mini-review · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Banthology: Stories from Banned Nations edited by Sarah Cleave

39737311Summary from Goodreads:
In January 2017, President Trump signed an executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – from entering the United States, effectively slamming the door on refugees seeking safety and tearing families apart. Mass protests followed, and although the order has since been blocked, amended and challenged by judges, it still stands as one of the most discriminatory laws to be passed in the US in modern times.

Banthology brings together specially commissioned stories from the original seven ‘banned nations’. Covering a range of approaches – from satire, to allegory, to literary realism – it explores the emotional and personal impact of all restrictions on movement, and offers a platform to voices the White House would rather remained silent.

Banthology is a slim and lovely collection of seven short stories from authors who claim countries caught in the “Muslim Ban” as home. The pieces range from hyper-realist to bordering on fantasy. All deal with displacement, grief, and loss. Somali-Italian author Ubah Cristina Ali Farrah’s story about a teenage refugee in Italy is heartbreaking.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this story collection almost as soon as I heard of it’s forthcoming existence.

mini-review · Read Harder · Reading Women · stuff I read · translation

Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck

35969593Summary from Goodreads:
An award-winning debut story collection by Karin Tidbeck, author of Amatka and heir to Borges, Le Guin, and Lovecraft.

A child is born in a tin can. A switchboard operator finds himself in hell. Three corpulent women float somewhere beyond time. Welcome to the weird world of Karin Tidbeck, the visionary Swedish author of literary sci-fi, speculative fiction, and mind-bending fantasy who has captivated readers around the world. Originally published by the tiny press Cheeky Frawg–the passion project of Ann and Jeff VanderMeer–Jagannath has been celebrated by readers and critics alike, with rave reviews from major outlets and support from lauded peers like China Mieville and even Ursula K. Le Guin herself. These are stories in which fairies haunt quiet towns, and an immortal being discovers the nature of time–stories in which anything is possible.

I had heard that Karin Tidbeck’s Amatka was a good book but I hadn’t got around to reading it, yet. So I was really interested in reading the new edition of her collection Jagannath, originally published by the Vandermeers’ indie press Cheeky Frawg in 2012. Jagannath is an unexpectedly lovely and unsettling collection of short stories that occupy a liminal space between reality and folktales (with a few dips into more mainstream fantasy). This is a collection for fans of Sofia Samatar, Margo Langergan, Amber Sparks, and Laura van den Berg, excellent company indeed. Tidbeck did her own translations for those pieces originally published in Swedish and I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between those originally written in English and the translations.

The new edition of Jagannath is available on February 6.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · Read Harder · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (transl. Jonathan Wright)

30780005Summary from Goodreads:
From the rubble-strewn streets of U.S.-occupied Baghdad, Hadi—a scavenger and an oddball fixture at a local café—collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse. His goal, he claims, is for the government to recognize the parts as people and to give them proper burial. But when the corpse goes missing, a wave of eerie murders sweeps the city, and reports stream in of a horrendous-looking criminal who, though shot, cannot be killed. Hadi soon realizes he’s created a monster, one that needs human flesh to survive—first from the guilty, and then from anyone in its path. A prizewinning novel by “Baghdad’s new literary star” (The New York Times), Frankenstein in Baghdad captures with white-knuckle horror and black humor the surreal reality of contemporary Iraq.

Here is the problem with flap copy and blurbs: this description is only half the story. The novel opens with the description of a division of the Tracking Unit tasked with identifying and tracking threats to the new government and American occupying forces. However, this division has also secretly been using fortune-tellers, astrologers, fakirs, and all sorts of metaphysical methods to attempt to predict where a bombing might occur. They’ve uncovered a criminal who cannot be killed and a journalist who interviewed him and a writer who was provided with confidential materials from the department and wrote a novel about it.  Which has been confiscated.

What we proceed to read then, is that novel. It begins with the elderly widow Elishva, a woman of deep religious convictions, on her way to worship at the Assyrian Christian church and pray to St. George for the return of her lost son, Daniel, who was conscripted by the Baathists over twenty years ago. While she is gone, a bombing takes places near her home in Bataween, an old Iraqi Jewish neighborhood. Once the blast has cleared we meet Hadi, the junk dealer, who is grieving his former business partner lost in a similar incident. The journalist Mahmoud is sent to write about the bombing. And then another bombing happens, this time an attempt on a hotel, and a guard is killed, his body vaporized. Without a body, his soul cannot find rest. It finds a home in the patchwork corpse the traumatized Hadi has assembled from disparate body parts. Claimed by Elishva as her lost son, the creature embarks on a course of vengeance across the city.

Frankenstein in Baghdad is an outstanding metafictional work set in post-invasion Baghdad. Saadawi draws from not only Mary Shelley’s creator and monster but also the idea of the golem to explore ideas of retribution, causation, and responsibility. A wonderful cast of characters populates the Bataween neighborhood at the center of the story. It brought depth and detail to a place in the world so often presented in Western media as a monoculture. The plot is structured in such a way that I really couldn’t predict how it would wrap up. I have to compliment the translator Jonathan Wright for bringing this novel across into English – the language flows beautifully.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Odyssey by Homer (transl. Emily Wilson)

34068470Summary from Goodreads:
The first great adventure story in the Western canon, The Odyssey is a poem about violence and the aftermath of war; about wealth, poverty, and power; about marriage and family; about travelers, hospitality, and the yearning for home.

In this fresh, authoritative version—the first English translation of The Odyssey by a woman—this stirring tale of shipwrecks, monsters, and magic comes alive in an entirely new way. Written in iambic pentameter verse and a vivid, contemporary idiom, this engrossing translation matches the number of lines in the Greek original, thus striding at Homer’s sprightly pace and singing with a voice that echoes Homer’s music.

Wilson’s Odyssey captures the beauty and enchantment of this ancient poem as well as the suspense and drama of its narrative. Its characters are unforgettable, from the cunning goddess Athena, whose interventions guide and protect the hero, to the awkward teenage son, Telemachus, who struggles to achieve adulthood and find his father; from the cautious, clever, and miserable Penelope, who somehow keeps clamoring suitors at bay during her husband’s long absence, to the “complicated” hero himself, a man of many disguises, many tricks, and many moods, who emerges in this translation as a more fully rounded human being than ever before.

A fascinating introduction provides an informative overview of the Bronze Age milieu that produced the epic, the major themes of the poem, the controversies about its origins, and the unparalleled scope of its impact and influence. Maps drawn especially for this volume, a pronunciation glossary, and extensive notes and summaries of each book make this an Odyssey that will be treasured by a new generation of scholars, students, and general readers alike.

Do you want a new translation of The Odyssey? Specifically, do you want a new translation of The Odyssey by a woman, which would make it the first known, published translation by a woman?

img_9314Yes, yes you want this new translation by Emily Wilson, if at minimum for the 90 page Introduction/Translator’s Note. Wilson gets into the particulars of Greek society and history, to provide basis for her language choices (particularly relating to the status of women in society), then also provides some context for her choices compared to previous English translations.

It is so good. From the opening line “Tell me about a complicated man” Wilson makes it clear that she’s not presenting Odysseus as the ultimate hero, that she isn’t going to glorify the events of the poem. Odysseus has done some really not-great things, and has really awful things visited on him, and Wilson makes us think about what actually makes up “a Hero”. The laguage of the poem itself is very readable, set in iambic pentameter, so it keeps the formality of the original while the rhythm is familiar to most of us in Western literature who have read Shakespeare. Notes and a list of names at the back (plus a few maps) will help out if you feel lost. This is a translation that will last for a while.

Thanks to Kyle at 😽😽 for sending this copy to review. I enjoyed it even more than I had anticipated.

Dear FTC: I tried to get a paper galley, but got access to a digital galley which was kind of hard to read, and then I got the surprise of my life with a finished review copy from the publisher.