    When I worked as a barista I found there were two types of customer. The ones that bemoaned the price of the coffee as too expensive, and those who were happy to pay extra, seeing it as benefitting those who farmed the beans in faraway and exotic places. Well, good coffee should be expensive, but the truth is that most of the profits — even of so-called third-wave artisan coffee — still remain in the place of consumption, not production. Meanwhile, the farmers, while undoubtedly doing... [read more]
     

    The Desire for Agency

    Marguerite Duras, trans. Emma Ramadan & Olivia Baes, The Easy Life

    reviewed by Daisy Sainsbury

    Published in 1944 when the author was 30, The Easy Life was Marguerite Duras’s second novel. Thanks to co-translators Emma Ramadan and Olivia Baes, it is now appearing in English for the first time, nearly 80 years later. Very few of Duras’s works have remained untranslated for so long, which poses the obvious question of why. Was the delay simply a product of happenstance? Or is this early novel not very good? The answer, I suspect, is somewhere between the two. Set on an isolated... [read more]

    A New Lightness

    Mohsin Hamid, The Last White Man: A Novel

    reviewed by Michael Duffy

    In his 1952 disquisition on the experience of blackness, Black Skin, White Masks, the French-Martinique philosopher Frantz Fanon asserts the equality of all men before recounting his experience of an encounter with a white family. Fanon writes that, among black friends and family, his blackness was unremarkable, but this changes under the racialising gaze of empire: ‘the occasion arose when I had to meet the white man's eyes. An unfamiliar weight burdened me.’ It is this unfamiliar weight... [read more]
     

    ’Tis time to shake the Kremlin walls!

    Vladimir Sorokin, trans. Max Lawton, Telluria

    reviewed by Patrick Preziosi

    To read about Vladimir Sorokin is to be inundated with suppositions about real-world analogues. Who or what was the inspiration for this passage of remarkable scatology, violence, profanity, fascistic activity — or some amalgamation of the four? Often considered Russia’s leading contemporary novelist, Sorokin’s work has been long suppressed by the authorities of his own country. However, the rate of English translation has distorted American critics’ ideas of relevance, drilling... [read more]

    The Flow of Imagination or Dreams

    Mariana Enríquez, Our Share of Night

    reviewed by Lucy Thynne

    Mariana Enríquez gets good book covers. For her Man Booker-nominated short stories, The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, a disembodied face floats, a cigarette hanging out of one eye, a long-nailed hand curling around the other. For her latest book, Our Share of Night — her first novel published in English — that hand yawns out to fill the entire cover. It is a silhouette, the fingernails again horrifying and long, this time gold. They snag your attention well. Were they to tap at your window at... [read more]
     

    Elegance and Suspense

    Philip ó Ceallaigh, Trouble

    reviewed by Archie Cornish

    Philip ó Ceallaigh settled in Bucharest at the end of the 1990s, and since then most of his stories have taken place in eastern Europe. In deadbeat neighbourhoods and stifling apartment blocks, their protagonists eke out austere livings. His lauded first collection Notes from a Turkish Whorehouse (2006) depicts Bucharest — ‘that terrible city which wears you down’ — as itself eroded, full of corruption and decay. The crumbling blocks are ruins of the Communist era, Ceau?escu’s... [read more]

    Drama and Spectacle

    Stephen Marche, The Next Civil War: Dispatches from the American Future

    reviewed by Tom Cutterham

    The United States was born in a bloody civil war, which over the course of eight years not only dismembered the British empire in North America, but also wrought transformative destruction on indigenous communities and created displaced populations from Canada to Florida, New Orleans to the west African coast. Uprisings, insurrections, filibusters, and secessionists have plagued the republic ever since — just as they have other settler-colonial empires. The Civil War of 1861–65, which ended... [read more]
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