Category Archives: New Directions Publishing

Read 73 of 2022. Lucky Breaks by Yevgenia Belorusets. Translated from the Russian by Eugene Ostashevsky

Lucky Breaks by Yevgenia Belorusets

Title: Lucky Breaks
Author: Yevgenia Belorusets
Translated from the Russian by Eugene Ostashevsky
Publisher: New Directions
ISBN: 978-0811229845
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 112
Source: TheBoxWalla
Rating: 4/5

Just finished reading this sometimes fantastic, and sometimes not so collection of short stories and vignettes by Ukrainian photographer, journalist, and writer. Each story in this book is centred on a woman (most of the time) in Kyiv or elsewhere in Ukraine. These stories aren’t about Putin, or his invasion. These stories are about everyday living and all about anonymous people – from a refugee to a florist to card players to readers of horoscopes, a world unto itself.

Belorusets’ writing is sometimes playful, mostly tragic, and all about surviving with some humour along the way. There are also twenty-three photographs in this collection, each telling its own story, and forming their own unique visual narrative. The translation by Eugene Ostashevsky is on-spot and extremely lucid. I was just a little miffed to not see the translator’s name on the cover. Also, as a side-note, read it online or hear it. The print is way too fine and you might end up straining your eyes like I did.

Lucky Breaks is a surreal collection of stories from a region that has come to fore, sadly for all the wrong reasons. But do read this book to know more about Ukraine, its people, and how they live and feel.

Read 37 of 2022. Paradais by Fernanda Melchor. Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes

Paradais by Fernanda Melchor

Title: Paradais
Author: Fernanda Melchor
Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes
Publisher: New Directions
ISBN: ‎978-0811231329
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

My mind is numb, and my heart is a mess. The latest offering by Melchor is dark, overwhelming, rustic, punches you in the gut, devastating to say the least, and more than anything else, in a very nuanced manner touches on the class differences in society and what happens thereof.

Paradais is a shorter compared to her previous work Hurricane Season, and yet it doesn’t feel that way. Its 125 pages are packed with unsettling language, doesn’t play to the reader’s expectations, and definitely does not believe in toning it down.

We meet Polo, a 16-year-old school drop-out who works as a gardener in a luxury residential complex called “Paradise” in Progreso, Mexico.  The title comes from the fact that he cannot pronounce it, and his boss teaches him to pronounce this way. Even in language, he cannot have a piece of paradise.

Polo is the narrator and all he wants to do is get out. He is not rich like the other teenager he introduces us to – Franco Andrade – who is overweight, addicted to porn, only fantasizes about his neighbour and the ways in which he will have sex with her – who is an attractive married woman and a mother of two.

Polo just wants to escape his overbearing mother, thinks of his dead grandfather, waits for a phone call from his cousin to get him out, and drinks with Franco (whom he calls Fatboy) so he can forget his existence for a while. It is in such moments of desperation, they hatch a plan, which might go either way for them.

Melchor’s writing is not easy to digest. It is bleak, it is angry, it wants to tell so much, and it does, even in so little prose. The anguish, the frustration, and the idea to do better through worse is so ironic and yet the only thing that seems right to Polo. We only see Franco through Polo’s perspective, so at some parts I was also doubting that, but Melchor’s writing convinced me about that as well – that perhaps all Polo says is in fact the gospel truth.

The darkness that runs through the town and into the lives of Franco and Polo is palpable. Most of the novel takes place at night – some also during the day, but that’s when the ridicule happens, the discrimination is made clear, the anger is seething – only to appear at night when drunk and find escape by imagining various ways to find an exit. All of this is conjured through Hughes’ fantastic translation that doesn’t miss a beat.

When Melchor writes about the Mexican society – whether it is the wealth gap and gang violence, she does it as a matter of fact attitude. It doesn’t preach, nor does it seek pity or empathy. What it also does at some point is scary – it gives agency to the naïve, to the fatalistic teenagers who have no clue what life has in store for them or how will it all turn out and make the most horrific choices.

Paradais works on so many levels, and for so many reasons. It is built on the shoulders of toxic masculinity through and through, and you know that world will not last long. The casualness, the most nonchalant manner in which people are thrown about in the book says a lot about the societies we inhabit. Melchor just brings it to fore, and a lot more. Reading this book also repulsed me a lot of times, yet with the constant nagging feeling at the back of my mind that this is the truth – whether I like it or not.

March 2020 Wrap-Up

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 11.51.05 AMMarch has been a fantastic month. For me, personally. I have struggled with anxiety and calmed it. I have switched off from the news, and trying very hard to keep away from it on social media as well. I’m just made this way. On the reading front, I read 23 very different books and I am on top of the world. I feel ecstatic. Here’s hoping we all get out of this sane. Much love.
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Here are the titles with the ratings:
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1. Death in her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh (4)
2. Fabulous by Lucy Hughes-Hallett (4)
3. And I do not forgive you: stories and other revenges by Amber Sparks (4)
4. Faces on the tip of my tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano. Translated from the French by Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis (5)
5. The Seep by Chana Porter (5)
6. Fern Road by Angshu Dasgupta (3)
7. Apartment by Teddy Wayne (4)
8. The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar. Translated from the Persian (5)
9. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara (4)
10. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (4)
11. The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta (4)
12. Girl by Edna O’Brien (4)
13. A Burning by Megha Majumdar (3)
14. Amnesty by Aravind Adiga (3)
15. Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann. Translated from the German by Ross Benjamin (2)
16. Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin. Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (4)
17. Red Dog by Willem Anker. Translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns (2)
18. The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld. Translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchinson (4)
19. The Other Name: Septology I-II by Jon Fosse. Translated from the French by Damion Searls (5)
20. The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa. Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (5)
21. Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor. Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (4)
22. The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara. Translated from the Spanish by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre (5)
23. Mac’s Problem by Enrique Vila-Matas. Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa and Sophie Hughes (4).
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That’s it, folks! What was your reading month of March like? Any favourites?.
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Here’s to April 2020. Can’t wait.

Mac’s Problem by Enrique Vila-Matas. Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa and Sophie Hughes.

Mac's Problem by Enrique Vila-MatasTitle: Mac’s Problem
Author: Enrique Vila-Matas
Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa and Sophie Hughes
Publisher: New Directions Publishing
ISBN: 978-0811227322
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translation
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

This book was a treat. At almost every level – the plot, writing, characters, pacing of the novel, and the fact that a master such as Vila-Matas has written it, only adds to its wonder. The idea of life imitating art and vice-versa has always been a personal favourite, and then to find one of the few novels whose premise is seeped in it is a thing of joy to read and contemplate about.

At the heart of this novel is Mac, who is unemployed and dependent on his wife’s earnings. Being an avid reader and beyond, he decides to maintain a diary at the age of sixty. His wife who is dyslexic thinks he is wasting his time. A chance encounter with a neighbour – a successful author of a collection of stories, Mac decides that he will improvise his neighbour’s stories, which are in turn narrated by a ventriloquist who has lost the knack of speaking in different voices. The book then takes a strange turn and only gets stranger as you go along, with art imitating life or vice-versa.

Mac’s Problem is a book that had me in from the first page. Again, it is not an easy read, but there is something to it – the concept of a diary, and then someone’s short stories, and how they become personal after a while, and the paranoia that takes over. Vila-Matas’ writing is full of literary references, and stellar prose if anything. It is also quite funny in a lot of places – I am sure that was intentional.

The book does drag and something about it being two-dimensional worked so much for me. It takes time to get to the actual plot perhaps but if you persist, you will be massively rewarded in the end. A must-read if you ask me.