THE TINY JOURNALIST

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THE TINY JOURNALIST BY Naomi Shihab Nye

Internationally renowned writer Naomi Shihab Nye shines in her latest full-length collection, The Tiny Journalist, a compendium of poems coping with war and violence in the West Bank. Nye’s book was inspired by both Janna Tamimi—a young activist who began capturing videos of anti-occupation protests at the young age of 7—and her own Palestinian American heritage.

In deceptively simple syntax and universally relevant terms, Nye’s poems call on us to grapple with what it means to be human in the midst of conflict. Her poems speak for Janna at times, and then, speak directly to her. “You know gazing into a camera / can be a bridge, so you stare / without blinking,” Nye writes in “Janna.” Though Janna might be her “tiny journalist,” it is not hard to imagine Nye herself inhabiting the role—particularly when you learn that her own father was a refugee journalist. The reader can almost feel Nye staring unblinkingly through these poems, demanding peace across manmade boundaries, and though the first half of the book often takes on a childlike perspective, the second half is almost exclusively dedicated to the anguish of adults.

In this latter section, Nye covers loss, grief, hopelessness, and even the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump. To a painfully searing effect, she centers her own Palestinian American identity in poems like “Unforgettable:” “The fathers sailed away / planning to return. / Not easily will they forget / a place that let us all / sorrow this much.” In "Stay Afloat," she provides a solution to this intergenerational conflict: "Find a child to be your leader now." Nye calls on the reader to find a child like the ones whose perspectives her poems explore, a child who inherited a war they had no part in, and yet, is determined, out of their own innocence and goodness, to end it.

BOA.

—Review by Hiba Tahir

TRIANGULUM

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TRIANGULUM BY MASANDE NTSHANGA

Come for the unexpected convergence of Afro-futurism, eco-terrorism, alien abductions, and more. Stay for the unsettling meditations on South Africa’s dystopian past and present, the grandiose yet subversive re-imagining of humanity’s relationship to nature, and the poignant impulse, from which no character is spared, to make aliens of each other and of themselves.

Come for the classic spy thriller-cum-bildungsroman: a teen trio explores their sexuality while following breadcrumbs in pursuit of missing children (inexplicably free, of course, from adult supervision). Stay for the narrator’s hapless quest to understand her vanished mother—carrier of mental illness as well as mathematical genius—even as she herself begins to vanish, too, into a set of Russian-doll personas.

Come for the pleasure of any good puzzle. Stay because after delving so deeply into so many narratives and narrative frames, each with different sets of rules and competing conceptions of truth, you’ll want to keep questioning what’s real within the novel instead of just questioning what’s real.

Come for the high-stakes proxy wars between competing corporations and terrorist cells and megalomaniacal visionaries. Stay for the quiet assurance that novelists and readers have a quantifiable bearing on the future, too.

Come for Triangulum. Stay for next masterpiece that Ntshanga’s sure to turn out, and the next, and the next after that one. Once you open this novel, there’s no walking away.

Two Dollar Radio.

—Review by Mekiya Walters

FLOWERS OF MOLD

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FLOWERS OF MOLD BY HA SEONG-NAN, TRANSLATED BY JANET HONG

In Ha Seong-nan’s gripping and courageous Flowers of Mold, the author triple-underlines those distasteful aspects of our lives that we’d rather ignore: the putridity of leaky trash; the greasy, lingering smell of fried chicken; children’s crackers crushed underfoot; the solid clunk of an alarm clock to the jaw. Her characters are working-class people: pear farmers, car salesmen, electricians, sushi chefs, pre-pubescent gymnasts—whose everyday lives flout mundanity by revealing just how commonplace accidents, violence, and pain truly are. And yet, these stories conserve a thread of improbability in their sheer unpredictability, in the unsettling treachery of having another question your reality for you. In “The Woman Next Door,” a housewife is slowly displaced by a sinister newcomer; in “Nightmare,” a young girl’s waking horror is written off as nothing but a dream; and in “Onion,” a woman commits the unthinkable, yet, as she runs, can find no evidence of her crime.

Recycled in the stories in Flowers of Mold are the unbearable summer heat, the shocking discovering that fish have tongues, an old security guard, the life cycle of a billboard—lending Ha’s stories a feeling of simultaneity that makes them spill across each other, coexisting but never meeting. Ha is a master of the short story and hooks the reader without revealing or resolving too much too cleanly. Translator Janet Hong is built of the same stuff, handling Ha’s stories with a delicacy and attention to detail that should serve as a model for all in the profession.

Open Letter.

—Review by Samantha Kirby

AVIARIES

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AVIARIES BY ZUZANA BRABCOVÁ, TRANSLATED BY TEREZA NOVICKÁ

Zuzana Brabcová’s Aviaries, translated from the Czech by Tereza Novická, is a lesson in literary phantasmagoria—not for the faint of heart. Composed of oscillating diary entries, vignettes, dreams, observations, interior monologue, meditations, short anecdotes, newspaper headlines, and anecdotes from both poetry and prose, it presents a kaleidoscopic picture of present-day Prague, a world reeling with political strife that treats disadvantaged people badly and seldom makes sense.

The novella opens in 2011 with the death of Václav Havel, the last president of Czechoslovakia. Contemporary news reports and headlines provide a bleak background to this snapshot of the life of the protagonist, Alžběta, a woman living on the fringes of a relentlessly unforgiving Prague. She navigates a world of confusing characters that exist in and outside her imagination in Prague’s Smíchov district. She is unemployed and struggling with mental illness. Her troubled thoughts contribute to the fragmentary nature of the text, told in both third person and, what can only be described as, a distant first person. The result is profoundly confusing, yes, but also strangely satisfying, particularly as it contributes to Alžběta’s interactions with the women in her life, including her mother, her sister, and her dumpster-diving, Bob Dylan-dating daughter, Alice.

Completed just before Brabcová’s untimely death, Aviaries received the Josef Škvorecky, a Czech language award, in 2016 for best prose of the year and, in 2017, was shortlisted for the Magnesia Litera Book of the Year Award. Czech cultural-political monthly journal Literární nonviny called it, “A sophisticated testimony about social exclusion.” And now, Twisted Spoon Press and translator Tereza Novická have brought it to you.

Twisted Spoon Press.

—Review by Hiba Tahir

FUEL AND FIRE

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FUEL AND FIRE: SELECTED POEMS 1956-76 BY FRANCISCO URONDO, TRANSLATED BY JULIA LEVERONE

Fuel and Fire, the selected works of Francisco Urondo, finds a new voice in Julia Leverone’s well-rendered translations. Poet, journalist, academic, left-wing Peronist, and guerilla fighter, Urondo, was assassinated by the US-backed Argentinian government during the Dirty War. The twenty-years of poetry represented in this collection is built on Urondo’s revolutionary ideals, and serves as a portrait of political injustice faced by the Argentinian people, extending sympathy to those suffering under Argentina’s various regimes. Through their politics, the poems land at a deeply humanist center. They are “enamored of the things of this world,” with frequent dedications to figures important to Urondo: poets, musicians, intellectuals, comrades in the Montoneros, Urondo’s own children. In the tradition of Golden-Era Spanish epics, these poems complicate their stance by extending grace towards Urondo’s political enemies. They seek justice through revolution, but also reconciliation, and “hope bitterness won’t intercept / forgiveness.”

Ultimately, these poems are concerned with the tangible world—a romanticism of the here-and-now. Urondo writes that “Cruelty doesn’t frighten me and I always lived / floored by good alcohol, a well-written book, perfectly done meat.” Such sentiments often risk bravado, but in Fuel and Fire, these small material luxuries represent the spirit and culture of the Argentinian people. His concern for his country is demonstrated again and again. He has grown tired of witnessing this “sad story of a defeated / people, of degraded families.” In his poems, language becomes the people’s weapon in the struggle for justice. “I Want to Report,” a poem that recounts a police raid of Urondo’s residence, demonstrates this idea best: “I file / this report, / especially for the loss / of weapons and poems, since both are unrecoverable. They / have been stolen from the people of the republic, / to whom they naturally belonged.”     

Lavender Ink / Diálogos.

—Review by David Brunson

LEAVING RICHARD'S VALLEY

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LEAVING RICHARD’S VALLEY BY MICHAEL DEFORGE

Michael DeForge’s Leaving Richard’s Valley invites you in with its quirky style and zany characters—keeps you reading with unexpected turns, insights into city living, and subtle commentary on modern capitalism. “Do you ever get this feeling that living in a city is kind of like being at a party that’s gone on too long?” asks Paul the Spider, one of the many creatures that has joined Richard’s Valley, a health-obsessed cult that has turned its back on the “toxicity” (both metaphorical and literal) of the city and has made a home in a Toronto public park. Their leader, Richard, is vapid, enigmatic, and slowly growing bored of his followers and the life he has built for them. When a group of friends breaks Richard’s strict rules to save Lyle the Raccoon from a mysterious illness, they are exiled by Richard and his fanatical lackey, Caroline the Frog. Forced to make their way in a city plagued with cults and gentrification, the animal friends quest for a home, a community, and a purpose in their new world.

Michael DeForge’s simple, delightfully bizarre style opens the mind to new interpretations of faith, the hero’s journey, and the purpose of art in the modern world. Entirely black and white, this is a world in which spiders become masseuses and supermodels, snakes fall in love with raccoons, and butterflies interrupt the narrative to provide the history of fictional places. A witty and strange rumination on cult mentality, obsessive love, and city life, Leaving Richard’s Valley surprises the reader with each page.

Drawn & Quarterly.

—Review by Claire Pincumbe

NIGHT ANGLER

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NIGHT ANGLER BY GEFFREY DAVIS

Geffrey Davis’s latest collection, Night Angler, explores the complexities of memory, landscape, and identity. From love letters and prayers surrounding youth, fatherhood, and family—to a river that holds the solace of fishing and life in the South—the book constantly evolves. His narrative poems comment on the mistreatment, the wonder, and the hope surrounding black lives, not only in the South, but in America as a whole: “. . . so why then, while / fishing shores of the Mississippi, do I feel and fear hooking a diaspora of / drowned faces?”

Davis also casts and reels in other themes to recall his experiences as a father, son, and person of color, including light, water, and music. The images he creates wade between the gloom of trauma against mind and body to the courage that faith brings, if not from earthly fathers, then from a heavenly one. “Let there be fight and faith / still in me / Lord / Let this man / teach another to move / through / the nothing / that begs / to be feared.” Night Angler journeys you through childhood to parenthood, through violence to peace, and through the wilderness to home, leaving you disarmed.

BOA.

—Review by Jenee Skinner

ROUGH MAGIC: RIDING THE WORLD'S LONELIEST HORSE RACE

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ROUGH MAGIC BY LARA PRIOR-PALMER

“Somehow,” writes Lara Prior-Palmer in her debut memoir, Rough Magic, “implausibly, against all odds, I won a race labeled the longest and toughest in the world—a race I’d entered on a whim—and became the youngest person, and first female, ever to have done so.” In 2013, she indeed won the Mongol Derby, a grueling, 1,000-kilometer race on horseback styled after the medieval Mongol postal system. Any prosaic record of this improbable victory would sell plenty of copies. But Rough Magic doesn’t just describe one triumph: it constitutes another, and in a whole new territory. “Because my competitiveness is like a kite I refuse to pull down from the sky and examine,” Prior-Palmer writes, showcasing both dexterous imagery and hapless ambition, “it has power over me.” Through arresting landscapes and many awkward moments, she rides a muscular yet floaty prose, replete with deftly mixed metaphors and off-kilter verbs. Dogs “snorkel” along the ground and cameras “drink color” from the land.

The memoir draws much of its energy from Lara’s escalating rivalry with the frontrunner, Devan Horn, which, we begin to understand as she paints the Texan “devil-woman” in increasingly cartoonish hues, is really a rivalry with her own vices—fear and self-consciousness, pettiness and ambition. “Who’s worse?” she asks at one point, “Devan or Lara?” On the page, the main difference is that Devan keeps her mask on, but Lara lets hers slip so that readers can peer beneath. If we still have trouble grasping her, it is only because, as she writes, “[t]his being human means inhabiting an unfinished form, forever moving on to the next thing . . . What use is a conclusion, or an understanding, when all I want to do is open up, mess up, unpack, and unreel?”

What use, indeed?

Catapult.

—Review by Mekiya Walters