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Thomas Melle’s The World at My Back

For the German writer Thomas Melle, suffering and creation are inexorably intertwined. Melle, a celebrated novelist and playwright, suffers from a severe case of bipolar disorder. In The World at My Back, his English language debut (Biblioasis, May 2023), Melle grapples with his condition directly, striving to “write [him]self free.”

Adam Shatz’s Writers and Missionaries

Writers and Missionaries (Verso, May 2023), Adam Shatz’s new collection of essays, chronicles a diverse group of writers frustrated by the narrow prisms of ideology and identity. Shatz examines novelists and playwrights who have tested the lines of literature and advocacy, artists and critics who have grown frustrated by moral simplification and political binary.

Tessa Hadley’s After the Funeral

This new collection is a great introduction to her work and for those of us already familiar with Hadley, it’s a great addition. Throughout the collection, Hadley spins out character studies of (mostly) women at odds with themselves, their partners, their families, or life in general. Set in different eras and different parts of England, there are commonalities that run like a humming thread connecting these stories into a brilliant whole: love, loss, conflict, and the lies we tell each other and ourselves.

Beth Nguyen’s Owner of a Lonely Heart

Beth Nguyen’s second memoir, Owner of a Lonely Heart, revolves around a story that is still “uncomfortably dramatic” for her to tell in real life. When Nguyen’s family flees Saigon a day before the war in Vietnam ended, Nguyen’s mother stays, or is left, behind. In the aftermath, Nguyen spends the eighties growing up in a mostly white town in Michigan, where her given name Bich, and her multigenerational household that consisted of family members both biological and not, were unconventional for the area. Safety is found in silence, in not provoking her father’s anger or longing for people and places she cannot remember.

Kate Zambreno’s The Light Room

“Our toddler is now at an age where she’s likely to feel a sensitivity to Small Objects,” Kate Zambreno writes in The Light Room, her new memoir about caring for her two small daughters early in the COVID pandemic and amidst the ongoing disaster of climate change. With schools shut down, she develops an obsession with child development and progressive education methods—it is from Maria Montessori that she learns that children go through many “Sensitivity Periods.”

Jeff Dolven’s * A New English Grammar

If you squint through the wrong eye, you might mistake *A New English Grammar, a collection of poems by Jeff Dolven, for one of the dense grammar workbooks to which its title playfully refers. That’s because this book is split down the middle: hold it open before you, and on the left hand page you will find an itemized prose analysis of a grammatical rule. On the right hand page you will find nine lines of verse divided into three tercet stanzas. It’s a curiously rigid structure, yet one well suited to Dolven’s deceptively radical task.

Sarah Rose Etter’s Ripe

Surrealist writers push the boundaries of language and plot, taking an oblique approach to the quotidian in order to hint at higher potentials for reality. It’s within this realm that Sarah Rose Etter plays, employing surrealism to unveil deeper revelations and risks in her writing.

In Conversation

Rodrigo Rey Rosa with Tobias Carroll

Immersing yourself in the works of the Guatemalan writer Rodrigo Rey Rosa is never less than rewarding. Rey Rosa’s work translated into English has ranged in tone from the psychologically harrowing aftermath of a kidnapping (1996’s The Good Cripple) to 2011’s Severina, a story about one man’s obsession with an alluring book thief. The Country of Toó is the latest of his books to be translated into English, this time by Stephen Henighan. It’s about a lot of things, including political corruption and reform; a young man’s surreal recovery from a traumatic injury; and the moral crisis faced by a man known only as the Cobra, who has begun to feel the strain of years of working as a hired gun.

Ruth Madievsky’s All-Night Pharmacy

All-Night Pharmacy is so visceral and exacting in its prose that I often found myself wanting to put a foot over its drain to avoid further confrontation of a story that felt so true it was painful to be a part of. But the narrator is too sharp and sentimental to leave clogged for too long. Ruth Madievsky’s debut offers one of the more nuanced explorations of not wanting to deal, and the angels and demons that serve as our distractors.

Shahd Alshammari’s Head Above Water

To read Alshammari’s work is to be harshly reminded of the capitalist and Darwinian nature of academia and really, of many cultures including both English/Western culture and the Arabic/Bedouin culture Alshammari describes. People are only useful if they can compete, produce, and for women, reproduce successfully. To be female is, often, to live in a state of shame where others—usually heteronormative cis-gender men—create systems that both reject and control our bodies on every level.

Nicole Flattery’s Nothing Special

“By her life within the home, woman gives to the state a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.” It is perhaps with this fraught context in mind that we should read Nicole Flattery’s debut novel, a coming-of-age chronicle about the past and present, mothers and daughters—and Andy Warhol.

Maya Binyam’s Hangman

There are no names in Maya Binyam’s debut novel Hangman. We are introduced to a mysterious narrator, who finds detached observations about the peculiarities of a return to his country. We are not certain what country this is. We don’t know this man’s name. We know that he is round, bald, and has a beard. We know he is searching for his brother. We know his brother is searching for him. We know that his brother sends him emails asking for money.

J.C. Hallman’s Say Anarcha

Say Anarcha takes its title from an enslaved woman out of Alabama who, starting in her teens, not long before the Civil War, had her uterus torn apart repeatedly, in most cases without anesthesia, in experimental surgery by J. Marion Sims, a white doctor hungry for reputation. The man went on to international acclaim, while the woman returned to servitude worse off than before, leaking rank fluids and never out of pain. This is the crime at the core of J.C. Hallman’s new masterpiece of revisionist history.

In Conversation

Ed O’Shea with Tony Leuzzi

Spring 2023 saw the release of a book that should be essential reading for anyone invested in the study of twentieth-century Irish literature and, more specifically, certain cultural and aesthetic intersections between Irish and American letters since 1965. The book is Edward (Ed) J. O’Shea’s Seamus Heaney’s American Odyssey (Routledge), a well-researched and compassionate examination of the 1995 Nobel Laureate’s experiences in and affiliations with the United States, its writers, and its politics.


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