‘Fudekara’ by Liliana Ponce: Evolution Through Repetition

by Roz Naimi

“Why write confessions? Why confess the written?” asks Liliana Ponce in her poetry collection Fudekara (44 pages; Cardboard House Press; translated by Michael Martin Shea). Ponce is a poet and scholar of Japanese literature from Buenos Aires, Argentina, who incorporates her knowledge of Japanese culture into her work: “Fudekara” is a Japanese neologism created from the terms “fude” (brush) and “kara” (from) to mean “from the brush.” Written over the course of a Chinese ideograph calligraphy class the author took in 1993, Fudekara takes as its subject the stroke: the iterative, meditative practice of putting pen to paper. The collection […]

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‘Nightcrawling’ by Leila Mottley: Oakland on Its Own Terms

by Emily Garcia

Kiara Johnson, the scrappy protagonist of Leila Mottley’s transfixing first novel, Nightcrawling (288 pages; Knopf), lives in East Oakland, in an apartment complex called the Regal-Hi, where money is sparse and trauma is abundant. Kiara’s father died years before; her mother’s currently in a halfway house following a prison stint; and her older brother, Marcus, who is also her legal guardian (Kiara is seventeen when the novel begins), is pursuing a rap career in lieu of a job that might help pay the rent—which has also recently more than doubled. Beyond her fears of eviction and homelessness, Kiara is pulled […]

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‘Translating Myself and Others’ by Jhumpa Lahiri: A Tradition of the Ages

by Amanda Janks

Human traditions subsist on translation. There is no art or philosophy that translators have not helped facilitate across the ages. While translators may often operate discreetly and without thanks, their work remains vital. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jhumpa Lahiri depicts the soul of translation in her new essay collection, Translating Myself and Others (208 pages; Princeton University Press), a dizzying reflection on her personal relationship to language.  She notes early on the fragmentation of her identity—culturally Indian, born in London, raised in America, writing in English—and the ways this has steered her as a writer. An accomplished author in English, Lahiri […]

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‘Ante body’ by Marwa Helal: A Window into a Double Life

by Roz Naimi

The latest collection from Egyptian-born, Brooklyn-based poet Marwa Helal, Ante body (80 pages; Nightboat Books), demonstrates the participatory nature of Helal’s work. The book offers a kaleidoscopic window into the double consciousness of the emigré, her post-migratory grief and dispossession, and the cheeky coping mechanisms that come into play. In her exploration of our post-pandemic political moment, Helal harnesses and discharges an energetic exigency, calling the reader into an honest mindfulness through non-traditional and experimental poetic play. Ante body invites us to trip over language, to recover, and view those stumbles as necessary toward achieving wisdom. Whatever linguistic baggage the […]

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‘The Music Game’ by Stéfanie Clermont: A Disenchanted Life

by Sophia Carr

While it’s rare, there are some friends you make during your childhood that you keep for the rest of your life, and The Music Game (304 Pages; Biblioasis; translated by JC Sutcliffe), the first novel by Stéfanie Clermont, is a story of this kind of friendship. Primarily set in Montreal, the novel follows Céline, Julie, and Sabrina—three French-Canadian friends with differing life trajectories. Though this winding and unconventional novel often reads more like a collection of linked stories, the sum of it feels in conversation about the millennial experience in contemporary Montreal. Among the group, Sabrina deals with racism and […]

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‘Forbidden City’ by Vanessa Hua: Beauty in the Brokenness

by Pia Chatterjee

It is an age-old tale: a young woman escapes the constraints of her provincial life to make her way to the big city, only to fall victim there to the machinations of an older, powerful man. But Vanessa Hua’s Forbidden City (353 pages; Ballantine Books), set in China just before the dawn of Mao’s Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, takes this trope and cunningly turns it on its head, making for one of the most compelling works of feminist and historical fiction in recent years. Unlike stereotypical ingenues, teenage Mei is morally ambiguous and neither beautiful nor beloved. She connives her way […]

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‘Monarch’ by Candice Wuehle: Dead Ringers and Sleeper Agents

by Maura Krause

Candy-coated nightmare is a familiar aesthetic by now. From TV shows like Stranger Things to movies like Birds of Prey, it is not unusual to see horror and violence shellacked in bright colors. Monarch (256 pages; Soft Skull), the first novel by acclaimed poet Candice Wuehle, wears the neon skin of such blockbusters while exploring much thornier intellectual territory, asking: what is the true meaning of self? On the surface, Monarch is a thriller, charting the life of former beauty queen and decommissioned clandestine operative Jessica Greenglass Clink. A child pageant star from the age of four, Jessica grows up […]

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‘When I Sing, Mountains Dance’ by Irene Solà: Trouble in the Landscape

by Maura Krause

In the age of the Anthropocene, Irene Solà’s When I Sing, Mountains Dance (216 pages; Graywolf Press; translated by Mara Faye Lethem) is a salve. Its texture is smooth yet it’s laced with herbaceous pungency. In a magically rendered translation from the Catalan by Mara Faye Lethem, Solà’s second novel offers up healing for those who care to find it. Set in the Pyrenees near Spain’s border with France, this marvelous book loosely traces one family’s tragedies and how they seep into the lives of others in their close-knit village. These troubles are refracted by the landscape, witnessed by unusual […]

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‘Getting Clean with Stevie Green’ by Swan Huntley: A Decluttered Life

by Sophia Carr

These days, the story of a woman attempting to get her life together as she approaches middle age has become a familiar trope. However, Getting Clean with Stevie Green (304 pages; Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster), the latest novel by Swan Huntley, feels unique even as it tells the story of thirty-seven-year-old Stevie’s journey to live the life she envisions for herself. This is no small task for Stevie, a professional in the cutthroat business of decluttering people’s homes, as she must deal with addiction and mental illness while coming to terms with her sexuality and navigating the  shifting dynamics of […]

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‘The Boy with a Bird in His Chest’ by Emme Lund: Like the Best Fables

by Maura Krause

The last few years have seen queer and trans literature receive a long-overdue upswing in both publication and attention. Emme Lund’s first novel, The Boy with a Bird in His Chest (320 pages; Atria Books), takes a well-earned place among its siblings, while shimmering brightly with its own unique brilliance. Lund’s lyrical and fabulist-leaning tale is the story of Owen Tanner, a boy with a java sparrow living in a hole behind his ribs. Born during the worst spring flood in Morning, Montana, Owen is supposed to be lucky. Yet the beginning of his life seems anything but. According to […]

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‘Customs’ by Solmaz Sharif: The Complicity of Speech

by Ray Levy Uyeda

Solmaz Sharif’s second collection of poetry, Customs (104 pages; Graywolf Press), interrogates the English language and its role in shaping America. English was the language used to write the U.S. Constitution, enslave kidnapped West Africans, and free enslaved African Americans; it’s the language used to go to war and used to achieve liberation. Customs inspects language itself as a device for colonization and country-making, which in this land is the same. The collection, split into three sections, begins with a poem called “America.” Eighteen lines composed of 12 sentences, each sentence three words long, the poem appears almost like a […]

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‘Tell Me I’m Worthless’ by Alison Rumfitt: A Necessary Resistance

by Supriya Saxena

Powerful and disturbing in equal measure, Alison Rumfitt’s first novel, Tell Me I’m Worthless (260 pages; Cipher Press), uses a story about a haunted house (known as the House) to investigate the rise of fascist movements in current-day Britain and the trauma they inflict. The novel, which was published in the U.K. last October but is available to order online, examines the “gender-critical feminist” transphobic hate movement in Britain, the ways in which young people are recruited to fascist movements, and the deep-seated hypocrisy of many who consider themselves progressive—all while spinning a chilling horror tale.  Alice and Ila were […]

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