today I’m talking about some books by the amazing New York Review of Books, a publisher that focuses on books that have gone under the radar, or have been forgotten over the years. a lot of their fiction and nonfiction is translated, which I love, and their book design is just top notch (the book covers always feature beautiful art pieces and I love how simple and effective the designs are!! their spines line up so nicely!!).
The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart (tr. by Barbara Bray)
This is an intoxicating tale of love and wonder, mothers and daughters, spiritual values and the grim legacy of slavery on the French Antillean island of Guadeloupe. Here long-suffering Telumee tells her life story and tells us about the proud line of Lougandor women she continues to draw strength from. Time flows unevenly during the long hot blue days as the madness of the island swirls around the villages, and Telumee, raised in the shelter of wide skirts, must learn how to navigate the adversities of a peasant community, the ecstasies of love, and domestic realities while arriving at her own precious happiness. In the words of Toussine, the wise, tender grandmother who raises her, “Behind one pain there is another. Sorrow is a wave without end. But the horse mustn’t ride you, you must ride it.”
A masterpiece of Caribbean literature, The Bridge of Beyond relates the triumph of a generous and hopeful spirit, while offering a gorgeously lush, imaginative depiction of the flora, landscape, and customs of Guadeloupe. Simone Schwarz-Bart’s incantatory prose, interwoven with Creole proverbs and lore, appears here in a remarkable translation by Barbara Bray.
this has been on my TBR for ages — it sounds so good, and I’ve loved the few pages of it that I’ve read. I’ve also seen really rave reviews of this on Goodreads, so I’m definitely planning to get to it soon.
Katalin Street by Magda Szabó (tr. by Len Rix)
In prewar Budapest three families live side by side on gracious Katalin Street, their lives closely intertwined. A game is played by the four children in which Bálint, the promising son of the major, invariably chooses Irén Elekes, the headmaster’s dutiful elder daughter, over her younger sister, the scatterbrained Blanka, and little Henriette Held, the daughter of the Jewish dentist.
Their lives are torn apart in 1944 by the German occupation, which only the Elekes family survives intact. The postwar regime relocates them to a cramped Soviet-style apartment and they struggle to come to terms with social and political change, personal loss, and unstated feelings of guilt over the deportation of the Held parents and the death of little Henriette, who had been left in their protection. But the girl survives in a miasmal afterlife, and reappears at key moments as a mute witness to the inescapable power of past events.
As in The Door and Iza’s Ballad, Magda Szabó conducts a clear-eyed investigation into the ways in which we inflict suffering on those we love. Katalin Street, which won the 2007 Prix Cévennes for Best European novel, is a poignant, somber, at times harrowing novel, but beautifully conceived and truly unforgettable.
Ever since I read and adored Magda Szabó’s Abigail, I knew that I wanted to read the rest of her books. Her writing is just mesmerizing, and her stories are always so compact and cutting. I can’t wait to get to Katalin Street, which will be the third book by her that I’ve read, and I also plan on getting to Iza’s Ballad after this.
Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker
Cassandra Edwards is a graduate student at Berkeley: gay, brilliant, nerve-wracked, miserable. At the beginning of this novel, she drives back to her family ranch in the foothills of the Sierras to attend the wedding of her identical twin, Judith, to a nice young doctor from Connecticut. Cassandra, however, is hell-bent on sabotaging the wedding.
Dorothy Baker’s entrancing tragicomic novella follows an unpredictable course of events in which her heroine appears variously as conniving, self-aware, pitiful, frenzied, absurd, and heartbroken—at once utterly impossible and tremendously sympathetic. Cassandra reckons with her complicated feelings about the sister who she feels owes it to her to be her alter ego; with her father, a brandy-soaked retired professor of philosophy; and with the ghost of her dead mother, as she struggles to come to terms with the only life she has.
First published in 1962, Cassandra at the Wedding is a book of enduring freshness, insight, and verve. Like the fiction of Jeffrey Eugenides and Jhumpa Lahiri, it is the work of a master stylist with a profound understanding of the complexities of the heart and mind.
Not gonna lie: I’m not sure if I’m gonna like this, but it does sound very promising. I feel like this is the kind of book I’ll either love or DNF, so we’ll have to see lol. Regardless, the synopsis sounds great and I do love reading stories that focus on a single character and their fraught relationship with their family.
Troubles by J. G. Farrell
1919: After surviving the Great War, Major Brendan Archer makes his way to Ireland, hoping to discover whether he is indeed betrothed to Angela Spencer, whose Anglo-Irish family owns the once-aptly-named Majestic Hotel in Kilnalough. But his fiancée is strangely altered and her family’s fortunes have suffered a spectacular decline. The hotel’s hundreds of rooms are disintegrating on a grand scale; its few remaining guests thrive on rumors and games of whist; herds of cats have taken over the Imperial Bar and the upper stories; bamboo shoots threaten the foundations; and piglets frolic in the squash court. Meanwhile, the Major is captivated by the beautiful and bitter Sarah Devlin. As housekeeping disasters force him from room to room, outside the order of the British Empire also totters: there is unrest in the East, and in Ireland itself the mounting violence of “the troubles.”
Troubles is a hilarious and heartbreaking work by a modern master of the historical novel.
This one comes recommended by Rachel, so I have high hopes for it!! 👀 I’m a sucker for Irish fiction, and I love that this one has a historical bent to it as well.
The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore
The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne is an unflinching and deeply sympathetic portrait of a woman destroyed by self and circumstance. First published in 1955, it marked Brian Moore as a major figure in English literature (he would go on to be short-listed three times for the Booker Prize) and established him as an astute chronicler of the human soul.
Judith Hearne is an unmarried woman of a certain age who has come down in society. She has few skills and is full of the prejudices and pieties of her genteel Belfast upbringing. But Judith has a secret life. And she is just one heartbreak away from revealing it to the world.
Another Irish pick! I found out about this one from Cathy, and it sounds like it’s right up my alley.
Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
In Lolly Willowes, Sylvia Townsend Warner tells of an aging spinster’s struggle to break way from her controlling family—a classic story that she treats with cool feminist intelligence, while adding a dimension of the supernatural and strange. Warner is one of the outstanding and indispensable mavericks of twentieth-century literature, a writer to set beside Djuna Barnes and Jane Bowles, with a subversive genius that anticipates the fantastic flights of such contemporaries as Angela Carter and Jeanette Winterson.
Again, I feel like this one could go either way–I could hate it or love it–but it does sound like something I’d like to read. I love stories about women, especially unmarried women trying to navigate life during a time when marriage was pretty much their only option.
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (tr. by Thomas Teal)
In The Summer Book Tove Jansson distills the essence of the summer—its sunlight and storms—into twenty-two crystalline vignettes. This brief novel tells the story of Sophia, a six-year-old girl awakening to existence, and Sophia’s grandmother, nearing the end of hers, as they spend the summer on a tiny unspoiled island in the Gulf of Finland. The grandmother is unsentimental and wise, if a little cranky; Sophia is impetuous and volatile, but she tends to her grandmother with the care of a new parent. Together they amble over coastline and forest in easy companionship, build boats from bark, create a miniature Venice, write a fanciful study of local bugs. They discuss things that matter to young and old alike: life, death, the nature of God and of love. “On an island,” thinks the grandmother, “everything is complete.” In The Summer Book, Jansson creates her own complete world, full of the varied joys and sorrows of life.
Tove Jansson, whose Moomintroll comic strip and books brought her international acclaim, lived for much of her life on an island like the one described in The Summer Book, and the work can be enjoyed as her closely observed journal of the sounds, sights, and feel of a summer spent in intimate contact with the natural world.
The Summer Book is translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal.
I’ve heard that this is a very wholesome read, and that does seem to be the vibe that I’m getting from it. I love the focus on a grandmother and her granddaughter, and I love that this is set on an island. It sounds lovely, and I’m hoping that it works for me when I get around to reading it.
that’s all I’ve got for today, but please let me know if there are other NYRB books that you’d recommend!!! I’m always looking for recommendations of books from them, especially because there are so many and I have no idea where to start.