Around the World in a Few Quick Reads
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Fire + hot chocolate + book = happy.
By Tobias Carroll
Minneapolis, Minnesota: House of Coates
This collaboration between author Brad Zellar and photographer Alec Soth tells the mysterious story of a recluse living on the fringes of a cold northern city. Chris Fischbach, publisher of Coffee House Press, said, “It’s such a beautiful object, both for readers of fiction and for people who like Alec’s photography who are also interested in artists’ books. Yes, Brad and Alec live here, and it takes place here, but I think that it could really take place anywhere on the outskirts of any major city, in the industrial and post-industrial landscape.”
France: The Sleepworker
Cyrille Martinez’s The Sleepworker reimagines the early days of Andy Warhol’s Factory with this compelling, stylized tale inspired by the lives of Warhol and poet John Giorno. Martinez’s wry narrative makes this a memorable read, as boldly original as any of its inspirations’ work.
Israel: New York 1, Tel Aviv 0
Shelly Oria’s debut story collection crosses continents and deconstructs romantic and familial relationships. In a recent interview with The Paris Review, Oria said, “I do think love is a form of attention, yes. It’s arguably much more, too, of course, and I think it has the power to confirm and confer not only our reality but our humanity.”
Las Vegas, Nevada: The Secret History of Las Vegas
Nigerian-born poet and novelist Chris Abani uses the structure of a detective novel — a mysterious murder, a dogged investigator — to explore broader crimes, from abuses in apartheid-era South Africa to the after-effects of American nuclear testing. Tortured scientists, secretive subcultures and a possibly murderous pair of conjoined twins all play parts in Abani’s haunting book.
Rwanda: Our Lady of the Nile
The Rwandan author Scholastique Mukasonga won France’s Renaudot Prize for this novel, now appearing in an English translation, which focuses on a school for girls in the late 1970s and anticipates the genocide that would occur in 1994. Via email, Archipelago Books publisher Jill Schoolman had this to say: “I read Notre-Dame du Nil [Our Lady of the Nile] on the plane on my way home from Frankfurt, and fell in love with the book. Mukasonga has a light touch that runs deep, in which the invisible and the unspoken are what we witness.”
Berkeley, California: Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent
Mandy Aftel has been making perfumes since 1995, and her new book has earned rave reviews from the likes of Bookforum and the New York Times. Katie Freeman, Riverhead Books’ associate director of publicity, described it as “a beautiful history of scent [with] an absolutely gorgeous metallic cover … a beautiful gift for anyone who’s interested in history and cooking and in the way that our senses lead us to experience the world.”
Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli’s hallucinatory novel follows a young academic drawn to the life of the early 20th-century poet Gilbert Owen. What begins as obsession takes a surreal turn, and the two narratives begin to influence and haunt each other. In a recent interview at Electric Literature, Luiselli — a National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” honoree — noted, “I do think ghosts really resonate with our time.”
Germany: The Wallcreeper
Nell Zink’s debut novel brings together a tumultuous expatriate marriage, an obsession with bird watching, adultery and political radicalism. Zink’s publisher, Danielle Dutton, commented via email: “I pretty much fell in love with [this book] within five minutes of opening the PDF from a woman I’d never heard of who introduced herself to me in her query email as ‘an obscure writer of truly stunning obscurity.’ All that’s changed now, of course, and I look forward to seeing what Nell hits us all with next.”
Chile: Where the Bird Sings Best
It’s been a big year for cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky: He released his first film in decades, The Dance of Reality, as well as the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune. Where the Bird Sings Best is a fictionalized take on his family’s history, spanning continents and featuring forays to the astral plane; it’s a family saga laced with dozens of hallucinatory moments.
Italy: Mr. Gwyn
Self-awareness and perception factor heavily into Alessandro Baricco’s Mr. Gwyn, which follows a novelist who retires from his chosen craft and settles into a life of making distinctive portraits in prose. Or does he? Baricco’s narrative is full of beguiling twists, sparking questions of identity and intimacy.