‘Bring Me the Head of Quentin Tarantino’ by Julián Herbert: The Inevitability of Influence

by David Emmanuel

It’s no surprise that Julián Herbert’s story collection, Bring Me the Head of Quentin Tarantino (167 pages; Graywolf Press), features a cast of questionable characters, gory violence, and punchy dialogue—all are hallmarks of the eponymous screenwriter’s films. Within the collection, the profane becomes sacred and the sacred is made profane: a Mexican official throws up on Mother Teresa, a photographer films “gonzo-porno-AIDS movies,” and a journalism professor masquerades as author M. L. Estefania. As diverse as the lives and professions of these characters are, they are all Mexican men who are seeking a better life by traveling outside the bounds […]

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‘An Inventory of Losses’ by Judith Schalansky: The Innumerable Items of the Past

by Lily Nilipour

In the human endeavor of preservation, there is an intimate relationship between memory and those tasked with preserving it. In his essay “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire,” French historian Pierre Nora writes that “today…professional archivists have learned that the essence of their trade is the art of controlled destruction.” Among other things, this suggests that a true archivist has a love for not only what remains in the archive, but also what is lost. Memory is an art—the artist the recaller but also the forgetter. Judith Schalansky’s An Inventory of Losses (238 pages; New Directions), newly translated […]

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‘The Copenhagen Trilogy’ by Tove Ditlevsen: What Goes On Inside Other People

by Owen Torrey

When Tove Ditlevsen died in 1976 from an overdose of sleeping pills, thousands gathered in Copenhagen for her funeral. There, beneath the chestnut trees, a crowd followed Ditlevsen’s coffin, remembering her life and legacy as one of the country’s most celebrated literary figures. In Denmark, Ditlevsen has since remained just as beloved as she was on that late March day. One of her novels, 1943’s Barndommens Gade, was voted a “Danish Book of the Century,” and her poetry and memoirs continue to be taught as part of the mandatory national literature curriculum. In the English-speaking world, however, chances to encounter […]

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‘Love is an Ex-Country’ by Randa Jarrar: An Unexpected Destination

by Kyubin Kim

When we think of the American road trip novel, it’s easy to recall Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and the manic adventures of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, traipsing from New York to San Francisco as carefree and self-destructive as white men in the Fifties were allowed to be. That was America for them. But Randa Jarrar’s road trip memoir, Love Is an Ex-Country (240 pages; Catapult), demands a re-landscaping of America for a queer Arab American woman. The road trip is not a linear starting point-to-destination; it’s an evolving struggle to claim and inhabit a home in a place […]

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‘Girls Against God’ by Jenny Hval: Outside the Binary of Light and Dark

by Zack Ravas

By the late ’80s in America, the term “heavy metal” conjured the image of bands who were as well known for their big hair and backstage antics as their music. It’s little wonder then that the Norwegian “black metal” scene felt like something new, with its shrieking vocals and monolithic riffs, and restoring some of the danger associated with the genre ever since Black Sabbath released their debut LP in 1970. The dark and sadistic imagery many of these bands conjured on their albums (sample song titles: “Necrolust” and “Deathcrush”) wasn’t simply for show, however, and by the late ’90s […]

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‘Missionaries’ by Phil Klay: The Cost of Indifference

by David Emmanuel

In an era of globalized conflict and widespread disinformation, all of which help fuel conspiracy theories and increasingly violent online factions, the world stage can appear given over to chaos. It is for precisely these reasons that Phil Klay’s most recent novel, Missionaries (404 pages; Penguin Press), feels so refreshing, as the author draws connections and finds meaning in the disorder. The plot largely takes place in Colombia and centers around the various factions (paramilitary groups, guerilla fighters, the Colombian government, and U.S forces) that strive to steer the country in the direction that best suits their own interests. Though […]

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‘Fragments from a Found Notebook’ by Mihail Sebastian: A Question of Identity

by Lily Nilipour

In 1934, anti-Semitic laws in Romania banned author, journalist, and critic Mihail Sebastian from continuing any of his writing or teaching work. He was in his twenties then, and he no longer had printing or publishing rights under his own name. Yet this did not stop the young writer from a prolific career before his untimely death in 1945. His most famous and important work—Journal, 1935-1944: The Fascist Years—is a chronicle of his own life during that period and the increasing persecution he faced as a Jewish man in Romania. Sebastian’s first book, Fragments from a Found Notebook (78 pages; […]

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‘Ordesa’ by Manuel Vilas: An Assertion of Goodness

by Corinne Leong

Literature is subjective: on this, most can agree. A novel provides a snapshot of the author’s world, a distillation of their values and beliefs. But sometimes there arises a snapshot so striking and definitive it resembles the universal. Manuel Vilas’ Ordesa (304 pages; Riverhead Books; translated by Andrea Rosenberg) is one such novel. In its unflinching exploration of parental loss, mortality, and solitary life through the eyes of a 52-year-old, recently bereaved divorcé, Ordesa offers a perspective so earnest it approaches unquestionable truth. Vilas’ novel is structured around its unnamed narrator’s reflections on his current, abysmal state of affairs, as well […]

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‘The Thirty Names of Night’ by Zeyn Joukhadar: At the Crossroads

by Nessa Ordukhani

In the heart of the once vibrant Manhattan neighborhood of Little Syria, towering murals of birds cover building walls. They are the artwork of a closeted Syrian American transgender boy, who finds that it is the only way he can paint since the death of his ornithologist mother. After one night of painting, the boy stumbles into an abandoned community center where he finds a leather-bound notebook hidden in the hollow cavity of a wall. It is a journal written by Laila Z, a famous Syrian American artist who mysteriously vanished over sixty years ago. Engrossed in Laila’s story, the […]

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‘This Radiant Life’ by Chantal Neveu: The Vast Expanse

by Lily Nilipour

Even in the sparest poetry, the words rather than the whiteness on the page are our focus; large spaces between phrases, lines, or stanzas create pause and generate the rhythm by which we read the language before us. The page is whittled away by the poet, revealing precious words in sculpted white space. But Chantal Neveu’s book-length poem This Radiant Life, newly translated by Erín Moure (210 pages; Book*hug Press), has a different and radical relationship to space. On many of the pages is just a single line of poetry centered in and surrounded by white. The page is no […]

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‘Miami Noir: The Classics’: A Rich and Sultry Landscape

by CJ Green

According to historian Paul George, Miami was first called the Magic City in the early twentieth century, not because of its beautiful sunsets and glistening waters, but to lure northerners to the humid, mosquito-filled swampland. “Like many Florida stories,” Connie Ogle once reflected in the Miami Herald, “there may have been a bit of a swindle involved.” Miami, like any paradise, often produces stories where the magical setting clashes against the more dubious characters within it. This tradition is displayed most recently in Miami Noir: The Classics (Akashic Books; 397 pages; edited by Les Standiford). Featuring 19 stories published between […]

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‘The Life of William Faulkner: This Alarming Paradox’ by Carl Rollyson: A Complex Portrait

by Nessa Ordukhani

Entrenched in Gothic drama and the history of the American South, William Faulkner’s writing remain a landmark in Modernist fiction. Pulitzer and Nobel prize winner, Faulkner is undeniably a giant of twentieth century literature. However, less well known, perhaps, is the life he led, the conditions he struggled with, and the contradictions of his own self-perception. Despite Faulkner’s aversion to biographies, in The Life of William Faulkner: This Alarming Paradox, 1935–1962 (Volume 2), (622 pages; University of Virginia Press), Carl Rollyson, seasoned biographer and Professor Emeritus at The City University of New York, produces a vivid sequel to the first […]

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