Friday Column: BEA Book Roundup, Part 1

Here’s the first batch of books I personally picked up at BEA and am excited about reading. (See part II of the BEA book roundup here.)


If there’s one thing you know about 2666, it’s that it revolves around the mysterious deaths of hundreds of women in the Mexican border-city of Ciudad Juarez. Well, 2666 is not the only novel published in 2008 to cover this phenomenon. If I Die in Juarez (Stella Pope Duarte, available, University of Arizona Press) is an novel about the murders, actually written from the perspectives of some of the women who died. As such, it complements 2666 rather well, since that book gives us suffocatingly little detail about anything that actually takes place during the murders. (As a related note, I was surprised to find that no one in the U of Arizona booth had heard of Roberto Bolano or 2666. They’re missing a huge publicity opportunity.)

While I was at the Bookforum/Reading the World party I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Dan Wickett, and he recommended that I grab a copy of Ma Jian’s Beijing Coma (available, FSG, trans. Flora Drew), which he said he read 300 pages of in the plane ride from Ann Arbor. The plot deals with a young man who was put into a coma by a bullet during the Democracy Spring protests in Beijing in 1989, and we enter his mind in the 10th year of the coma. For a rave review of this book, have a look at this one in The Telegraph.


Coming in at a merciful 89 pages is Michelle Cliff’s If I Could Write this in Fire (August, University of Minnesota Press). This collection of literary nonfiction by the Jamaican-born Cliff involves her journey from Jamaica to England, her life there, and the discovery of her voice as a diasporic writer. For more on Cliff and her previous novels, have a look at her Emory University page.

It’s not often that a collection of prose poems about a soul singer gets my attention, but the people at the University of Georgia Press did just that with Winners Have Yet to Be Announced (available, Ed Palvic). They compared it to Michael Ondaatje’s fictionalization of jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden, Coming Through Slaughter, both for its subject-matter and its innovative approach. Slaughter attempts to mimic the syncopated feel of jazz with its prose structure. Winners is different but similar, using a spare, poetic approach through sections labeled "Interviews," "Listening Notes," and "Conversations," among others.


The good people at Milkweed pressed into my hands the newest book from Gary Amdahl, I Am Death (available). This title of this two-novella collection may throw some, but others who know Amdahl from his earlier collection, Visigoth (see here for our review), know his reputation as a "manly" author, writing about traditionally masculine subjects undergoing changes in contemporary times. Or, as Bookforum explained it in their review of I Am Death, "The two novellas gathered in Gary Amdahl’s second book, I Am Death, offer a portrait of American men as fearful and bloodthirsty, as lost boys in need of both a kick in the ass and a big hug."

After salivating over the 2666 paperback for a while at the FSG booth, the people there kindly directed my attention to Jonathan Carroll’s The Ghost in Love (September). Though the garish cover had my eyeballs telling me "no," the description of this book as "Murakamiesque" had me sticking around long enough to hear more. It’s about a death gone awry–literally, the protagonist dies, but then things get bungled in the afterlife. And then things get complicated.


Of course, a stop by the NYRB Classics booth was obligatory. I’m most excited about the impending publication of their second Vladimir Sorokin translation (which I believe is an original translations, as was NYRB’s previous translation of his novel Ice), this one of his Soviet satire, The Queue (August, trans. Sally Laird). But that’s not what NYRB was handing out. One of the two books I picked up was Der Nister’s The Family Mashber (available, trans. Leonard Wolf, not Woolf). The back copy on this one sells the book just fine, so I quote:

A tale of a family divided a la The Brothers Karamazov a detailed and panoramic picture of an Eastern European town and its people, a social satire, a kabbalistic allegory, a brilliantly innovative fusion of modernist art and traditional storytelling, a tale of weird humor and mounting tragic power whose margins are embellished with a host of uncanny and fantastical figures . . .

As for the other of NYRB’s books that I picked up–next time.

Graywolf was very rapidly dispensing galleys of Per Petterson’s newest novel, To Siberia. This rapidly rising 67-year-old author is probably now best-known as the winner of last year’s IMPAC Dublin award. He first came to my attention last year when his In the Wake was featured as a Reading the World book.

Marilynne Robinson fans will be happy to know that they won’t have to wait 20 years for her follow-up to Gilead. It’s called Home and you can buy it from FSG in September. Need I say more?


And lastly, the very, very large debut novel from Padma Viswanathan, The Toss of a Lemon (September, Harcourt). This is the trans-generational saga of an Indian woman seems to be garnering a pretty strong publicity effort from Harcourt. Though it kicks off with an epigraph from Salman Rushdie, a brief look at the prose indicates that Viswanathan eschews his increasingly tiresome excesses. For a preview, have a look at this excerpt from the novel, first published in the literary journal AGNI.

(Want more books? See part II of the BEA book roundup here.)

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Hey Scott,
Great meeting you! Nice to see that somebody else was hitting the University Presses, though you seem to have done a more thorough job than I did.
And Kathy Daneman at FSG also made sure I walked away with the Carroll as well – obviously one she feels strongly about.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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