Celebrating its 12th year of honoring literature in translation, the Best Translated Book Awards named its 2019 longlists for both fiction and poetry.
Announced here—with a write-up tomorrow from BTBA founder Chad Post at Three Percent—the lists include a diverse range of authors, languages, countries, and publishers. It features familiar presses—Ugly Duckling Presse, Coffee House, New Directions—along with presses appearing for the first time, such as Song Cave and Fitzcarraldo.
Nineteen different translators are making their first appearance, while last year’s winning team of author Rodrigo Fresán and translator Will Vanderhyden returns. The lists feature authors writing in 16 different languages, from 24 different countries. The books were published by 26 different presses, the majority either independent or university presses.
Thanks to grant funds from the Amazon Literary Partnership, the winning authors and translators will each receive $5,000. The finalists for both the fiction and poetry awards will be announced on Wednesday, May 15.
Best Translated Book Award 2019: Fiction Longlist
Congo Inc.: Bismarck’s Testament by In Koli Jean Bofane, translated from the French by Marjolijn de Jager (Democratic Republic of Congo, Indiana University Press)
The Hospital by Ahmed Bouanani, translated from the French by Lara Vergnaud (Morocco, New Directions)
A Dead Rose by Aurora Cáceres, translated from the Spanish by Laura Kanost (Peru, Stockcero)
Love in the New Millennium by Xue Can, translated from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen (China, Yale University Press)
Slave Old Man by Patrick Chamoiseau, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale (Martinique, New Press)
Wedding Worries by Stig Dagerman, translated from the Swedish by Paul Norlen and Lo Dagerman (Sweden, David Godine)
Pretty Things by Virginie Despentes, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan, (France, Feminist Press)
Disoriental by Negar Djavadi, translated from the French by Tina Kover (Iran, Europa Editions)
Dézafi by Frankétienne, translated from the French by Asselin Charles (published by Haiti, University of Virginia Press)
Bottom of the Sky by Rodrigo Fresán, translated from the Spanish by Will Vanderhyden (Argentina, Open Letter)
Bride and Groom by Alisa Ganieva, translated from the Russian by Carol Apollonio (Russia, Deep Vellum)
People in the Room by Norah Lange, translated from the Spanish by Charlotte Whittle (Argentina, And Other Stories)
Comemadre by Roque Larraquy, translated from the Spanish by Heather Cleary (Argentina, Coffee House)
Moon Brow by Shahriar Mandanipour, translated from the Persian by Khalili Sara (Iran, Restless Books)
Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer, translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire (Germany, Fitzcarraldo Editions)
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori (Japan, Grove)
After the Winter by Guadalupe Nettel, translated from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey (Mexico, Coffee House)
Transparent City by Ondjaki, translated from the Portuguese by Stephen Henighan (Angola, Biblioasis)
Lion Cross Point by Masatsugo Ono, translated from the Japanese by Angus Turvill (Japan, Two Lines Press)
The Governesses by Anne Serre, translated from the French by Mark Hutchinson (France, New Directions)
Öræfï by Ófeigur Sigurðsson, translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith (Iceland, Deep Vellum)
Codex 1962 by Sjón, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb (Iceland, FSG)
Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft (Poland, Riverhead)
Fox by Dubravka Ugresic, translated from the Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursac and David Williams (Croatia, Open Letter)
Seventeen by Hideo Yokoyama, translated from the Japanese by Louise Heal Kawai (Japan, FSG)
This year’s fiction jury is made up of: Pierce Alquist (BookRiot), Caitlin L. Baker (Island Books), Kasia Bartoszyńska (Monmouth College), Tara Cheesman (freelance book critic), George Carroll (litintranslation.com), Adam Hetherington (reader), Keaton Patterson (Brazos Bookstore), Sofia Samatar (writer), Ely Watson (A Room of One’s Own).
Best Translated Book Award 2019: Poetry Longlist
The Future Has an Appointment with the Dawn by Tenella Boni, translated from the French by Todd Fredson (Cote D’Ivoire, University of Nebraska)
Dying in a Mother Tongue by Roja Chamankar, translated from the Persian by Blake Atwood (Iran, University of Texas)
Moss & Silver by Jure Detela, translated from the Slovenian by Raymond Miller and Tatjana Jamnik (Slovenia, Ugly Duckling)
Of Death. Minimal Odes by Hilda Hilst, translated from the Portuguese by Laura Cesarco Eglin (Brazil, co-im-press)
Autobiography of Death by Kim Hysesoon, translated from the Korean by Don Mee Choi (Korea, New Directions)
Negative Space by Luljeta Lleshanaku, translated from the Albanian by Ani Gjika (Albania, New Directions)
Scardanelli by Frederike Mayrocker, translated from the German by Jonathan Larson (Austria, Song Cave)
the easiness and the loneliness by Asta Olivia Nordenhof, translated from the Danish by Susanna Nied (Denmark, Open Letter)
Nioque of the Early-Spring by Francis Ponge, translated from the French by Jonathan Larson (France, Song Cave)
Architecture of a Dispersed Life by Pable de Rokha, translated from the Spanish by Urayoán Noel (Chile, Shearsman Books)
The poetry jury includes: Jarrod Annis (Greenlight Bookstore), Katrine Øgaard Jensen (EuropeNow), Tess Lewis (writer and translator), Aditi Machado (poet and translator), and Laura Marris (writer and translator).
I didn’t read much during the first half of the year. Trying to finish up my own novel left me so exhausted, and at one point, so repelled by the creation of fiction that I could barely even look at a book. Which all seemed very much like something out of O. Henry: I’d started writing fiction because I love to read it and yet found myself unable to read because of what I was writing.
Funnily enough, the book that broke this curse was Enchantments: A Modern Witch’s Guide to Self-Possession by Mya Spalter. I picked it up because I aspire to project the appearance of self-possession—fake it until you make it, as they say. It’s a short book designed to remind its reader just how much power our intentions, habits, and rituals assert in our lives. I’m at my most functional when I’m fully engaged with this fact.
I read My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, and the idea of taking a full year off from my own life to sleep was so appealing that it made me a little worried. At the time, I was feeling exhausted from writing, from work, from the news, from the bizarre way that time seemed to behave in 2018—somehow the beginning of the year feels like it was an eon ago. And yet, I don’t feel that I’m allowed to waste my own time, which makes me wonder if I suspect it doesn’t really belong to me.
I read two books of poetry this year, the first of which being Maps by John Freeman. As you might be able to tell from the title, it’s a strongly setting-oriented collection, and the focus on location was pleasantly grounding for me, even when the poems dealt with violence, grief, and other difficult subject matter. The second book was a re-read: IRL by Tommy Pico, who has been my closest friend for the last decade and a half. I revisited this book because I miss him—for the first time since we met we are no longer living in the same city; his departure was a quietly cataclysmic event that dominated the emotional landscape of my 2018. I love this book as I love Tommy, who is just as insightful and funny in person as he is on the page.
This year, I finally finished The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, which I’ve been reading since 2014. It’s a deeply weird book—the devil and his entourage show up in Soviet Moscow to torture the literati class, and Jesus and Pontius Pilate also appear in a few chapters. I doubt I would’ve kept reading it had it not been recommended to me by some good friends of mine whose taste I really like and respect. There was so much affection for me in this recommendation and so much affection for my friends in my desire to see the book through to the end. Which I’m glad I did. As it turned out, I ended up really liking and respecting the novel as well.
I read There, There by Tommy Orange, which made me extraordinarily jealous—I don’t know how someone writes so convincingly from multiple perspectives. I feel I will never be able to do this well, so of course it’s a feature of the next writing project I’m planning. Because of this project, which features a con artist, I read Fingersmith by Sarah Waters for inspiration. And I also read Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell, because I think I’d like to set it in 1940s New York.
I bought The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling because when I heard her read an excerpt from it, I felt mesmerized by the prose. Kiesling is an arresting writer on the sentence level, which is a talent that makes me as jealous as the ability to write from multiple perspectives. I loved this book because of the way it depicts a mother’s love for her child: unsentimentally, honestly, and intensely. And as a form of love that can be lonely, even though the object of it is always present.
I read XX by Angela Chadwick, which is also about motherhood. I turned 34 this year, and don’t yet have children but want them, so I found myself thinking about motherhood quite a bit in 2018. In the novel, two women, Rosie and Jules, participate in a clinical trial that allows Rosie to get pregnant through a process called ovum-to-ovum fertilization—meaning that they’re both genetic parents to their child. In the world of the novel, as it would be in the real world, this is highly controversial for many reasons, not the least of which being that participants in the trial can only have female children. I love this premise and Chadwick plays it out through characters that are very emotionally compelling.
Earlier this month, I read Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, as I was coming home from a trip to London to visit my grandmother, who’d had a small stroke earlier in the year (she’s fine). It is a short, light book about a woman who feels that nothing “normal” (marriage, children, professional ambition) is right for her. Instead, she believes that her reason for being is to serve the needs of the convenience store she works in and its customers. I loved this novel because it made me laugh when I really needed it.
2018 was an excellent year for new books. There were a few others that I remember reading and wholeheartedly enjoying: If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim, Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley, Heavy by Kiese Laymon and a galley of Cygnet by Season Butler, which will be out in 2019. I read more than a dozen books in the second half of the year, which is a lot for me because I’m not a particularly fast reader. I read so much because I wasn’t writing, which means my year in reading illustrates something very true about me: I either go all out or I don’t go at all. In 2018, I became inescapably aware of this, and as the year comes to a close, I’m trying to develop better habits that will lead me toward a more balanced 2019. Here’s hoping.
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This year, I read a lot on my phone. That’s a habit I’ve picked up from working gigs where you stand a bunch (watching kids on a swingset, watching adult children park their cars). Some folks don’t vibe with that, but those folks don’t pay my bills, and it meant I could read in doctor’s offices and train stations and airports and noodle bars and passenger seats. I read Alexia Arthurs’s How to Love a Jamaican, Elaine Castillo’s America Is Not the Heart, Nafissa Thompson-Spires’s Heads of the Colored People, Aja Gabel’s The Ensemble, Nik Sharma’s Season, Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know, Tracy K. Smith’s Wade in the Water, R.O. Kwon’s The Incendiaries, Hieu Minh Nguyen’s Not Here, Fatimah Asghar’s If They Come For Us, Katie Williams’s Tell the Machine Goodnight, Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend, Okura’s That Blue Sky Feeling, Alejandro Zambra’s Not to Read, Allegra Hyde’s Of This New World, Hiromi Kawakami’s The Nakano Thrift Shop, Anita Lo’s Solo, Kiese Laymon’s Heavy, and the re-issue of Naoki Urasawa’s 21st Century Boys.
At a few points this year, I got inexplicably sick. I had strange professional developments. I traveled and I mostly stopped smoking but I drank an aggressive amount of milk tea. I gained weight. I cried, for the first time in years, after hearing Frank Ocean’s “Moon River” cover, and then again, a few months later, over something else. I also succumbed to joy. And there was, I think, this year, a pervading numbness, which isn’t even a little bit unique, so I won’t riff too much on it, and reading definitely didn’t eliminate or even diminish that ennui, but still, books provided their own heft of equal or greater emotion, and that more or less countered the void.
So I read at crosswalks. I read at the auto shop. I read in front of the cashier, waiting (praying) for my card to clear. I read Yemisi Aribisala’s Longthroat Memoirs and Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Other Words and all of the lyrics for Mitski’s “Be The Cowboy.” I mourned The Awl, for months, and read all of the remembrances. I read Jamel Brinkley’s A Lucky Man, Luís Urrea’s The House of Broken Angels, Ling Ma’s Severance, and Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman. I reread Haruki Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart, because I do that every year, and Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends, because I think I’ll start doing that every year. I reread Diego Zuñiga’s Camanchaca, Eugene Lim’s Dear Cyborgs, and all of Paul Asta’s poems. I read everything Jia Tolentino wrote, and I reread this essay by Anshuman Iddamsetty, and this one by Vinson Cunningham, and this story by Chris Gonzales, and this story by Sheung-King. I read Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s Monstress, Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry, Kate Gavino’s Sanpaku, Toshiki Okada’s The End of the Moment We Had, Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage, Gengoroh Tagame’s My Brother’s Husband, Chris Ying’s You and I Eat the Same, Yukiko Motoya’s The Lonesome Bodybuilder, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s Friday Black, Sohui Kim’s Korean Home Cooking, Yoko Tawada’s The Emissary, and Pitchaya Sudbanthad’s Bangkok Wakes to Rain.
But, honestly, the main thing that stuck with me in 2018 is having read prayers. Or hopes. Whatever. I spent a good while this year in Tokyo, sort of visiting friends and sort of researching a long thing and sort of fucking around and sort of clearing my head, and a thing I did often was ride the JR line to the Meiji Shrine. It’s in Shibuya, a short walk from Harajuku Station, by this big-ass Gap and an Adidas. In the afternoons, a guy played the Hang in front of the shrine’s arches. When you walked through the gravel, past the barrels of sake, after you’d stepped under the shrine’s pillars, you could sort of amble your way to the arches, and that’s where plenty of people, from all over, left notes on votive tablets beneath an overflowing tree:
I pray my boyfriend’s parents accept me
Hopefully she comes home this year
I pray that the new job brings in enough money for the operation
This year I hope that she finds peace
I pray that his death brings us together
Stuff like that. Deeply personal things, like you’d find in a diary or a post-it stack. Some had smiley faces and cartoons. Others were written in cursive. I spotted French and English and Hiragana and Hangul and Spanish and Chinese and Arabic, and they all hung together, tied to their altar with string, sort of shaking in the wind, and if you sneezed they’d shift a bit before settling back into place.
Most afternoons, I rode the train from my place to see them. It took about 20 minutes. This year began with the absence of hope, and every week that’s passed seems to have added to that refrain, but folks had still taken—had actually bought, with currency earned by their labor—these little hunks of wood, and then they’d written down their hopes and dreams and wants, despite everything. Despite the world. That’s a little radical, when you think about it. That’s a lot of beautiful, when you think about it.
And, in a lot of ways, I think the books I read in 2018 elicited a similar emotion. No one asks us to write. There’s no assurance that anyone will see what we put down. If your advance is big enough, or the publication is halfway decent at social media, or your publicity team is swift enough, or if you’re young and white and you catch a wave then maybe they will. But they probably won’t. And we hang these words up anyway, because we have to, and we hope that someone will see them, although most of us will never know if they do, so they’ll just carry them around in their heads, the same way we will, and that’s how we’ll build a life together, just tacking up prayers.
But anyway. I’ve thought of those notes often. I hope some of them came true.
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“It’s so essential that we take charge of our own reinvention and ensure our personal brands reflect, to the outside world, the reality of our lives.” —Dorie Clark, Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future
The idea of the personal brand has more or less become gospel in the precarious gig economy that has defined work after the Great Recession. Popularized by the business self-help writer Tom Peters in the late ’90s, the personal brand has truly come of age in the here and now, where people tend not to be categorized either as employed or unemployed but instead as perpetually job seeking, job hopping, and job dreaming. It’s a state of flux.
Flux. It’s a fitting word to describe this new normal. It’s also a word that’s used in metal smelting. Put briefly, a flux helps remove chemical impurities from a metal. Likewise, the personal brand removes unwanted eccentricities and excesses from the person, leaving an individual whose “most important job,” as Peters put it, “is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”
The idea of the personal brand is simple: Corporations (and people) market themselves by constructing a narrative. For example, despite all evidence to the contrary, Harley Davidson employees still think Donald Trump is a good businessman. Even with his job at possible risk from Trump’s tariffs, one worker commented, “He wouldn’t do it unless it needed to be done, he’s a very smart businessman.” Why is Trump a smart businessman? Because the brand story says so. Lather, rinse, repeat: Instagram influencers, startup founders, every single LinkedIn profile.
Sayaka Murata’s brilliant Convenience Store Woman can be read as a meditation on the world of personal branding. The book is Murata’s first to be translated into English (she’s written 10 novels). It has been seen as a Gothic romance between a “misfit and a store” and as a fictionalized account of how young people in Japan are increasingly giving up on sex, to name just two readings. It’s a sign of excellent literature to be able to effortlessly hold up multiple interpretations at once. Murata’s book is no exception: It’s all of these things while also rendering an artful grotesque of modern personal branding.
Murata’s book is told from the perspective of Keiko Furukura, a 36-year-old woman who, by the book’s start, has been working in a Smile Mart convenience store for 18 years. As Keiko describes it, “I’m now thirty-six years old, and the convenience-store-worker-me is eighteen.” That voice, with the flattened tone of a test of the emergency broadcast system, is a hallmark of the book.
Keiko has never fit in and struggles to understand the nuances of the world around her. As a child, she was confused as to why her mother was aghast when she picked up a dead bird in a park and, instead of feeling any sense of grief at its death, excitedly declared that they should grill it for yakitori. “The normal world has no room for exceptions,” she later concludes. “Anyone who is lacking is disposed of.”
To prevent her own disposal, she finds it easier to create a persona by mimicking others, finding that she was “formed almost completely of the people around [her].” The only time she seems to truly relate to another person is when she sees herself in him: “He really was just like me, uttering words that sounded human when really he wasn’t saying anything at all.”
But most importantly to the arc of the book, she makes herself anew through her employment. She gets her first (and only) job at the Hiiromachi Station Smile Mart while in college and begins to live her life for that job. On one of her first days, she turns around to yell “Irasshaimase!” (Welcome!) to her first customer, and she feels a connection to the world around her that she had never felt before. “I’ve been reborn,” she thinks to herself. “I actually became a normal cog in society.” Not only is she reborn; she’s rebranded as well.
Forbes recently published a list of “5 Ways to Build a Powerful Personal Brand.” It’s the type of self-help article that routinely shows up across the internet. The list included tips such as “Understand your value.” Keiko accepts that she’s a “well-functioning part of the store” that is “second to none in terms of never being late or taking days off.” The article goes on to argue that it’s important to “understand how much your value is worth.” Keiko finds that her “hourly pay covered the basic requirement to condition [her] body so it was fit to take to work.” The connections can go on.
This is perhaps Murata at her most subversive. Labor in the first-world archipelago has more or less bifurcated into either precarious office work or precarious service work. While the digital marketer can embark on a personal branding journey, what is left for the cashier or barista in an age of zero-hour contracts and gig work? The answer comes from another aspect of branding: the store brand.
Creating a personal brand usually involves taking inspiration from the gleaming rows of name brands. It’s worth remembering that in every store, alongside the bottles of Tylenol or rolls of Charmin, there are the cheaper equivalents that forsake the individuality of brand stories for the homogeneity of the national store. These are the store brands.
Keiko does this effortlessly. She forsakes the idiosyncrasy of the personal brand for the ready-made brand of the store. She internalizes this to an astonishing degree. Realizing that she only eats meals from Smile Mart, she reflects, “When I think that my body is entirely made up of food from this store, I feel like I’m as much a part of the store as the magazine racks or the coffee machine.”
Much of the latter half of the book does not concern itself with this kind of store-brand personal branding. Instead it revolves around her interactions with Shiraha, an incel-like character who is ultimately fired from Smile Mart for being a terrible employee. He later moves into Keiko’s squalid apartment and the two pretend to have a relationship to placate their respective friends and family. He sits in the bathtub with the futon, fiddling away on his cell phone. She treats him like a pet.
But the store is always there, looming over Keiko’s consciousness.
“More than a person, I’m a convenience store worker,” she realizes. “Even if that means I’m abnormal and can’t make a living and drop down dead, I can’t escape that fact. My very cells exist for the convenience store.”
This is personal branding for the precariat. A good worker shows up without taking a break, without missing a beat, without a sense of self. The worker is the brand. The brand is the store.
Out this week: A new edition of Ayiti by Roxane Gay; Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata; A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza; Good Trouble by Joseph O’Neill; The Traitor’s Niche by Ismail Kadare; The Verdun Affair by Nick Dybek; Fight No More by Lydia Millet; and Father’s on the Phone with the Flies by Herta Müller.
We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments, and get excited for the GREAT SECOND-HALF PREVIEW, which we will roll out in the second week of July.
(Also, as Millions founder and publisher C. Max Magee wrote recently, you can help ensure that these previews, and all our great books coverage, continue for years to come by lending your support to the site as a member. The Millions has been running for nearly 15 years on a wing and a prayer, and we’re incredibly grateful for the love of our recurring readers and current members who help us sustain the work that we do.)
Kudos by Rachel Cusk: When I first encountered Cusk’s writing in the mid-aughts I wrote her off as an author of potentially tedious domestic drama. I was woefully wrong. It’s true Cusk is a chronicler of the domestic: she is as known for her memoirs of motherhood and divorce as she is for her novels, but her writing is innovative, observant, and bold. The New Yorker declared that with the trilogy that her latest novel Kudos completes, Cusk has “renovated” the novel, merging fiction with oral history, retooling its structure. Cusk has said: “I’ve never treated fiction as a veil or as a thing to hide behind, which perhaps was, not a mistake exactly, but a sort of risky way to live.” (Anne)
There There by Tommy Orange: Set mostly in Oakland, Orange’s polyphonic novel describes the disparate but connected lives of group of Native Americans, many of them self-identified “urban Indians,” who come together for the Great Oakland Powwow. There, personal and communal and national histories propel events–and his cast of characters–toward a shocking denouement. Orange’s novel has been called a “new kind of American epic” by the New York Times; read more here. (Lydia)
Florida by Lauren Groff: After collecting fans like Barack Obama with her bestselling novel Fates and Furies, Groff’s next book is a collection of short stories that center around Florida, “the landscape, climate, history, and state of mind.” Included is ”Dogs Go Wolf,” the haunting story that appeared in The New Yorker earlier in the year. In a recent interview, Groff gave us the lay of the land: “The collection is a portrait of my own incredible ambivalence about the state where I’ve lived for twelve years...I love the disappearing natural world, the sunshine, the extraordinary and astonishing beauty of the place as passionately as I hate the heat and moisture and backward politics and the million creatures whose only wish is to kill you.” (Claire)
Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li: A family chronicle, workplace drama, and love story rolled into one, Li’s debut chronicles the universe of the Beijing Duck House restaurant of Rockville, Md., run by a family and long-time employees who intertwine in various ways when disaster strikes. Lorrie Moore raves, “her narratives are complex, mysterious, moving, and surprising.” Read an excerpt from the novel here at Buzzfeed. (Lydia)
The Terrible by Yrsa Daley-Ward: A poet’s memoir in prose and verse about a tempestuous adolescence in England, where the author was born to immigrant parents and raised by Seventh-Day Adventist grandparents. The memoir describes her experiences with drugs and alcohol, her relationships with men and with sex work, the struggles of her brother, and her development as an artist. A starred Kirkus review says “Daley-Ward has quite a ferociously moving story to tell.” (Lydia)
Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg: A work of speculative historical fiction exploring queer and trans histories through the story of notorious 19th-century London thieves Jack Sheppard and Edgeworth Bess. This is a publishing event, the first work of fiction to be released by esteemed editor Chris Jackson’s One World imprint, and it has received accolades from every trade publication and a host of writers including Victor LaValle, China Miéville, and Maggie Nelson. (Lydia)
Ayiti by Roxane Gay: This is a reissue of Roxane Gay’s first book, a collection of short stories about Haiti and the diaspora, with two new stories. Ayiti was first published by the small press Artistically Declined Press in 2011, before the author was routinely at the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Kirkus says “Gay has addressed these subjects with more complexity since, but this debut amply contains the righteous energy that drives all her work.” (Lydia)
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai: This third novel from the acclaimed author of The Borrower and The Hundred-Year House interlaces the story of an art gallery director whose friends are succumbing to the AIDS epidemic in 1980s Chicago with a mother struggling to find her estranged daughter 30 years later in contemporary Paris. “The Great Believers is by turns funny, harrowing, tender, devastating, and always hugely suspenseful,” says Margot Livesey, author of Mercury. (Michael)
Good Trouble by Joseph O’Neill: Frequent New Yorker and Harper’s readers will know that O’Neill has been writing a lot of short fiction lately. With the new Good Trouble, the Netherland author now has a full collection, comprised of 11 off-kilter, unsettling stories. Their characters range from a would-be renter in New York who can’t get anyone to give him a reference to a poet who can’t decide whether or not to sign a petition. (Thom)
Days of Awe by A.M. Homes: A new collection of stories from the prolific author of May We Be Forgiven featuring humorous, melancholy reflections on American life. The title story involves friends becoming lovers at a conference about genocides. The great Zadie Smith calls it “a razor-sharp story collection from a writer who is always ‘furiously good.'” (Lydia)
The Good Son by You-jeong Jeong (translated by Chi-Young Kim): South Korea’s best-selling crime novelist is a woman, although she is nonetheless marketed as “the Stephen King of Korea.” This novel, a sensation in South Korea and her first to be translated into English, is a psychological thriller involving a possible matricide, for “fans of Jo Nesbo and Patricia Highsmith.” (Lydia)
Upstate by James Wood: It’s been 15 years since Wood’s first novel, The Book Against God, was published. What was Wood doing in the meantime? Oh, just influencing a generation of novelists from his perch at The New Yorker, where his dissecting reviews also functioned as miniature writing seminars. He also penned a writing manual, How Fiction Works. His sophomore effort concerns the Querry family, who reunite in upstate New York to help a family member cope with depression and to pose the kinds of questions fiction answers best: How do people get through difficulty? What does it mean to be happy? How should we live our lives? (Hannah)
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori): A 36-year-old woman in modern-day Tokyo has worked a convenience store for 18 years of her life, watching family and friends pairing off, having children, or climbing professional ladders. She eventually enters into a sham marriage with a coworker to embody an idealized notion of adulthood, but the plan backfires, and the book is a meditation on work, life, and “normalcy.” Kirkus says “Murata skillfully navigates the line between the book’s wry and weighty concerns and ensures readers will never conceive of the ‘pristine aquarium’ of a convenience store in quite the same way.” (Lydia)
Half Gods by Akil Kumarasamy: A collection of linked stories about a family devastated by the Sri Lankan civil war, which claims the lives of a mother and two sons. The father and remaining daughter flee to New Jersey, and the collection moves across time and place and between points of view to describe the dislocation of its characters and the enduring consequences of trauma. Publisher’s Weekly calls it “a wonderful, auspicious debut.” (Lydia)
History of Violence by Édouard Louis (translated by Lorin Stein): A fictionalized account of a true story. The author survived a violent sexual assault and this novelization exploring the aftermath, including his return to his family’s village, became a bestseller in France for its frank reckoning with the effects of sexual violence, as well a broader look at French society. (Lydia)
Sweet and Low by Nick White: A new entry in the field of southern gothic (complete with Faulkner homage), a collection of stories exploring masculinity, sexuality, and place in the deep south that has garnered praise from Jesmyn Ward and Alissa Nutting. Publisher’s Weekly called it “an atmospheric and expertly crafted collection.” (Lydia)
We Begin Our Ascent by Joe Mungo Reed: A debut novel that follows the travails of a team of professional cyclists–who happen to be doping–in the Tour de France, exploring ideas of competition, ambition, and team dynamics. The novel has drawn several comparisons to Don DeLillo, and George Saunders raved: “A dazzling debut by an exciting and essential new talent: fast, harrowing, compelling, masterfully structured, genuinely moving. Reed is a true stylist.” (Lydia)
Dead Girls by Alice Bolin: A collection of essays exploring the ubiquitous “dead girl” in popular culture, using shows like Twin Peaks and Pretty Little Liars to point to the misogyny that thrums through so many of the cultural products we consume. These are interwoven with personal essays about her arrival in Los Angeles. Kirkus calls it “an illuminating study on the role women play in the media and in their own lives.” (Lydia)
Sick by Porochista Khakpour: In her much anticipated memoir, Khakpour chronicles her arduous experience with illness, specifically late-stage Lyme disease. She examines her efforts to receive a diagnosis and the psychological and physiological impact of being so sick for so long, including struggles with mental health and addiction. Khakpour’s memoir demonstrates the power of survival in the midst of pain and uncertainty. (Read an excellent piece in The New Yorker here.) (Zoë)
The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut: Immergut published a collection of short stories in 1992, shortly after graduating from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, but her debut novel comes over 25 years later, a literary thriller that takes place in a prison where a woman is serving a sentence for second-degree murder. Her appointed psychologist once pined for her in high schhol. Publishers’ Weekly says “Immergut’s book begins as in incisive psychological portrait of two mismatched individuals and morphs into a nail-biting thriller.” (Lydia)
Tonight I’m Someone Else by Chelsea Hodson: Examining the intersection of social media and intimacy, the commercial and the corporeal, the theme of Hodson’s essay collection is how we are pushed and pulled by our desire. The Catapult teacher’s debut has been called “racingly good…refreshing and welcome” by Maggie Nelson. (Tess)
Fight No More by Lydia Millet: Millet’s 2010 collection Love in Infant Monkeys was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Eight years later she’s released another collection of stories arranged around a real estate broker and their family as they struggle to reconnect. Millet’s satire is well-known for it’s sharp brutality—and its compassionate humanity. Both sides are on full display here. (Kaulie)
Invitation to a Bonfire by Adrienne Celt: On the heels of her critically praised debut, The Daughters, Celt gives us a love-triangle story that, according to the publisher, is “inspired by the infamous Nabokov marriage, with a spellbinding psychological thriller at its core.” The protagonist is a young Russian refugee named Zoya who becomes entangled with her boarding school’s visiting writer, Leo Orlov, and his imperious wife, Vera. Our own Edan Lepucki praised the novel as “a sexy, brilliant, and gripping novel about the fine line between passion and obsession. I am in awe of Celt’s mastery as a prose stylist and storyteller; I can’t stop thinking about this amazing book.” (Sonya)