Month: March 2019

Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin

Posted March 25, 2019 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Short Stories / 4 Comments

Mouthful of Birds by Samanta SchweblinTitle: Mouthful of Birds (Goodreads)
Author: Samanta Schweblin
Translator: Megan McDowell
Published: Oneworld Publications, 2019
Pages: 240
Genres: Short Stories
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2019

Samanta Schweblin has almost become a household name. Her novella Fever Dreams has been one of the most talked about books in translation in recent years. It won so many awards, including the Shirley Jackson Award (2017), The Tournament of Books (2018), it made the Man Booker International Prize shortlist (2017) and the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation longlist (2017). Needless to say, when it was announced Mouthful of Birds was getting an English translation there was plenty of buzz surrounding it.

I first discovered Samanta Schweblin from the New York Review of Books podcast, they were talking about three Argentinean authors about to take the world by storm, Pola Oloixarac, Mariana Enríquez and Samanta Schweblin. Naturally I had to read the three books that came out around the same time. Random tangent, both Samanta Schweblin and Pola Oloixarac have books out this year, so where is the next Mariana Enríquez? Out of the three it was Fever Dreams that got all the attention, but for me Things We Lost In The Fire was the true highlight.

I feel like the buzz now for Mouthful of Birds is just people projecting their love for Fever Dreams onto it. There is something rugged and unfinished about this collection of short stories that did not sit right with me. I think a truly great short story collection have the stories complements each other and often share an overarching theme. Take Things We Lost In The Fire by Mariana Enríquez (also translated by Megan McDowell) for example. Each story delivers a powerful punch and complement the collection as a whole. Now looking at Mouthful of Birds, it does not have that same feeling, it is just a group of stories anthologised for the purpose of publishing.

I see so many people loving this book and it always seems to be referencing the same stories, like the one with the merman. My opinion is they liked the individual stories they reference but nothing is really said about the complete collection. I know what I like and fairytale retellings and mythological based stories are not for me, so this is the main reason Mouthful of Birds did not work for me. I know short story collections are hard to review as a whole collection, so people point out the stories they love. I prefer to read something where the stories all work together and offer so much more than a good tale.

Mouthful of Birds will serve well for the readers interested in the whole creative process. This is a collection of her earlier short stories. There are fragments of ideas that are being explored in Mouthful of Birds that could blossom into future novels. I see elements of Fever Dreams taking form in this collection and get the feeling this collection was only published because of all the hype surrounding Samanta Schweblin. While this was not the book for me, I know many people will enjoy reading more from Schweblin. I personally recommend picking up Things We Lost In The Fire by Mariana Enríquez instead.

The 2019 Man Booker International Longlist

Posted March 13, 2019 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Prizes / 0 Comments

This post will serve more as a place to link all my reviews together. Much like last year I do plan to read the entire longlist. I read all by one last year, leaving Going, Went, Gone for later, which turns out might mean never. This was an interesting selection, and I managed to only predict two of the thirteen books. So far I have read two already, which means I only need to read another eleven.

Most of my writing about the Man Booker will be over on Translated Lit before I post them here.

  • Jokha Alharthi (Arabic / Omani), Marilyn Booth, Celestial Bodies (Sandstone Press Ltd)
  • Can Xue (Chinese / Chinese), Annelise Finegan Wasmoen, Love in the New Millennium (Yale University Press)
  • Annie Ernaux (French / French), Alison L. Strayer, The Years (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
  • Hwang Sok-yong (Korean / Korean), Sora Kim-Russell, At Dusk (Scribe, UK)
  • Mazen Maarouf (Arabic / Icelandic and Palestinian), Jonathan Wright, Jokes For The Gunmen (Granta, Portobello Books)
  • Hubert Mingarelli (French / French), Sam Taylor, Four Soldiers (Granta, Portobello Books)
  • Marion Poschmann (German / German), Jen Calleja, The Pine Islands (Profile Books, Serpent’s Tail)
  • Samanta Schweblin (Spanish / Argentine and Italian), Megan McDowell, Mouthful Of Birds (Oneworld)
  • Sara Stridsberg (Swedish / Swedish), Deborah Bragan-Turner, The Faculty Of Dreams (Quercus, MacLehose Press)
  • Olga Tokarczuk (Polish / Polish), Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
  • Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Spanish / Colombian), Anne McLean, The Shape Of The Ruins (Quercus, MacLehose Press)
  • Tommy Wieringa (Dutch / Dutch), Sam Garrett, The Death Of Murat Idrissi (Scribe, UK)
  • Alia Trabucco Zeran (Spanish / Chilean and Italian), Sophie Hughes, The Remainder (And Other Stories)

Man Booker International Predictions

Posted March 6, 2019 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 6 Comments

There is a part of me that looks down at literary prizes. I have been thinking about this since reading The Parrots by Filippo Bologna (translated by Howard Curtis), the politics that goes into selecting a list and a winner really detracts from literary merits. I agree there needs to be a better balance in representation when making a longlist for a prize, but every judge has their own tastes and opinions, it becomes more about compromise than merit. Is there a perfect solution? No, we have to do the best with what we have.

At the same time, I love to be part of the conversation, I want to read the Man Booker International list and talk about the books selected. Whether it is to just to speculate, or just complain. It is just nice to be part of a community talking about the same books. My love for books in translations, means that it isn’t often that I am able to talk about the same books as other people. This is why I follow a prize like the Man Booker International Prize.

I get the feeling that the longlist will feature the few translations that have actually had more of a commercial success. From the deserving (Convenience Store Woman), to the not so deserving (The Last Children of Tokyo) and everything in between (Codex 1962). Haruki Murakami might make the list for simply having a book translated this year, Killing Commendatore. Olga Tokarczuk won last year’s prize, which could mean Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead is longlisted.

After that, there are just some books that will make the longlist because it will help balance things out. For your gritty, hard hitting bro-lit, you might see Vernon Subutex 2 make the longlist. We need a book from the Middle East, so let’s add The Baghdad Clock. There is nothing from the Americas so in goes The Shape of the Ruins. Finally, for something considered high art, add Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants.

Or you can save yourself all some time and just give the Man Booker Prize to the deserving Disoriental. This book feels like the perfect winner. It has a multi-generational story and deals with both immigration and LGBTQI themes. Besides all that, it is just an amazing novel.

I wanted to share my predictions for the Man Booker International prize as well as try to express my opinions about literary prizes in general. This post did not turn out the way I expected, more tongue in cheek than intended but then again, we can take this prize too seriously. I do not know if I will read the entire longlist, but I will try and be a part of the conversation. I hope I have read enough books that make the longlist, to ease the pressure of trying to complete 12-13 books. Also, please do not let Karl Ove Knausgård make the longlist.

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