Man Wortet Sich die Orte Selbst by Iren Nigg (tr. Marissa Grünes)

a nutshell: not yet published in English, this book (Wording the Places Oneself) consists of prose – from short vignettes to novellas – in which Liechenstein author Nigg explores the creative writing proces

a line: “To flirt with misfortune, allow one’s thoughts to circle it: this would never occur to children. The form of the circle isn’t meant for that… Sometimes life is winter. Nature! lets it happen. Fare well – a beautiful wish, lovely! like my cat.”

an image: I loved the description of the snow having been bejeweled by the sun

a thought: at one point the narrator poses a riddle: what is greater than God & more evil than the devil? The poor have it. The happy need it. And when you eat it, you die. (I didn’t get it)

a fact: this is Nigg’s second book and was among the 2011 winners of the European Union Prize for Literature which recognises the best new or emerging authors in the EU – I read a translated excerpt through the website

want to read Man Wortet Sich die Orte Selbst? visit here

A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska (tr. Christina E Kramer)

A Spare Life with cover of girl peering through window with hand on shoulder

a nutshell: narrated by a conjoined twin raised in Skopje, this intricately immersive novel explores independence and love through communist Yugoslavia and beyond

a line: “Just like Bogdan, who solved crossword puzzles in his head because he had no pencil, I wrote internally because I had no space”

an image: Dimkovksa so viscerally depicts the flat in which the twins grew up that I found myself struggling to emerge into the real world after reading scenes within it

a thought: in her studies of migration in the context of the literary community, Zlata portrays two parallel worlds in which national & transnational writers joked politely but between the pair is a fear of the other’s otherness

a fact: this novel won the 2013 EU Prize for Literature

want to read A Spare Life? visit here

Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex by Oksana Zabuzhko (tr. Halyna Hryn)

a nutshell: this spectacular stream of consciousness pours forth from a US-based, Ukrainian-born professor/poet who wrestles with the end of a repressive relationship and, tied into this, the lasting effects of a repressive upbringing

a line: “‘take me’ always means: ‘take me together with my childhood'”

an image: one stunning passage describes the colours that imbue not only individual words but also languages – the electric violet, blue-wine of Italian, the garden greens of Polish, the translucent chicken bouillon broth of English (even waterier in the States) – as she hungers for her own language

a thought: the protagonist chastises herself for not realising on time that her home is her language – it’d always be with her, like a snail’s shell, and there would never be any non-portable home for her

a fact: published in Ukraine in 1996, the book sparked controversy and national fame for Zabuzhko – it topped the bestseller list in Ukraine for more than ten years, making it the most successful Ukrainian-language book of the 90s


want to read Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex? visit here

The Empress and the Cake by Linda Stift (tr. Jamie Bulloch)

a nutshell: at once sinister and compelling, this psychological thriller opens in Vienna with an invitation to share cake and rapidly spirals into a nightmare of uncontrollable obsession and oppression

a line: “The grotesque face of my abnormality, which had lain dormant within me, resurfaced … I had always known that there was no safety net”

an image: the narrator’s memories of the trepidation that had always smothered family meals – particularly the way in which her grandfather used to ravage all her childhood experiences with food – are devastating to read

a thought: cleverly written, this novel pivots on the internal and external horrors of suffering from addiction (principally eating disorders) and abuse of bodies/minds; it is no easy read

a fact: the eeriest character, Frau Hohenembs, is seen to resemble the late Empress Elisabeth (‘Sissi’) of Austria, who obsessively kept her weight below 50 kilos through periods of complete fasting and rigorous exercise regimes


want to read The Empress and the Cake? visit here

Shadows on the Tundra by Dalia Grinkevičiutė (tr. Delija Valiukenas)

a nutshell: a desolate piece of Lithuanian survival literature in which Dalia recounts her deportation, aged 14, to a Siberian gulag and the years of gruelling manual labour that followed in the Arctic tundra

a line“Images from the past can be more painful than a branding iron. They tear me apart. But they’ve also done me a favour. They’ve ignited a furious desire to live, to persevere…”

an image: Dalia’s appalling descriptions of gangrenous, immobile deportees disintegrating on their pallets or freezing to death with hallucinations of hot coffee in tortuous blizzards sear themselves onto the memory

a thought: reading her memories of such brutal suffering, it’s sad to note that Dalia never saw these pages come out into the open; fearful of the KGB, she buried the scraps of paper in a garden and it was only in 1991 – four years after her death – that they were found

a factmost of the fellow deportees depicted by Dalia are women and children, reflecting how 70% of the 130,000+ people among the Soviet mass deportations from Lithuania were women and children


want to read Shadows on the Tundra? visit here

Those Without Shadows by Françoise Sagan (tr. Irene Ash)

a nutshell: a sardonic magnifying glass on a circle of Parisians bemoaning their ill-fated romances and lack of purpose in life

a line: “Everyone is familiar with these infinitely small circumferences which love creates in the heart of a great city”

an image: Bernard’s failure to light a damp cigarette symbolises the lives of those who never know real happiness but feel it’s of no importance

a thought: I got through this slim book quickly and came away feeling downbeat and listless … a sign of success on Sagan’s part in conjuring so effectively a sense of emptiness?

a fact: I bought this vintage 1964 Penguin Books edition in The Second Shelf and had lovely conversations while there – which included learning that Sagan was just 18 when she wrote Bonjour Tristesse (a sensational novel about a hedonistic teenager’s careless antics)


want to read Those Without Shadows? visit here

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors (tr. Misha Hoekstra)

a nutshell: a gawky, profound mash-up of thoughts & happenings for a middle-aged Danish woman trying to hold it together in Copenhagen

a line: “It’s as if Molly’s face has acquired a barred grille, the sort you see in front of jewelry stores. She can yank down the grille in a trice, so that no one can barge in and help themselves to the wares”

an image: Sonja’s hushed unruliness takes shape in some fantastic private observations, e.g. how her driving instructor resembles a fat stork when erect and a happy pagan Viking when seated

a thought: it felt like Sonja’s social anxiety and chronic loneliness interlocked with a sense of rootlessness; at one point she says the place you come from is somewhere you can never return to, as it no longer exists

a fact: author Dorthe Nors’s interest in characters on the verge of disappearance is told brilliantly in her 2016 essay On the Invisibility of Middle-Aged Women


want to read Mirror, Shoulder, Signal? visit here

Brother in Ice by Alicia Kopf (tr. Mara Faye Lethem)

a nutshell: a pure expanse of curiosity about polar exploration conceals, at first, the most pressing exploration in this book: selfhood, in the midst of challenging family relations

a line: “it’s in relationships, and not in places, that we rest”

an image: Kopf reveals her secret thought: all pools are interconnected, and this same water filters through us – making up 70% of our bodies – while the dry 30% of our bodies renews every 7 years; the only continuous part of us is our history

a thought: the narrator’s reflections on growing up with an autistic brother resonated strongly with me as the sister to an autistic brother myself – at one point she says she had to be an easy presence, independent, and describes a thin layer of ice forming between her and the others, almost paralleling her brother’s attitude

a fact: the earliest one in the book stuck with me – the word ‘Arctic’ comes from the Greek word ‘árktikos’ meaning ‘near the bear’ while ‘Antarctic’ is from ‘antárktikos’, ‘the place with no bears’, but rather penguins


want to read Brother in Ice? visit here